Introduction to Retention:  How to Avoid Burnout in the Office

Have you felt abnormally tired or stressed out at work?  Have you ever gone home completely fried after a long day in the office?  Do you dread going into the office every morning?  Have you experienced or are you now experiencing burnout?

Burnout has been a controversial topic for two reasons.  The first is because it can be difficult to correctly identify.  Everyone has a bad day now and then, right?  Can you wake up the next morning with a fresh outlook?  Secondly, burnout affects everyone differently.  What one worker calls a tough day can be seen as the final straw that broke the camel’s back for another staffer.  However, once someone starts experiencing these symptoms weekly, or even daily, it changes the diagnosis.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic, back in 2016, some researchers considered that less than 10% of workers, worldwide, had experienced burnout; meanwhile, other people studying it found that 50% of medical residents and 85% of financial professionals had experienced burnout.  The differences in research results have continued to fuel doubts into the veracity of what burnout is.  For now, it is important for employers and managers to understand the signs of burnout and find ways to keep it from taking over the company’s pool of talent.   

“We didn’t start the fire…”

Since 2016, views on burnout have changed drastically.  While many of those changes have been linked to the global pandemic of 2020, some of them came before that viral gamechanger.  In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined burnout as a syndrome that is caused by chronic work stress and goes undiagnosed and unmanaged for a substantive amount of time.  Science and research have come up with three components of burnout for employers to watch out for:

  • Exhaustion – This is the physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue that undermines a worker’s ability to function effectively at their job.  People who are exhausted find it difficult to concentrate, even when it comes to simple tasks, and this can make it nearly impossible to enjoy or even complete one’s work.
  • Cynicism – Also called “depersonalization,” cynicism is how many people lose engagement in their jobs.  Cynics are not attached to their assignments, projects, colleagues, etc.  While cynicism is usually linked to an overload of work, it can also occur in high conflict situations, where the worker feels a lack of participation in decision making or if a worker feels they are being treated unfairly. 
  • Inefficacy – Inefficacy is defined as feeling a lack of confidence in one’s work or a lack of achievement and recognition in work already completed for a company.  While inefficacy usually comes in tandem with exhaustion and cynicism, it can also come from the feeling that there is a lack of required resources needed to complete a task.  From needing new computer software to wondering if any of completed work is being met with approval, inefficacy is another dangerous component of burnout. 

While all three of these symptoms can show up together or separately, it is important to be able to recognize them.  Once the signs are seen, then the process of ending burnout can begin in earnest by management.     

Extinguishing Burnout in Your Business

There are many ways to put a stop to burnout.  While there are some things that only the employees themselves can do, employers can also be a great help.  We’re going to go through a few of those tips here, but please be aware that there are more.  Since burnout can be very personal, they will depend on the employee and business.

Communication with employees is one of the keys to successfully defeating burnout in the office.  Simply asking workers for their opinions can make them feel valuable and needed, but it is imperative to use some of that feedback as well.   Giving employees a voice only works if management remembers to actively take their workers words to heart.  Ask employees about their workloads; then, employers can work with employees to curate task lists that, not only are they more comfortable with, but are able to be completed in a timely manner and with quality results.  Talk to workers about their schedules as well, not just workloads.  Offering flexibility with work schedules has been shown to give employees more breathing room with their tasks, keeping burnout at bay.

Also, along those lines, offer workers “mental health days” and paid time off.  This seems like an obvious tip, but it is still important to discuss.  After offering the time, don’t forget to encourage employees to take that time when it is offered.  Employers need to remember that their workers require time away from work to reset and recharge, and this is one of the most common sense ways to show that employees are appreciated for the hard work they do while on the clock. 

One of the facets of burnout that is rarely considered is the effect of the state of equipment that employees use.  There are two paths that this kind of frustration can take, but they usually end up converging back in the same place.  The first is that almost all of us know that there is nothing more maddening than equipment that doesn’t work.  Whether it is software on a computer or the printer down the hall, if it doesn’t work the way it is supposed to, when it is supposed to, it can drive workers absolutely bonkers.  (Please see the fax machine scene from Office Space for more on this.  If you know, you know.)  On top of that, the longer a piece stays at a below par working order, the less faith employees have in their leadership, since it is management’s responsibility to make sure that everyone has the proper, working equipment they need to do their job.  If the customer service representative has a phone that constantly cuts off callers, or if nurses have to keep searching the floor for a working ultrasound machine, they are eventually going to give up on management and give into burnout. 

It is important to remember to be fair to all employees on staff.  A lack of perceived fairness is another huge proponent of burnout, especially if it seems arbitrary.  Be sure to look for signs of inequality around the office and then actively try to root them out.  Don’t promote employees at random; remember to move workers upward who merit it.  If a worker feels that they are being treated unfairly, they are likely to become cynical, and it will, in the end, affect their work. 

Finally, employers should be ready to recognize hard work and success in their employees.  As stated above, employees who feel that their work is appreciated are less likely to suffer from burnout. summed it well when they said, “An unexpected pat on the back or recognition in front of peers for a job well done can be a tremendous ego boost and go far toward stemming the onset of burnout.”


What does this have to do with retention and recruitment?  Burnout can affect an office in many different ways, and it is important to understand that most of them will lead to a downfall in office productivity and morale.  Employees who are burnt out in their jobs will be less engaged with their work.  Eventually, they will become less productive, and some employees will even lose their health dealing with the anxiety and stress of burnout.  Because of this, burnout is projected to cost businesses over $300 billion a year in missed work and low engagement.  This will eventually cost a company the retention of their best employees.  As the best talent leaves, the rest of the business will also suffer.  This means that it will be more difficult to recruit the bright candidates needed to succeed in the future.  If recruitment and retention are your company’s number one goals now, then burnout needs to be something that gets tackled as soon as possible.


Meaghan Goldberg covers recruitment and digital marketing for Lionzone.  A Patterson, GA native, after graduating from both Valdosta State University and Middle Tennessee State University, Meaghan joined Lionzone in 2018 as a digital recruitment strategist before becoming the social media manager.



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