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27th April 2023

How to Reduce the Risk of Stress and Burnout

The risk of workplace stress becoming overwhelming and leading to burnout is very real for many people, particularly in a post pandemic and agile working world. With multiple competing priorities and often not enough time or people to deliver it is perhaps unsurprising that our mental health might be impacted. In this article we explore some of the causes of workplace stress and burnout and examine some factors that could reduce the risks.

What is stress?

Stress is described as a natural response to everyday or extraordinary stressors. Sometimes, it can linger for a while and become chronic. The purpose of stress is to prepare you for challenges, both negative and positive [1].

Research by CIPD also suggests that stress and poor mental well-being are among the leading causes of absence, presenteeism and leaveism – i.e. people working during their time off [2] and that employers should approach stress management proactively, focusing on prevention and early intervention, rather than responding only when someone goes on sick leave.” CIPD [3] CIPD also recommend implementing a ‘Mental Health at Work Commitment’ that contains the below 6 standards:

  1. Prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity
  2. Proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes
  3. Promote an open culture around mental health
  4. Increase organisational confidence and capability
  5. Provide mental health tools and support
  6. Increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting

How to Reduce the Risk of Stress and Burnout 1

Common Causes of Workplace Stress

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s Management Standards provide guidance for employers on how to identify and manage the causes of work-related stress. [4] The HSE lists six main areas of work design which can affect stress levels:

Demands: for example, workload and the working environment.

Control: for example. how much say someone has over their job.

Support: for example, level of supervision and resources available to do the job. (Loneliness or social isolation is increasingly understood to also be a factor in workplace stress as more people work from home.)

Relationships: for example. promoting positive working to help prevent conflict.

Role: for example, making sure people understand their role and how it fits in the organisation.

Change: for example, how organisational change is managed and communicated.


What is burnout?

In 1974 Herbert Freudenberger coined the term burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis. It described burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed [5]. Maslach also describes burnout as ‘a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and sense of inefficacy’. [6]

How to Reduce the Risk of Stress and Burnout 2

The Difference Between Stress and Burnout

Although people sometimes use the terms stress and burnout interchangeably burnout isn’t the same as stress, and you can’t cure it simply by taking a holiday, slowing down, or working fewer hours. Under stress, people may struggle to cope with pressure but once they have moved into burnout, they are totally out of energy and may feel hopeless about overcoming even the simplest of challenges. Research by Christian Dorman at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz found that burnout is much more than just feeling tired. People often experience a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness and that their efforts are in vain. For some people life can lose its meaning altogether. [7]

The link between Burnout and Loneliness at Work

In 2017 Emma Seppälä and Marissa King wrote in the Harvard Business Review that loneliness at work may also be a contributory factor in rising burnout levels, this is particularly important now that many of our teams are working from home and therefore potentially more socially isolated from one another. “Many recommendations focus on relieving stress, teaching mindfulness, or reducing workload — all of which treat burnout as an individual condition. But its link to loneliness suggests that greater human connection at work may also be key to solving the burnout problem…..Workplace engagement is associated with positive social relations that involve feeling valued, supported, respected, and secure.” [8]


Tips to reduce workplace stress and burnout:

  • Having Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) in place
  • Role Clarity
  • Support (from a leader, coach, mentor, colleague)
  • Clear Communication – in particular about changes
  • Flexible working
  • Being clear on your work/home life boundaries, including taking your leave
  • Getting outside for a walk
  • Sleeping and eating well
  • Taking part in activities you enjoy outside of work such as listening to music, playing sport, spending time with friends and family.

How Line Manager can help:

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) [9]   has devised a stress risk assessment that identifies 6 risk factors (Health and Safety Executive, Working Together to Reduce Stress’ ) that line managers can conduct with their teams. The 6 risk areas cover:

How to Reduce the Risk of Stress and Burnout 3

  • The demands of your job
  • Your control over your work
  • The support you receive from managers and colleagues
  • Your relationships at work
  • Your role in the organisation
  • Change and how it’s managed

CIPD have also suggested other things you can do as a leader to support your teams to manage stress [10]     

  • Get to know your team better
  • Lead by example to promote healthy working habits
  • Review workloads, duties and responsibilities
  • Reflect on your own leadership/management style
  • Discourage ‘presenteeism’ in your team
  • Manage the mental health of your team while remote working


How can impact help you:

Responsible organisations are increasingly proactive in ensuring and enabling wellbeing and good mental health for their team members. We help organisations create healthy work cultures where their people can thrive and reach their full potential. We take a holistic approach to wellbeing and offer bespoke programmes aimed at integrating employee wellbeing into their organisation’s culture and leadership, including Team Restoration Programmes, Strengths based approaches and Coaching. To find out more about how we can support you and your organisation, please click here to get in touch with us.



  1. Psych Central website Stress or Burnout: Here’s How to Know the Difference ( accessed online March 2023
  2., accessed online March 2023
  3. CIPD, retrieved from Stress in the Workplace | Factsheets | CIPD March 23
  4. Health and Safety Executive retrieved from Working together to reduce stress at work – a guide for employees INDG424 ( Guidance on managing and preventing stress at work | CIPD
  5. Psychology Today, Retrieved from The Surprising Difference Between Stress and Burnout | Psychology Today, accessed online March 2023
  6. Maslach C. (2003). Job burnout: New directions in research and intervention.
    net/publication/254081523_Job_Burnout_New_Directions_in_Research_and_Intervention, accessed March 23
  7. Christian Dorman,The Surprising Difference Between Stress and Burnout | Psychology Today accessed online March 23
  8. Seppälä, E and King,M (2017) Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness. Retrieved from HBR, June, 2017
  9. Difference Between Stress and Burnout (with Comparison Chart) – Key Differences
  10. Health and Safety Executive retrieved from Working together to reduce stress at work – a guide for employees INDG424 ( Guidance on managing and preventing stress at work | CIPD
  11. Guidance on managing and preventing stress at work | CIPD  accessed online March 23