How The Best Leaders Blow Out Employee Burnout

How The Best Leaders Blow Out Employee Burnout

John Eades 01/09/2023
How The Best Leaders Blow Out Employee Burnout

No one, even the hardest working professionals, wants to experience burnout.

Most employees have experienced it whether they knew it or not.  

According to a Gallup Report, 76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometime, and 28% percent say they are burned out "very often" or "always" at work. 

Before we go any further, let's get on the same page about burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.

It challenges your mental and physical well-being. It prevents you from maximizing your potential and doing your best work. Eventually, it saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly negative and hopeless. The reality is that burnout, like bad leadership, evaporates hope. Without hope, it's possible to do our best work. 

Burnout, like bad leadership, evaporates hope. Without hope, it's impossible to do your best work. 

When burnout happens, you can feel the pressure in your chest or a pit in your stomach. Since these feelings can come in waves, you often opt for some negative self-medication like alcohol, medicine, or scrolling endlessly on social media. Alternatively, you might opt for positive self-medication like exercise, coaching, therapy, reading, meditation, or prayer.  

What are the Sources of Burnout?

There was an interesting study done on burnout. It found that the jobs that caused high stress and high anxiety had some common characteristics. Jobs with high expectations and low control caused employees to get burned out more quickly. Here is a short video on the study. 

Burnout doesn't occur because of the amount you work. Burnout's primary sources are poor leadership and limited control.

Burnout's primary source is bad leadership. A close second is an employee's control over outcomes and flexibility. 

Based on preliminary research by LearnLoft, 4 additional sources of burnout include: 

  1. Overt Micromanagement

  2. Extreme Pressure on Short-Term Outcomes

  3. Unreasonable Expectations and Time Pressure

  4. Unrealistic Workload

Stress vs. Performance Curve

Sahil Bloom highlighted the The Yerkes-Dodson Law, which is a simple model of the relationship between performance and stress. It was created in 1908 by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, who formulated their conclusions on the basis of the study of Japanese dancing mice. In simple terms, the Yerkes-Dodson Law says that stress and performance are positively correlated, but only up to a certain point, after which more stress reduces performance.

This means that stress and pressure aren't necessarily bad in order to perform at our best. A critical reminder for leaders because:  

Only leaders who are tested become great.

The stress most employees face daily varies but can be divided into three primary buckets.

Low Stress - The majority of our time is spent in low-stress situations, but it doesn't correlate to performing at our best. 

Medium Stress - This is the optimal amount of stress that correlates to optimal performance. It helps create a perfect amount of focus and freedom to execute. 

High Stress - This is often an over-whelmed state where we begin to shut down and feel pressure that doesn't allow us to perform at high levels. 

As you begin to think about burnout and performance in your journey, it's critical to think about which stress level you find yourself in most often at work. As a leader, you must consider this for yourself and your team members.  

How Leaders Reduce Burnout

Since the number one source of burnout is bad management, one of the primary solutions is excellent leadership. If you find yourself responsible for leading a team, here are a few strategies to blow out employee burnout: 

1. Constantly Communicate the Purpose and Vision

Napoleon famously said, "A leader's job is to define reality and to deliver hope." Too often, managers forget the essential role they play in delivering hope. One of the best ways to make this a reality is to communicate the deeper purpose of the work and paint a picture of a brighter future tomorrow than exists today.  

It reminds me of a critical leadership principle in the Accelerate Leadership program: 

People join because of a purpose and vision. People leave when those are no longer present. 

If you aren't sure what your team's purpose is beyond making money, it's time to start doing the real work. 

2. Mandate Work-Life Balance

It's one thing for leaders to talk about work-life balance; it's another thing to mandate it. It reminds me of the story of former NFL Super Bowl-winning head coach Bruce Arians. In an interview with Peter King, he said, "I told my coaches in our first meeting, 'If you miss a ballgame, a recital, anything to do with your children, I'll fire you.' Because I missed a lot of mine. And those years don't come back," 

It's a powerful example of not suggesting something but mandating. Mandating work-life balance sets a standard for caring more about long-term success than short-term gains. As I reflect on coaching and developing leaders, it's one thing that separates the good from the great.  

Great leaders are unwilling to sacrifice short-term personal gains for the long-term success of others. 

3. Offer Employee Development Program 

Employees who feel supported and invested in are less likely to experience burnout. Proving outside coaching, counseling, wellness initiatives, and development programs are great ways to demonstrate your commitment to your people beyond delivering short-term results. 

I have been amazed at the results of leadership coaching programs for companies that intentionally invest in a coach for their employees. The future organization will not look at development programs like coaching as cost centers but as requirements for attracting, retaining and sustaining performance. 

The future organization will not look at employee development programs as cost centers but as requirements for attracting, retaining, and sustaining performance. 


No one, including you, wants to get burned out. Now is the time to be intentional about having the conversation with your team about how they are feeling and to follow that conversation up with action.

Are you burned out or have you been burned out? What has helped? Tell me in the comments.

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John Eades

Leadership Expert

John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on, LinkedIn Pulse,,, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College. 

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