6 Drivers Of Burnout That Leaders Need To Understand

Plus The 1 Factor These Drivers All Miss

I was reading a Forbes article earlier today (you may be aware of my feelings about Forbes).

The article referred to some research on Burnout that referenced “6 Drivers of Burnout”.

Let’s look at these 6 factors that can lead to Burnout and then discuss the 1 factor they all are missing.

Driver 1: Lack Of Recognition

We all want to be recognized for the good work that we do.

However, it doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Many organizations create “Recognition Programs”.

But do they work?


More often than not they fail.

The problem is that these programs make Recognition feel forced and fake.

In the end, most of these programs get forgotten.

The people who deserve Recognition don’t get it.

For Recognition to work, it needs to be genuine.

This requires Leaders to actively look for opportunities to recognize their teams.

What we look for, we find more of.

However, if Leaders fail to do this, the best members of our teams will begin to feel unappreciated.

This happens in short time.

The result?

Often these employees begin to work less hard as they look for another organization that WILL appreciate their efforts.

However, in the interim, they will become more and more discontent with the workplace.

This discontent will eventually lead to Burnout.

Driver 2: Unmanageable Workload

The reality is that right now, most organizations are understaffed.

When understaffed, the “go-to” answer most Leaders have is that everyone needs to pitch in more.

However, this quickly leads to Unmanageable Workloads.

When people are worked too hard for too long, they can’t take it anymore.

Leaders often make it worse by putting the heavy loads on their “top performers”.

The idea is that these employees are the best, so they are best suited to get the extra work done.

But this can become a disastrous problem.

It can end up looking like punishment, or worse abuse, for how good of employees they are.

This will lead those “top performers” to Burnout faster than other employees.

Instead of the extra workload getting done better, that work will likely both get done worse and destroy your best employees.

Driver 3: Lack Of Community

We are social creatures.

The reality is that humans thrive in community.

None of us are designed to be alone.

Organizations that foster strong community tend to do well.

However, failure to do this can quickly lead to isolation.

Isolation itself can quickly lead to Burnout.

There is a myth that has become prevalent in the “Return-To-Office” mandates that this driver is why we should go back to the office.

However, there is nothing further from the truth.

Communities can be created online VERY easily.

They happen all the time in our world!

Some of my favorite communities are 100% online!

Though there “can” be better benefits to having communities in person, here’s the reality:

If you can’t build a community remotely, you will fail to create it in person as well.

Everything that makes a community succeed online is still needed in person, and if you fail to have them remotely, you won’t “magically” get them by forcing people back into an office.

What makes online communities work NEEDS to occur before the “Extra Benefits” of in-person communities can occur.

In fact, you can make things significantly WORSE by forcing employees into an office without having community already occurring.

It will simply lead to faster rates of Burnout.

Driver 4: Lack Of Autonomy

People like to have control of their lives.

The less control they have, the worse they will feel.

So many organizations fail to give their employees any Autonomy.

What is worse about this is that, often, employees have a significantly better understanding of their jobs than their Leaders.

They are doing it every day!

By failing to let them do what they are great at, and pushing your mandates on them without understanding their reality, you create a horrible work situation.

The less Autonomy people feel, the faster they Burnout.

This also destroys things like Creativity and Innovation.

So many organizations are struggling and desiring Creativity and Innovation, yet they think the solution is to take MORE Autonomy away from their employees.

This is part of the “Serendipity Of Ideas Myth”.

Forcing people to do things against their wills, and failing to let them take control of their lives, will ALWAYS lead to more problems.

Burnout is high on that list of problems created due to a Lack of Autonomy.

Driver 5: Values Disconnect

Every person in the world has Values that they hold dear.

Sometimes people may not be able to “name” their values, but we feel them deep in our souls.

Great Leaders can figure out what Values employees have and work those Values into the goals of the team and organization.

However, few Leaders do this.

This creates teams of people who come to work to get a paycheck, and that is it.

If there is nothing that ties the Values to the work, people lose interest in their work.

Then the reality sets in for employees –

“If the only thing keeping me at one job is pay, why do I need “this” job?”

Employees don’t need a job that doesn’t understand what they Value.

The longer employees stay somewhere they don’t feel connected to their Values, the faster Burnout will ensue.

Driver 6: Unfairness

There are quite a few problems that tie into this Driver.

On one end, you have Leaders who have “favorites” and make things better for those employees, but worse for others.

On the other end, you have Leaders who continually hand more responsibilities to their “best” employees without rewarding them for it.

In either of these cases, some people are favored over others or are at least perceived to be favored (and Perception becomes Reality).

Whether it is reality or perception, this Unfairness creates a host of problems for Leaders.

This can very often lead to some of the highest levels of Active Disengagement, where employees actively work against the goals of the team and organization.

This Unfairness creates more and more problems, leading to Burnout for those who are on the “short end of the stick”.

What’s Missing

However, there is one thing that all 6 Drivers are missing.


Burnout itself is not just a Psychological event, but it is also a Physiological event.

So, if your organization is experiencing Burnout, you could improve all of these things and still have an organization in Burnout!

Burnout is an extreme form of Dis-Stress.

Dis-Stress occurs when we experience higher levels of Stress than our body is ready to handle.

This can happen due to a low Baseline Level of Resilience, or due to an overall lack of Energy (Mg-ATP).

This leads to Oxidative Damage in our bodies, and if we do not heal that Damage, then Burnout will persist.

If we are going to combat Burnout, which 80% of employees are already experiencing, we need to both reduce the Stressors AND fix the damage!

If we don’t, Burnout will continue to get worse.

What makes this more difficult for Leaders is the “Stress Is Not A Solo Game”.

We can spread Dis-Stress to other people, and the more people in Dis-Stress, the more it spreads.

People don’t even need to talk to or interact with each other for this to occur!

Simply being in the same room with 1 person in Dis-Stress (or worse Burnout) can cause Stress to spread.

If we hope to combat Burnout, we must understand HOW Stress works in our Psychophysiology.

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