Harvard Business Review on Burn Out

Beyond Burned Out

By Jennifer Moss
Harvard Business Review | February 10, 2021

…Although the concept of occupational burnout originated in the 1970s, the medical community has long argued about how to define it. In 2019 the World Health Organization finally included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, describing it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This language acknowledged that burnout is more than just an employee problem; it’s an organizational problem that requires an organizational solution.

When you analyze the real causes of burnout, it becomes clear that almost everyone has been attacking the problem from the wrong angle. According to Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers, and Michael Leiter of Deakin University, burnout has six main causes:

  • Unsustainable workload
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Insufficient rewards for effort
  • Lack of a supportive community
  • Lack of fairness
  • Mismatched values and skills

While these are all organizational issues, we still prescribe self-care as the cure for burnout. We’ve put the burden of solving the problem squarely on the shoulders of individual employees. “Let’s just recommend more yoga, wellness tech, meditation apps, and subsidized gym memberships — that’ll fix it,” we say. But those are tools for improving well-being. When it comes to preventing burnout specifically, they won’t be effective. We desperately need upstream interventions, not downstream tactics. In this article I’ll describe tactics companies can use to address some of the organizational roots of burnout…(Cont.)


To read the entire article by Jennifer Moss, visit HBR: Beyond Burned Out