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Should You Tell Your Boss You're Burned Out?

Having an open and honest conversation with your boss about burnout could save you a whole lot of pain and distress in the long run. And your boss will thank you for it!

Because burnout really takes its toll both physically and mentally which affects performance and productivity. It is much better to identify it early on and put measures in place than to try and work through it.

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is a "syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

Many people believe that it is an individual problem to solve but it isn't! It is a 'we' problem which means that yes, as individuals we have to maintain boundaries but our organisations have a huge role to play in preventing and managing it. If our leaders are doing a good job, we wouldn't even be questioning whether we should tell them we feel burned out. If they are not, they need to know so they can change the culture.

We are living in a society where our career and how hard we work seem to be an indicator of who we are, of our self worth. It is drilled in to us as children - 'What do you want to BE when you grow up?', like it is all wrapped up in our identity. We are conditioned which means that when work is unfulfilling, we are more vulnerable to burnout.

And burnout has some very serious mental and physical consequences, it can even lead to death.

If you're feeling burned out at work, you aren't alone. A 2018 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% said they experience burnout very often or always, and another 44% say they feel burned out sometimes.

In their 2021 Work and Wellbeing study, The American Psychological Association found 79% of employees reported experiencing work-related stress in the month before the survey.

The scary things is that many of us don't even realise we are burned or burning out until we are looking back in hindsight and even when we do, we blame ourselves which creates a perpetual cycle.

Recognising Burnout

We have established what burnout is, a workplace phenonemon. It is characterised 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; and

  • reduced professional efficacy.

The Causes

There are 6 root causes:


2.Lack of perceived control

3.Lack of reward for effort

4.Lack of community

5.Lack of fairness

6.Values/skills mismatch

Managing these in the workplace is crucial if burnout is to be prevented. In fact, a burnout prevention strategy is key to a healthy, high performing workplace. Individuals can do so much but without a safe space at work, early nights and good food will not be enough!

Opening The Conversation

Talking to your boss when you feel burn out is not only beneficial to your wellbeing, it will also lead to better business results.

"If you were to blow up a balloon with everyday stress without ever letting the air out, eventually the balloon will pop," says clinical psychologist Matthew Morand, Psy.D., of Intelitalk LLC and Farmingdale Psychotherapy and Counseling Clinic. Whilst we may not 'pop' from burnout, ignoring it is toxic!

"Honesty takes strength, which should be considered valuable as one's boss can prepare for the employee's impending need for time off or restructuring of the position. Clear communication is a must in the workplace," Morand says.

This is why leaders need to demonstrate vulnerability, humility and empathy. This is how psychologically safe workplaces are created. If you don't feel that you can open up and be honest with your boss then there is work to be done!

Given the quickening pace of change and disruption and the need for creative, adaptive responses from teams at every level, psychological safety is more important than ever.

The organisations that develop the leadership skills and positive work environment that help create psychological safety will benefit from better employee health and performance.

For more information on how we can help you to better understand burnout, it's prevention and how to create psychological safety, email

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