Not only are there many misunderstandings about what Burnout REALLY is, but also about what the most appropriate intervention is to reduce the risk in an organisation.  In order to address the issue of intervention, it is first important to clarify what Burnout is and what it is not:

  • It is an occupational phenomenon that is precipitated by the work environment.
  • It is not a mental illness, and it is not merely exhaustion, although exhaustion is one of the three dimensions, the other two being cynicism and reduced personal efficacy.

By understanding the above, there is an immediate clue as to the type of intervention that is indicated to both address Burnout in affected employees and reduce the risk for others throughout the organization.

The first line of defense to reduce the risk is organizational, not individual, intervention.  To implement organizational intervention, the cause of Burnout needs to be known.  Contrary to popular belief, the cause of Burnout is not simply excessive work demands.  While this is indeed one contributor, there are five others namely, autonomy, positive feedback, interpersonal relationships, fairness and values.

By examining which of the causes in an organization are the guilty parties, various types of worker profiles can be identified which include engaged, ineffective, overextended, disengaged and burnout employees.  Once the worker profiles have been identified the intervention is fairly straight forward:

  • For an engaged workforce, no intervention is indicated. This is every organisation’s ultimate aim.
  • For an ineffective workforce, attention needs to be given to improving recognition and positive feedback. Fairness and values may also need to be addressed
  • For an overextended workforce, the problem is excessive work demands therefore this needs to be addressed. There is no such thing as a 25 hour day.
  • For a disengaged workforce, interpersonal relationships need attention. Values and fairness may also need to be addressed.
  • For burned-out workforce, all of the above interventions are required.

So in a nutshell, intervention to reduce Burnout or the risk thereof in an organization, must take place at an organizational level, and can only be successfully implemented once the causes have been identified. 

Finally, individual interventions such as psychopharmacology or psychotherapy are not indicated for Burnout, but may be indicated for complications experienced by some employees as a result of Burnout, such as depression, anxiety or substance use disorders.


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work



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