Burnout: a business leader’s guide

Read time: 6 mins        Added date: 26/02/2024

The world has transformed massively in recent years with social and technological changes alongside global events such as the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. Modern ways of life have significantly affected our work-life balance causing many of us to experience burnout. 

Mental Health UK has launched their annual benchmark report capturing the public’s perceptions of burnout and contributing factors. The report warns that the UK risks becoming a ‘burnt-out nation’.

What is burnout?

‘Burnout’ is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ and is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. Symptoms of burnout include: 


  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed.

What did the report find?

The polling of over 2,060 UK adults by YouGov reveals that one in five workers (20%) needed to take time off due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year. Over a third (35%) of adults experienced high or extreme levels of pressure and stress always or often in the past year.

Though the causes of people taking time off work due to poor mental health are complex, polling reveals that poor working relationships and processes could be pushing people into burnout, with more than one third (35%) of working adults saying they do not feel comfortable letting their line managers or senior leaders know if they are experiencing high or extreme levels of pressure and stress at work. Additionally, nearly one in three (31%) said being bullied or intimidated by other colleagues had caused stress in the last year.

Meanwhile, the survey suggests workplaces could be ill-prepared to support staff experiencing high levels of stress, with nearly half of workers (49%) saying their employer doesn’t have a plan to spot signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout, while a further 22% don’t know if their employer has such a plan in place.

Other factors in our jobs causing stress and contributing to burnout include:

  • A high or increased workload or volume of tasks
  • Working unpaid overtime beyond contracted hours
  • Feeling isolated at work
  • Financial uncertainty due to the cost-of-living crisis
  • Experiencing stress due to taking on additional work due to the cost-of-living crisis. 

When it comes to what best helps alleviate stress and prevents burnout at work, the following factors were cited: 

  • Having a healthy work-life balance
  • Having a supportive line manager, colleagues and peers
  • Having reasonable adjustments at work
  • Professional support for mental health such as Employee Assistance Programmes or coaching
  • Staff training around mental health at work.

How can I avoid burnout as a business owner?

  • Hold boundaries and ensure you have a work-life balance. Often when facing a challenging time as a business owner, there is a temptation to simply ‘work harder’. However, this approach can contribute to experiencing further burnout.
  • Ensure you have the opportunity to recharge. Take breaks. This includes taking breaks during the day and time away from your business to recharge. Incorporating mindfulness exercises during your breaks can be beneficial.
  • Ensure that you take time to reflect on your health. Focus on the four pillars of health: sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress. Ensure that you are engaging in activities that bring joy and aid relaxation outside of work.
  • Establish what is realistic. It is important to remember that you are human and there are only 24 hours in a day. Set achievable goals and deadlines for yourself and those in your business.
  • Build a support network. This could be peers within your business, or if you are a sole trader, you may wish to build a network of other business owners. 

“Simply put, this temperature test of the nation’s wellbeing suggests that the UK is rapidly becoming a burnt-out nation, and a worrying number of people are taking time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress. High levels of work absence due to poor mental health is a major challenge, but its causes are complex.”

Brian Dow, Chief Executive of Mental Health UK

I’m a leader or employer, what can I do about burnout?

Employers have a duty of care to protect both the physical and mental health of employees. There are numerous recommendations you could put in place to ensure working practices encourage positive mental health at work, below are some suggestions:

  • A strategy, policy, or plan for employee mental health to prevent chronic stress or burnout
  • Regular assessments of workplace stressors and burnout risks
  • Implement a Wellbeing Plan to identify when and how to support employees
  • Regular check-ins with employees to discuss workload and challenges
  • Confidential access to resources such as counselling services or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
  • Robust policies and procedures to address workplace bullying and harassment
  • Training sessions to help employees and managers understand the importance of good mental health
  • Acknowledgement of employees’ hard work.
Leaders should promote:

  • Open communication between employees and management
  • Regular breaks and a healthy work-life balance
  • A culture of care and collaboration, encouraging team-building activities and social interactions.
Leaders should avoid and discourage:

  • Stigmatising language around mental health and mental illness
  • Unreasonable workloads and deadlines, review and redistribute tasks if necessary
  • The use of excessive overtime.

What’s next?

Recognising the growing evidence that the UK is grappling with high levels of work absence and the subsequent cost to individuals, employers, and the taxpayer, Mental Health UK is calling on the prime minister to convene a national summit, bringing together government ministers, employers, and experts to determine how we can create healthy workplaces and best support people to stay in or return to work if they’re struggling with stress and poor mental health.

Final thoughts 

Burnout isn’t something that goes away on its own. Rather, it can worsen unless you address the underlying issues causing it. Ignoring the signs of burnout could cause further harm to your physical and mental health. You could lose the ability and energy to effectively meet the demands of your job, and there could also be effects on other areas of your life.

Being proactive about your mental wellbeing is an essential investment in your business. This approach contributes to resilience, defined as the capacity to recover quickly from setbacks. But if you don’t feel like it’s something you currently have, don’t worry, resilience can be developed

If you think that you could be experiencing burnout, it is important to speak to somebody. A great first step is speaking to your loved ones and your GP. If you require urgent support for your mental health, you can find the information you need here.

You can read Mental Health UK’s burnout report here

Find out more information about burnout here

Mental Health UK has a dedicated workplace mental health and training team. We pride ourselves on our tailored approach to supporting mental health at work. Find out more about how we can support your business.


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