Menopausal or stressed woman holding her head

Burnout at work: what’s causing it?

Burnout at work has reached an all-time high, especially among younger professionals, according to new research by global healthcare provider, Cigna International Health.

Says Dr Anne Lepetit, Medical Director at Cigna International:

“Burnout is a very real issue for everyone, particularly in the workplace. People often went into autopilot ‘survival mode’ during the pandemic and muddled through. Now, almost three years later the mental exhaustion linked to the pandemic is causing people to quite literally crash and burn.  It's important we all understand what burnout is, particularly if you are responsible for managing or leading people in the workplace. Burnout is the feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s not a disease and it remains classed as a syndrome, but if left untreated it can lead to other serious mental health conditions, and physical problems including heart disease and high blood pressure”. 

What causes burnout?
With a whole host of causes, including the cost-of-living crisis, Dr Lepetit has identified five major symptoms of burnout that employers should watch out for. These include: 

  1. Feeling overwhelmed: feeling like you have too much on your plate.
  2. Feeling helpless: often losing your sense of direction.
  3. Self-doubt: lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities.
  4. Negative thinking: a pattern of thinking negatively about yourself and your surroundings.
  5. Exhaustion: can be both physical or mental. 


More than 3,000 professionals and globally mobile workers around the world took part in Cigna International’s annual 360 Global Well-Being Survey, which shows that while 40% of employees are now looking for mental health support from their employer, only 24% actually provide it. 

The cost-of-living crisis is identified as one of the main stressors amongst those surveyed, with over a third (36%) reporting the rising cost of living as the leading cause of their stress, highlighting how financial worries are affecting the health of people across the nation and beyond in ways employers may not be aware of.  

The research also highlights a lack of understanding about the subtle ways burnout can impact wellbeing beyond a general feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion. The report found many people misunderstand what they are experiencing and how their health is being affected, and often try to ‘muddle through’ leading to further problems and burnout.

Managing burnout
Dr Anne Lepetit advises the following checklist to help handle and alleviate workplace burnout.

1. Management training
There’s no ‘one-size fits all’ approach: employees in leadership positions need to be trained on how to actively listen, even if it is for five minutes a day. Regularly checking in and assessing is extremely important and needs to be organised quickly if burnout is detected. This can have a positive impact on staff performance if carried out correctly, as people feel more valued if they are being listened to. 

2. Set daily goals
Setting small daily goals that involve minimal effort can have a huge impact on a person’s daily mood, for example spending 20 minutes each day away from the screen to read, or going for a walk at lunchtime, can have a positive impact on your mood. 

3. Purpose
Leaders and team managers should regularly provide feedback to employees when they have done a good job, and never miss an opportunity to praise a colleague or team member. This can make a huge difference to their day and helps to provide them with purpose within their work. 

4. Positive mindset
People spend most of their day in the workplace, and it can be a very influential environment when it comes to mental health. A positive mindset must come from the top and filter through to all employees. 

5. Exercise
Introducing exercise to the daily routine can improve employees’ moods, releasing serotonin the ‘happy hormone’. Taking the time for a self-care activity can be vital to avoiding burnout and achieve the feeling of accomplishment. 

Dr Lepetit added: 

“Burnout can be difficult to detect for many and people react to it in different ways, so we need to be mindful that team leaders and managers aren’t perfect - they need to be coached to listen to employees and to recognise the warning signs. We all know that prevention is always better than cure, but it does not happen overnight. We must all get better at recognising the symptoms of burnout, as the earlier they’re detected the better the prognosis can be.”

International Workplace’s latest IOSH course – Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing – focuses on the health in health and safety and provides an in-depth look at how managers can ensure the wellbeing of their staff, regardless of whether H&S is part of their remit.

It suits:

  • The busy HR director, implementing company-wide wellbeing initiatives.
  • The line manager, covering absences in his team.
  • The concerned team leader, worried about her colleagues’ mental health.
  • The occupational health practitioner, seeing a spike in musculoskeletal disorders since employees started working from home.

The course covers:

  • Ergonomics, demographics and types of working.
  • Giving employees the knowledge and skills to identify wellbeing issues, and to act on them.
  • Work-related health issues – such as how to deal with employees living with cancer, long-term diseases, mobility issues and poor mental health.
  • Understanding that an employer’s duty of care extends beyond health and safety, to employee wellbeing.