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Proactive Signs of Burnout and Tips to Prevent It

We have all heard the term burnout, but how much time have you taken to think about what it is and what experiencing it means for you and your colleagues? This article will look at what burnout is, how we can see the signs before someone does burnout as well as consider how we can develop environments that can reduce the chances of people being burnt out, and tips to prevent it.

Burnout is not a new topic, but it is one that is getting a lot of attention (Maslach & Leiter, 2021). The events of the last 2 years have led to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and fear (Kloutsiniotis, Mihail, Mylonas, & Pateli, 2022), and as such the concern for understanding preventing burnout is important. Burnout, as defined by the World Health Organization is a: Syndrome is conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that had not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy (WH0, 2019)

Maslach and Leiter (2016), scholars in this area, define burnout as “a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job” (p.351). Their work highlights how burnout can impact both one’s personal and social functioning. And if we look to their earlier work (2005) we can find valuable insights to help understand burnout. They surveyed 10,000 people from different industries and countries and found six areas of burnout:

  • Workload (either too much work or not enough resources)
  • Control (people being micromanaged, having a lack of influence to do their job, or having accountability without the required power)
  • Reward (not being properly compensated or acknowledged)
  • Community (being isolated, experiencing conflict, or feeling disrespected)
  • Fairness (feeling discriminated against or feeling there is too much favoritism)
  • Values (having ethical conflicts or being given meaningless tasks).   

We can all relate to some of these things, but we are not all experiencing burnout. How can we identify signs of potential burnout? Here are some suggested things to look out for (Ericson-Lidman & Stranberg, 2007):


If someone is …


Struggling to manage alone.

They are stretching themselves too thin and want to work alone.

Showing self-sacrifice

Pushing oneself further than is expected or required.

Struggling to achieve unattainable goals

Being weighed down by heave demands.

Becoming distant or isolated

Withdrawing from work.

Showing signs of falling apart

Showing deteriorating body signs and experiencing sleep disturbances.


Allowing these signs to go unnoticed can be detrimental to an organization. Absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover are costly results of not dealing with these issues in the workplace. That is why it is important not only for leaders of our colleges and universities to give these ideas serious consideration but for us as colleagues to be calling out these potential catalysts for burnout when we see them in the workplace.

When we look to find ways to avoid burnout, there are some basic things that can help. Gratitude, social support, self-efficacy, and self-compassion (Brazier, Larson, Xu, Judah, Egan, Burd, & Darzi, 2022), have all been found to help reduce levels of burnout and improve workplace well-being. This means that by showing our colleagues support and expressing gratitude, we may be able to help them avoid getting to the point where they are so overwhelmed that they burnt out. Further, we also must ensure that we are believing in our own abilities and showing compassion for ourselves. We need to pay attention to how what work and how much work we take on. There are endless possibilities of tasks that can be taken on by an academic, but we must ensure that we manage and maintain a healthy workload. To maintain a healthy workload, here are some suggested tactics to help.

  1. Know your goals – What is it that you want out of your career? Out of your life?  If you know what your main goals are, you can stay focused and be more productive in achieving them.
  2. Manage your time – In the hybrid world we are working in, a 12+ hour day can happen easily. You need to take control of your time so you can ensure that all the things in your life get attention, not just your work.
  3. Say “no” – There will always be another amazing research idea, a committee that needs assistance, or student who wants more attention. Knowing your goals helps with this but you also need to create boundaries. You need to do your part, but you do not need to be everything to everyone.
  4. Collaborate – Collaboration, if done with a trusted team of people, can help your productivity. When working with others you have support and are not as likely to feel like you must take it all on yourself.

We are in a dynamic time and as we adjust to our new environment, we need to ensure we take care of ourselves and watch out for our colleagues. Burnout is not just a word; it can have serious consequences. So, please take stock of where you are, allow self-care, and let us all avoid burning out. 


Brazier, A., Larson, E., Xu, Y., Judah, G., Egan, M., Burd, H., & Darzi, A. (2022). ‘Dear Doctor’: a randomised controlled trial of a text message intervention to reduce burnout in trainee anaesthetists. Anaesthesia.

Ericson‐Lidman, E., & Strandberg, G. (2007). Burnout: co‐workers’ perceptions of signs preceding workmates’ burnout. Journal of Advanced Nursing60(2), 199-208.

Kloutsiniotis, P. V., Mihail, D. M., Mylonas, N., & Pateli, A. (2022). Transformational Leadership, HRM practices and burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of personal stress, anxiety, and workplace loneliness. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 103177.

Maslach, C. & Leiter, M.P. (2021). How to Measure Burnout Accurately and Ethically. Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Burnout. In Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior (pp. 351-357). Academic Press.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Reversing burnout. Standford Social Innovation Review, 43-49.

World Health Organization (2019). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”:  International Classification of Diseases. Retrieved from

About the Author

Dr. Doreen MacAulay is an Instructor at the Muma College of Business, University of South Florida. She is passionate about helping individuals and organizations learn how to be better versions of themselves. She teaches principles of management, organizational behavior, and executive leadership at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research focuses on identity, gender, and history of organizational studies. MacAulay has taught in both Canada and the US. She is a member of the Academy of Management Association, the Southern Academy of Management Association, and the Midwest Academy of Management Association. She has served as a reviewer for several conferences and journals. MacAulay earned a Ph.D. in management from St. Mary's University in Nova Scotia, an MBA from the University of New Brunswick, and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.

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