If you aren’t aware, burnout in the workplace is a condition that the World Health Organisation (WHO) lay to blame resolutely at the feet of the employer.

Officially characterising it as “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, typically, burnout occurs when someone’s physical or emotional reserves are spent. Often, the result of continued stress and dissatisfaction, burnout happens when the negative effects of pressure are amplified by a lack of support and resources, strict deadlines, and long hours.

Compounded by people’s unreasonable expectations of themselves or their personal lives, employee burnout can manifest in the workplace in many ways, from increased frustration and indifference to anger, withdrawal, reduced effectiveness, and even absenteeism.

While WHO see burnout as the consequence of mismanagement, in truth, outside factors like money worries, relationship issues and challenges in people’s home life can also play a significant role in what is a serious issue for both individual employees and the wider working environment.

Encouraging an open and supportive culture is vital, along with having a mental health policy in place but recognising the early signs and taking the appropriate action is the best way to prevent burnout.


Exhaustion – both physical and emotional, persistent fatigue and a lack of being able to concentrate after a good night’s sleep or time off are signs to keep an eye on.

Productivity Drops – a noticeable decline in motivation and performance, struggling to meet deadlines or making mistakes they wouldn’t normally make are red flags.

Detachment – people experiencing burnout might become increasingly cynical and detached from their work, colleagues, and the business as a whole.

Irritability – employees may become short-tempered, react strongly to minor stressors, and have difficulty maintaining composure in challenging situations.

Physical Symptoms – from headaches to stomach aches, a lack of sleep, and even susceptibility to illnesses can be indicative of burnout as chronic stress weakens the immune system.

Neglected Self-Care – employees might prioritise work over personal well-being, leading to the neglection of exercise, healthy eating, and spending time with loved ones.

Absenteeism – be attentive to people with more frequent sick days, personal days, or unexplained absences. Employees might feel the need to take time off to cope with their stress and exhaustion.

Being permanently “on” – with technology, people who find it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work and relax in their own time are worthy of observation.

If you notice any of these signs in your colleagues – or yourself – it’s essential to address them quickly. Having regular conversations about mental health and highlighting the support available is a good start.

Try to remember that this can be a hard topic for people to open up about. Removing the stigma and providing access to counselling can help employees to better understand and manage their condition. The NHS offers a free counselling service, as do several charities, including Mind, the mental health charity.

Burnout is a condition that is triggered by an individual’s work but it is their relationship with their work that leads to the illness. Understanding this is perhaps the most important piece of information I can share with you because your interventions should always focus on improving the relationship between an individual and their work.

Coupled with WHO’s definition, hopefully, we can identify and validate people’s symptoms as well as make sure the modern workplace can help them to make changes that will prevent burnout in the first place.

According to Gallup, the number of people working full-time who are highly engaged and enthusiastic about their work is 15%. Pulling data from 155 countries, their 2017 research reveals a huge obstacle to creating high-performing teams while, at the same time, presenting an enormous opportunity due to the top 25% of companies also being 17% more productive and 21% more profitable.

And then along came COVID.

Bringing with it one of the greatest economic challenges of our time, the pandemic flipped the world on its head. It forced businesses to change overnight, to re-evaluate how they work and, in many cases, what they stand for.
When you think about it, it is all very sobering but, from my perspective, the big positive to come out of the chaos is that the importance of company culture as a key to long-term success is firmly back in the spotlight.

The culture of a business defines the working environment for employees and helps to guide their decision-making. It is the personality of an organisation and, regardless of the corporate values you have written down, is made up of the most commonly shared beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours in your team.

As we all look forward to the return of business growth, I urge you to take inspiration from many of the world’s most successful companies when recruiting and explore the merits of value-based interviews as part of your process.

While competency to do the job is still important, being able to understand a person’s motivation is the only way you can hope to determine whether they will fit well within a team and go on to thrive.

During the interview process, you must provide an opportunity for candidates to showcase their character. If done well, this will help you to understand whether their priorities match your goals and what it is that drives their behaviour.

Your mission is to find the perfect person, but the best candidates will always be well prepared and ready to make a good impression. With their guard up, it is your job to get under their skin. If people trust you, they will relax and make it easier for the conversation to flow into topics they have not rehearsed.

For many years, Timpson – the shoe repair business – has recruited entirely on personality. Priding themselves on great service, the outcome of an interview is the direct result of the cultural match of the Mr Men character your personality most resembles. It may sound crazy, but they live by this rule, meaning you can turn up with the best CV in the world but if they think your ‘Mr Grumpy’, your journey will end there.

While Mr Men may not be right for you, uncovering unseen aspects of people’s personality and behaviour during an interview is crucial to making the right choice, so try opening with a request for their personal and professional goals; and how they see the role fitting in with these.

Ask them to tell you about a situation that has brought out the best in them; giving examples of why they feel that makes them ideal for your company.

I like to find out who the smartest person they know is (and why). By getting people to explain this you will not only find out about their networks, but also the values and personality traits they aspire towards.

These are just examples. You will need to develop a series of questions that match your specific values but, whatever you end up with, try to remember that every interview is also a chance to find out more for both parties.

While you aim to work out what makes someone tick, they will most likely be doing the same to you, so make sure you do not forget to give a good impression of your business and the way it operates.

Matching company values and personal beliefs during the recruitment process is critical to your long-term success.

If you want to recruit the best people for your business in the future, it’s critical that you have a great company culture.

Bryony discusses the importance of personality and attitude when looking to find the next member of your team.