Burnout Threatens Employee Well-Being and Productivity — Here's How to Stop It From Infiltrating Your Workplace

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As leaders, we want our team members to shine bright — achieving their full potential and experiencing fulfillment — rather than spiraling downward towards the vague condition we call “burnout.”

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. While not officially listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), burnout is accepted as a significant risk to employee well-being and productivity.

While fire is a risk to physical safety, burnout is a risk to psychological safety and organizational success. Here’s how we can apply proven protocols from fire safety to mitigate the risk of individual and collective burnout in the workplace.

Related: 3 Insights From the First Large-Scale Study on Burnout and Entrepreneurs

1. Burnout prevention: Proactive measures

Identify “ignition sources”

As a leader, you’re the purveyor of your team’s attention and cognitive resources. Prevent burnout by tuning into workloads and ensuring tasks are balanced and realistic. Help team members focus on what they can control and prioritize based on importance rather than urgency. Encourage regular micro-breaks to downregulate their stress response and cultivate a culture of calm. Think of micro-breaks as buffers between flammable materials and potential ignition sources.

Install “fire alarms” and “smoke detectors”

Early detection is critical. Implement regular check-ins and surveys to spot signs of burnout. These are your smoke detectors, alerting you to chronic stress and fatigue before they become debilitating challenges. Companies worldwide use tools like the Resilience Assessment to proactively measure factors that contribute to burnout, such as anhedonia, self-criticism, empathy fatigue and procrastination.

Appoint burnout safety officers

Just as you may have fire marshals within your team, consider appointing “burnout safety officers.” These individuals become responsible for monitoring and assessing burnout risks. Upskill them with mental health first aid courses or resilience coach training. A network of passionate coaches builds awareness and provides active support for the team.

2. Burnout suppression: Immediate response

Quick interventions

People often forget that help is available when they are in a downward spiral, so regularly promote resources like EAP, counseling services, mindfulness apps, micro-habits and resilience workshops. These are your fire extinguishers, providing immediate relief and support when stress levels rise. Burnout safety officers can be pivotal in signposting people to the available resources.

Burnout drills

Train your team to recognize burnout signs and know the steps to take. Make discussions about mental health a stigma-free aspect of your workplace culture, just like regular fire drills. Normalize peer-to-peer check-ins where team members ask each other questions like “Are you ok?” and “Do you need any support?”

Related: How I Pulled Myself Out of Burnout and Turned My Ambitions Into Reality

3. Burnout containment: Limiting damage

Set boundaries and limits

Sometimes, sparks of intensity will flare up. This is when you need to establish clear work schedules and encourage employees to respect them. Model the behaviors you want to see in your team — such as not sending messages late at night or being the last to leave the office. Highlight the importance of vacations and disconnecting from work over the weekend. These boundaries are similar to having fire doors and barriers that help contain the spread of a blaze.

Project segmentation

Segment large projects or workflows into discrete, manageable chunks of work. Build redundancy and strive for transparency so that all team members are clear about accountability and expectations. This is much like compartmentalizing a building to limit fire damage.

4. Evacuation plans: Safe exits

Provide burnout mitigation procedures

Create clear procedures for employees to rest and recover if they are experiencing severe burnout. This could include flexible work arrangements, mental health days or a sabbatical. Equip staff with tools like the Resilience Assessment or well-being training so that they have tools to rejuvenate and a clear action plan for returning to work. Tools like ACT — acceptance and commitment therapy — can dramatically expedite recovery from grief and distress.

Build support networks

Create support networks within your organization and encourage employees to share their experiences. A Teams or Slack channel is a good start. In my experience delivering hundreds of resilience workshops, the best leaders often share a story about their own burnout and subsequent growth, demonstrating vulnerability and authenticity. Lead with values to help people connect with your purpose and stay focused on what really matters.

5. Post-incident analysis: Learning and improvement

Burnout reviews

Use feedback to continuously enhance the work environment, much like analyzing a fire incident to prevent future occurrences. After an instance of burnout, review what happened and how to improve your prevention strategy. Demonstrate genuine compassion for the individual and build trust rather than simply focusing on productivity and performance risks.

Continuous improvement

Update training programs regularly with the latest research and strategies for preventing burnout. Ensure your organization adapts to new challenges and remains resilient. Share what you’ve learned from burnout reviews and demonstrate how you’re proactively working to address potential ignition sources.

Related: How to Escape Entrepreneurial Burnout When You Can’t Just Quit


Shining bright is the optimal state for every employee. It means being engaged, present, motivated and productive. But there’s a fine line between peak performance and burning out.

The above strategies, inspired by fire safety protocols, can help leaders create a workplace where employees thrive. But remember, safety starts at the top, so walk the walk before you talk the talk. This is the secret to success in any cultural transformation.

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