Recognising Burnout

There is an urgent need for research into burnout as Gallup (2021) collected data that showed over a third of all employees are chronically stressed out or burned out at any one time but unaware of it.

This ignorance of the effect too much stress is having on employees must be addressed. In 2017, a study commissioned by the UK Prime Minister’s office found that a sixth of the UK workforce (circa 32million) were suffering from ill health, mental difficulties, and long-term absences caused by the lack of ability to bounce back from an adversity such as burnout (Mafabi et al., 2015). Moreover, in 2008, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the UK’s biggest and oldest HRM and HRD professional association, founded in 1913 and with over 100,000 international members, conducted a survey on why individual employees were absent from work. It was found that over thirteen million days were lost between 2007 and 2008 highlighting (Dello Rosso & Stoykova, 2015).

Maslach and Jackson (1981) define burnout in terms of 3 dimensions. These are emotional physical exhaustion (EE), depersonalization (DP) and loss of purpose in job or life resulting in reduced desire for personal accomplishment (PA). Often executives have all these symptoms but feeling so bad becomes just a way of life which means those people also don’t realise how ill they are before it is too late. Deloitte (2021) reports over fifty per-cent of employers being unaware of what the components of burnout are which makes it hard for employers to diagnose burnout and offer appropriate treatment (Leiter et al., 2014). Research conducted by Williams (2017) demonstrated that even when employees were diagnosed with burnout, they had been unaware they had been chronically stressed leading up to their breakdown. Clough et al. (2012) claim that when a person is chronically stressed, they no longer are able to distinguish the distressed state from a healthy homeostatic state. It is thought that energy management is the best form for treatment to help a person return to their natural homeostatic state and rehabilitate from burnout (Maslach et al., 1996).

This led Loehr and Schwartz (2005) to create the full engagement grid which is a system of four energy zones (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) a person needs to work with to avoid burnout. Contrary to the popularity and success of the energy grid (Loehr and Schwartz 2005) did not provide specific practices participants could do to help their energy zones if they were burned out so their capacity to affect burnout was limited to prevention rather than cure. Loehr (1995) describe the need for physical exercise as being vital to any work that involves recovering from stress. More recently, Gardener (2021) has modernised the energy concept. Professor Gardener claims that focussing on being aware and reporting on mental, emotional, and physical states builds quotients in these areas that lead to better recognition of imbalance and improved usage of these areas (Marenus 2020). Gardener (2021) refers to three energy zones being relevant when working on burnout – mental (IQ), emotional (EQ), and physical (PQ). Here, IQ relates to intellect quotient, EQ refers to emotional quotient and PQ is the Physical Quotient.

The current data surrounding work into workplace stress programmes centres around mindfulness. These mindfulness based programmes (MBP) have empirically demonstrated that MBP’s that have a focus on IQ, EQ and PQ are more effective at managing stress and improving resilience than traditional MBSR or MBCT courses (West, Dyrbye, Erwin and Shanafelt, 2016). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have concluded that organizational interventions have reduced cases of burnout effectively when they not only run MBP’s but also by educating workers how to develop IQ, EQ and PQ strategies for themselves (Smith, 2014). Smith (2014) promotes the use of MBP’s that include physical exercise as a primary option to teach employees to manage their own mental and physical state. It is vital that executives become accustomed to understanding and recognising their own physical states so they can start to recognise when there might be an issue sooner. The need for workplaces to educate their staff in how to understand physical health will be made even easier when this is linked to devices such as wearable HRV monitors (West, Dyrbye, Erwin and Shanafelt 2016). Indeed, Gardener (2021) can see a very near future where executives monitor their stress levels through HRV device like Garmin which will improve performance because they will feel physical better but it might also save lives.


Deloitte United Kingdom (2021) Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion a year. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 February 2021]

Gallup, I. (2021) Employee Burnout: The Biggest Myth. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 January 2021] (2021) | PQ one of three University spinouts | School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences | Loughborough University. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2021]

Leiter, M., Bakker, A. and Maslach, C. (2014) Burnout at Work. London and New York: Psychology Press. Taylor and Francis Group

Loehr, J.E. (1995) The New Toughness Training for Sports, New York: Plume Publishers

Loehr, J & Schwartz, T (2005) The power of full engagement, New York: Free Press

Maslach,C., Jackson, SE., Leiter, M.P., (Eds.) (1996)The Maslach Burnout Inventory-Test Manual, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA, pp. 19-26

Marenus, M. (2020) Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligencesy. Simply Psychology.

Smith, S. (2014) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: An Intervention to Enhance the Effectiveness of Nurses’ Coping with Work-Related Stress. International Journal of Nursing Knowledge, 25(2), pp.119-130