What are the causes and effects of burn-out and how to prevent it?


Emotionally exhausted, depersonalised from your work and doubting your ability to manage work tasks. This is what a burn-out feels like. In The Netherlands, a burnout is defined as a ‘serious, work-related, psychological condition’. However, many of us do not know about the actual causes and effects of burn-out and how we can prevent it.

Since 2013, burn-out complaints of employees have gradually increased per year in The Netherlands. Worldwide, more and more people are feeling burned out after more than a year of unpredictable stress, uncertainty and isolation due to COVID-19. This is alarming, as burn-out has effects on the employee, the organisation and the society in general. Decreased quality of health, absenteeism and the employability of the employee are some of the effects. Because of this growing problem, we want to tell you about the causes of burn-out, the effects of it and how you can prevent it.

Causes of burn-out InukaPhoto by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

Causes of burn-out

There are different causes of burn-out that play a role in developing it. Below, these factors are categorized in personal, work related, organization related and societal factors.

Personal causes of burn-out

Even though burn-out is a work-related condition, personal factors certainly influence the development of it. More burn-out complaints are shown in people with a lack of emotional stability and the presence of anxiety.

Other causes of burn-out are overcommitment and a lack of connection/interest between the person and the job. Amongst young people, perfectionism seems to have increased over the years, which puts more pressure on them. Women are also a vulnerable group, since they combine their work with caretaking (of children and elderly) more often than men, and more women than men work in sectors that are more at risk of developing burn-out.

Work conditions as a cause of burn-out

Some of the working conditions that can lead to developing a burn-out, if not addressed on time, are:

  • High job demands
  • A lack of job security
  • Little support from manager and colleagues
  • A lack of appreciation for work
  • Little control and autonomy at work
Causes of burn-out Inuka explained by Inuka Coaching
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Organization related

The culture of an organization has a big influence on the the psychosocial risks at work and thus the mental health employees, including burn-out complaints. The term ‘Psychosocial Safety Climate’ indicates how the management protects and prioritizes the mental health of the employees, over profit and productivity. PSC is defined by the extent to which higher management is committed in supporting prevention of stress and where there is space for cooperation with mental health professionals and employees regarding mental health.

Society and burn-outs

Societal causes of burn-out are partly related to technological developments. The rise of social media has led to the pressure to perform, to always look good, and to be successful, especially amongst young people. Another societal factor is the flex-work trend. Less and less employees are hired permanently, which leads to uncertainty around work and income. This increase in uncertainty can lead to an increase in burn-out too.

Causes of burn-out Inuka explained by Inuka Coaching
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Effects of burnout

Recovering from a burn-out can take weeks, months or even years, depending on how bad the symptoms are. Inevitably, this affects the employee’s health and the lives of their families. Apart from that, the organization and society as a whole are also affected by burn-out. A study by TNO shows that the costs of sick leave due to work stress has increased to 3.1 billion euros per year in The Netherlands. The good news is: burnout can be prevented.



What can you do as employee to protect yourself from burning out?

1. Listen to your body

Our bodies are constantly giving us signals. These signals are messages from your body, saying “Hey, I need you to pay some attention to me’’. Do you feel tension in your body? Or do you often feel exhausted mentally and physically? Are you experiencing headaches? These are all signals from your body that you should take seriously. Perhaps your body is telling you to slow down, to take a break, to ask for help, or to find work that gives you more energy.

Learning how to listen to your body is not an easy process and it can take a long time for you to actually learn to care for your body. Through meditation you can expand your self-awareness, which will help you to notice the signals from your body more easily.

Causes of burn-out Inuka explained by Inuka Coaching
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2. Find time for play

We know that play is essential for children, but play has a great advantage for the (mental) health of adults too. Play can be anything from painting to hiking, from singing to gardening. It’s more a way of being rather than an activity. When we play, we are in the present moment, fully engaged with what we are doing. The outcome does not matter, because it’s more about the process. Incorporating play into our daily lives gives us a break from having to perform.

“Play is a basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep, so when we’re low on play, our minds and bodies notice,” Brown says. Over time, he says, play deprivation can reveal itself in certain patterns of behavior: We might get cranky, rigid, feel stuck in a rut or feel victimized by life. To benefit most from the rejuvenating benefits of play, he says, we need to incorporate it into our everyday lives, “not just wait for that two-week vacation every year.” — Jennifer Wallace, Why it’s good for grown-ups to go play. 

Play to prevent burn-out
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3. Set boundaries at work

Boundaries at work are essential for everyone to thrive. If we do not set boundaries, we might take on more responsibility than we feel comfortable with, causing us to feel stressed about our job or resentful towards our co-workers. There are certain character traits that make you more vulnerable to burnout, such as perfectionism, having a high sense of responsibility, being very empathetic and people pleasing. Boundaries can help you to protect yourself against the unpleasant effects of these character traits, so that you can stay healthy.

When you set boundaries at work, you are not only protecting your own well-being, but you are also establishing an organizational culture that values open communication, honesty, self care and empathy.


What can you do as employer to prevent burn-out amongst employees?

1. Transformational leadership

A transformational leadership style has a positive effect on the extent to which employees find their work valuable and important, their responsibilities are clear and they have the opportunity to develop themselves. These conditions at work go hand in hand with an improved mental health of employees.

Leadership and causes of burn-out
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2. Trust, freedom and autonomy

A lack of autonomy is a risk factor for burnout. Giving employees more autonomy creates more freedom and flexibility to do their work, which reduces work pressure. At the same time, more autonomy means more trust, which has a positive effect on the relationship between manager and employee.

3. Show appreciation for employees’ work

Another risk factor for burnout is a lack of appreciation for work. Acknowledging someone’s work and letting them know that it is valuable, improves job satisfaction and the extent to which an employee believes in one’s own work and the importance of it. Additionally, appreciation, encouragement and support contribute to a positive work environment, which prevents and reduces (chronic) stress.

4. Get professional support for your employees

Employee coaching is a great way to help employee’s work towards their goals, manage difficult situations and structure their thoughts.
The The Inuka Method™ is a proven coaching method grounded in problem-solving therapy. Through our scientifically validated well-being measurement tool, the Inuka self-scan, Inuka coaches are able to identify whether an employee is resilient, at risk, or in a tough place. During Inuka coaching sessions, the coaches use a simple, but effective 3-step method to help employees manage difficult situations.

Would you like to know more about Inuka? And are you curious how we can help your organisation? We are happy to drink a digital coffee with you. Contact us here!

Causes of burn-out Inuka
Causes of burn-out explained by Inuka Coaching
Inuka’s highly-trained and empathic coaches help coachees structure their thoughts and work towards their goals

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