Burnout and Employee Wellbeing focus




Covid-19 has been a little like living in a constant low-level state of trauma. Originally South Africa planned to go on a 21-day full national lockdown. Most South Africans believed it would be a temporary situation, after which the country would go back to the way it usually ran. The military was called out, and only essential workers such as Grocers, Pharmacies and Banks could remain open. Whilst restrictions have eased, we still find ourselves fearing for the health and wellbeing of our friends and family.

The combination of stressors has led to an increased risk of employee burnout and a greater need for focus on employee wellbeing. Here we will look at the stages of employee burnout, who is at risk of employee burnout, how employee well-being management can potentially mitigate the risks of employee burnout, employee wellbeing specifically in South Africa and how you can promote employee wellbeing in your company.


Employee Burnout


Burn-out is the state wherein your physical, emotional and/or mental resources have been depleted resulting from a constant state of stress or frustration. It is generally categorised by three states, namely exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.

Veninga and Spradley, (1981) identified 5 phases of burnout.


Stage One – Honeymoon Phase

This stage is generally noted at the start of a new job or business venture. It is often associated with feelings of excitement, commitment, and high job satisfaction.

Despite this being relatively low risk, you may already be experiencing nervousness regarding your predicted path. In this stage you should already implement positive habits and coping strategies.


Stage Two – Onset of Stress

This stage we note the more common burnout signs. More days are noted wherein stress levels have increased. Optimism begins to wane, and employees may find that they are less adept at managing stress, or that their previous means of stress management techniques are not as effective.


Stage Three – Chronic Stress

In the third stage stressful days outnumber peaceful ones. When experiencing stress, the body releases a variety of hormones, most notably Epinephrine and Cortisol. Whilst this is useful to the body in small doses, and increases an individual’s ability to think quickly, focus and understand risks. In large doses it becomes dangerous. Epinephrine in large doses increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke, whilst Cortisol, when administered regularly, damages the immune system.


Stage Four – Burnout

In the stage of burnout itself, symptoms have become critical. Individuals tend to find coping difficult in this stage. The sense of hopelessness is strongly associated with the feeling of burnout. It is highly recommended to seek out help at this stage.


Stage Five – Habitual Burnout

In this stage Burnout has become entrenched as part of your life. People in this stage find that their emotional, physical, and social responses no longer feel as though it is a reaction to stress, but rather as though it has evolved into a personal label.

Each stage has Specific Symptoms and Traits associated with it.


Burnout Demographics


Burnout can impact anybody; however different groups find stressors in different aspects of life. Demographics are important when analysing different societal groups and understanding what each subsection needs to achieve their state of emotional wellbeing.


Male vs Female

Purvanova & Muros, (2010) did a full study on burnout specific to certain demographics, specifically male vs female. They recognised that traditionally females are seen as more prone to burnout than males and recognised some dangers in this assumption.

Briefly summarised, it would seem that males or females in gender atypical roles experience higher levels of stress and therefore burnout than their counterparts in gender typical roles.


Maslach et al. (2001) also found that males and females experience burnout differently.



To date, only a few studies have been conducted on the LGBTQ+ community and their reaction to burnout in the workplace.  Eliason, Streed Jr. & Henne, (2018) conducted a study of the impact of stress and burnout specifically in LGBTQ+ healthcare workers. The study aimed to look at documented cases of chronic discrimination, and the outcomes of these discriminations. Thirty four percent of the sampled population stated that they had not come out at their workplace. The reasons for not coming out included the fear of being unfairly dismissed, harassment and discrimination. Of the sixty two percent of the sample who were out, forty one percent felt they experienced problems related to their assigned gender or sexuality. Several stating they had previous experiences bad enough to lead to them leaving their jobs or moving workplaces.

To help reduce the risk of burnout in the LGBTQ+ community, Garavaglia, (2019) recommends workplaces embrace more inclusive policies. That is, not only should harassment and discrimination have repercussions, but also internal trainings should be run to reduce these instances.



Johnsona et al. (2017) found that employers were less likely to hire older employees, despite policies being in place to combat age discrimination. According to this study, employers are reluctant to hire older individuals due to the stereotypes surrounding age.

Two meta-analyses found that age is negatively related to burnout in the workplace. The older an individual, the less likely they are to experience the various factors associated with burnout. Older individuals, with their focus on emotional wellbeing, are therefore better at regulating their emotions which in turn lowers their risk of burnout. Younger generations may not yet have learned these traits and as such may be at greater risk of burnout


A move from burnout culture to wellness culture

At present the idea of burnout has been glamorised. Employees seem to consider working to the point of physical and mental exhaustion a badge of honour. This is an unhealthy trend that needs to stop. Employee wellbeing refers to the overall health and wellness of an employee. Dr Adibe, (2021) presents three questions a company can ask themselves to determine whether they are encouraging a Burnout culture or Wellness Culture. This can be found in the Whitepaper itself.


Benefits of Employee Wellbeing to your company


Naturally, an employee who feels healthy and expresses a sense of wellbeing works better. Kohll, 2018 noted a link between Employee Engagement and Wellness. He noted the following:

Stronger Work Relationships

Heathier Behaviours

Less Stress




In conclusion, it is very important for companies to consider the overall health and wellbeing of their employees.  The pandemic has led to a large increase of Pandemic Fatigue, with not just individuals but most of the world struggling to cope. Employees need to be able to recognise and address when they may potentially be experiencing burnout or fatigue and they need to act upon it. This can present differently depending on an individual’s demographics. Companies that adopt a culture more focused on wellness are more likely to earn an Employee Engagement and this culture will lead to more productivity all around.




Adibe, B., (2021). Rethinking wellness: COVID-19 and the search for meaning. AMA Presentation. Available on YouTube here. ((85) Rethinking wellness: COVID-19 and the search for meaning – YouTube)


Chaudoin, K. (2020). Pandemic leads to compassion fatigue, burnout for healthcare workers. Lipscomb University.


Eliason, M. J., Streed, C. Jr. & Henne, M., (2018). Coping With Stress as an LGBTQ+ Health Care Professional. Journal of Homosexuality, 65:5, 561-578.


Johnson, S. J., Machowski, S., Holdsworth, L., Kern, M., Zapf, D., (2017). Age, emotion regulation strategies, burnout, and engagement in the service sector: Advantages of older workers. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 33:3, 205-216.


Kohll, A., (2018). Your Employee Engagement Strategy Needs More Wellness. Forbes.


Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology,52, 397−422.


Purvanova, R. K., & Muros, J. P., (2010). Gender differences in burnout: A meta-analysis. Journal of vocational behaviour. Pearson.


Turmaud, D.R., (2020). The Science Behind Pandemic Fatigue. Lifting the Veil on Trauma. Psychology Today.


Veninga, R. L., & Spradley, J. P., (1981). The work stress connection: how to cope with job burnout. Trove.