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Preventing Employee Burnout

Burnout is entirely avoidable, if the right company structures and habits are in place
8min read

The opposite of burnout is full psychological engagement with one's working life, which comes from feeling like you're making meaningful progress towards valued goals.

I want to understand the psychology
I want some practical tools to use

How to prevent burnout

In order to create a work culture with high engagement, the key is to make it possible for all employees to feel like they're progressing towards the right goals; to make them feel like the game is a winnable one. This isn't achieved with one-off interventions like training sessions or away days: in order to consistently prevent burnout, instead, it's the small and ingrained habits that matter.

The good news is that small and ingrained habits aren't expensive. The bad news is that they require individual commitment (from both managers and employees) and a bigger organisational mindset shift.

Looking back to the Six burnout causes that we identified in the previous section — genuinely unreachable demands, too much randomness, not enough emotional payoff, a rigged game, mixed messages, and misaligned goals — it's a case of finding practical habits, processes and actions that stop these psychological barriers from happening in your organisation.

Burnout prevention plan

Here are some ways that Spill recommends companies can shift towards a culture that minimises the chances of employee burnout, by flipping the six common psychological causes of burnout into six pillars of strong employee engagement.

For each of the shifts, click to scroll through the cards for a range of different practical ideas on how to put them into place in your organisation, and then use them as a springboard to brainstorm more ideas with your team.

Unreachable demands → demands within reach

🚩 Make it okay to flag when overstretched

  • Get senior management to lead by example
  • Include what people won't do in team standups
  • Encourage 'rubber-ducking' between employees

Too much randomness → clear goalposts and levers

👫 Make sure everyone is on the same page

  • Weekly company PPPs (progress, plans, problems)
  • Regularly revisit broader company mission
  • Individual and company OKRs in one doc

Not enough emotional payoff → clear emotional payoff

🎯 Involve employees in OKR-setting

  • Each quarter, people pitch what they want to work on
  • Managers and employees then co-create OKRs
  • Individual ownership of key results

Rigged game → transparent and supportive culture

🤝 Encourage cross-team connection

  • Put a buddy system in place
  • Have 'personal/career mentors'
  • Reverse mentoring system

Mixed messages → unified narrative

❓ Create spaces to air questions and get clarifications

  • Monthly AMA (ask me anything) meetings
  • Hold structured debates on big decisions
  • Anonymous online space to share worries

Misaligned goals → help employees understand goals and find roles

💪 Do personality and strength tests for the whole company

  • Take the Big 5 personality test (free)
  • Take the Personal Strengths Inventory (free)
  • Try Future Authoring ($15 per person)

We hope this guide has been — in some way — helpful to you, and has left you with a better understanding of burnout and some ideas for how to reduce the chances of it happening in your company. Going through burnout and watching someone go through burnout are both incredibly painful, and our mission at Spill is to reduce the world's unnecessary emotional pain by helping employers become more considerate and human. Any questions, clarifications, problems or ideas? Just email will@spill.chat, who's always happy to discuss anything related to mental wellbeing and emotional intelligence.


If you're keen to keep reading around this topic... there are a few great books that we can recommend:

Lost Connections by Johann Hari: for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the sources of low mood and existential pain

The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton: for musing on the role that work does, and should, play in our lives

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings by Randolph Nesse: for diving deeper into the evolutionary theory behind negative emotions

Radical Candor by Kim Scott: for managers looking to be clearer and more compassionate with their employees

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