How to address burn-out in the workplace

Amongst the busyness of a relentless change environment, where we are being asked to do more and more with less, even the greatest jobs can lead people into a state of burn-out. This state can be associated with a high amount of progress, in that you can be sitting in burn out and still be hitting targets, knocking over KPI’s like a perfectly placed strike at a ten-pin bowling alley, and even winning awards on a regular basis. The piece that drops off, the missing ingredient is that individuals lose sight of the bigger purpose, why they started in the first place. It can be that the purpose has either changed or gotten lost amongst the tasks that just need to get done. Now. Urgently. Or. Else.

The result? Exhaustion.

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The prevalence of burn-out is increasing as the lines between being work and home, between being available and not are significantly blurred. Now more than ever we are seeing individuals racing from one busy moment to the next before collapsing into bed, then getting up and doing it again tomorrow. The cost is individuals not operating anywhere near their best, or even dropping out completely. So how do you combat burn-out in your workplace?

1. Hit the reset button with your team

Our default amongst the busyness is to keep working harder, waiting for an elusive reprieve from the onslaught. A reprieve that is unlikely to come. Our fast-paced busyness starts to infect those moments that don’t require the same velocity. We worry about slowing down. Like an intense game of Jenga, we fear one wrong move will bring our whole world crashing down. But rather than stop and step away from the game for a moment, we continue running on overload, telling ourselves we’ll rest later.

The key is to create space for you and your team to hit reset even amongst the busyness. In fact, the busier the period of work is the more important it is to carve out pockets of time to hit reset so that you and the people in your business can bring their best game back into play. Stop and have a cuppa together, have walk and talk meetings outside, change the location of your team meetings, picnic in the park, celebrate the small victories along the way, inject humour and laughter into the day as much as possible. Find ways to feel refocused, even on the busiest of days and in the middle of the hardest projects.

2. Reconnect to your business values

Your team knowing the ‘why’ behind their work and having a clear intent behind their actions can help keep them focused and energised — rather than exhausted and burnt out. And knowing this ‘why’ begins with clearly defining what’s important for your business.

When asked to outline what matters, many business owners slip into default settings and respond with broad terms like ‘customer service’, ‘product performance’ and ‘innovation’. These might be true values for you, but I want to call them ‘boring’ and irrelevant — not because they don’t matter but because they don’t provide any uniqueness that describes how these areas of your business matter to you. What is it about ‘customer service’ that is specifically important to you? Is it about building trust and creating a community? Is it making sure every interaction is efficient and seamless? Or is it always giving your customers something to smile about?

Dig deeper than those broader terms and identify why these aspects are important in your business.

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3. Defend what’s sacred

Having strong values are pointless unless you defend them. Amongst the busyness you need to defend what is sacred in your culture. It is these rituals and behaviours that provide the anchor that individuals, teams and leaders can hold onto among the noise and uncertainty of high change, shifting customer base and rapid technology advances.

With your team clarify expected behaviours, particularly around self-care, and agree to hold each other to account. The key is to create a set of non-negotiable behaviours that align with values. It may be that there are no emails sent after 7pm, or that meetings are only held at your favourite café.

Remember — when you can hit the reset button amongst the busyness, articulate what matters, and defend these values, you have your own battery charger to re-energise yourself and your staff in a busy world.


Alison Hill is a psychologist and co-founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behaviour and motivation strategy company. An international and in-demand keynote speaker, Alison is also the best-selling co-author of Dealing with the Tough Stuff, and Stand Out: A real world guide to get clear, find purpose and become the boss of busy (Wiley $27.95). For more information visit or contact