Behind Closed Doors — The Silent Peril Of Employee Burnout, Escalating Dangers Of Insider Threat

“If you can’t stand the heat, leave the kitchen.”

Is This Happening To You?

Waking up in the morning can sometimes be challenging as everything seems too overwhelming — the brightness, noise, and pace of the world.

It seems like every noise is really bothering you, every bit of brightness is causing discomfort to your eyes, and every motion makes you feel uncomfortable.

Every night, you struggle to sleep, tossing and turning in search of rest.

Thinking about work makes you feel anxious. The routine you used to know now feels like a confusing maze of tasks.

Every email task seems incredibly hard. The motivation that used to burn brightly is now just a weak, flickering light.

As you head to work, your patience is stretched thin like a worn-out rope. Your colleagues’ voices irritate you, and your boss’s requests appear unreasonable, even absurd.

The most minor inconveniences trigger an explosive irritation within you. You wonder how you’ve become this person, unlike your former self.

Standing there, utterly exhausted and frustrated, you realize you’re on the verge of reaching a breaking point.

Are these your symptoms? If so, you may be experiencing a “burnout” state.

The term “burnout”, according to the World Health Organisation, is defined as a “syndrome resulting from a chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Burnout is caused by chronic workplace stress, which can be low-level and irritating for months, if not years before a person realizes or is confronted by the problem.

If you have ever felt “stressed at work,” and who hasn’t? Chances are it’s because you thought you didn’t have enough time to do what you wanted.

Stress often results from feeling “stuck” in a particular time frame.  You can feel this frustration and irritation because you are focusing exclusively on the demands of the moment — The requests, the challenges and the events. They are all piling up with no break.

Those who are stressed and burned out have little understanding of how “urgency” and “importance” control their decision-making about what to do with their time.

Let’s explore some scenarios…

To-do lists are pervasive tools that employees employ to manage their time. They work their tail off to complete every task on their to-do list.

Unfortunately, most to-do lists are filled with “urgent” tasks. They require your attention at the moment, but rarely are they essential — the things that make a difference in the long term.

Urgency seems to control our lives. The phone rings, and we have to pick it up. It now becomes urgent if the phone call is important. This alone breaks your concentration and effectiveness.

The worst interruptions are meetings. They are typically scheduled like TV shows. The agendas are vague, and no one understands the goal. They tend to drift off subject, wasting everyone’s time. It’s too bad if it only requires five minutes to accomplish the objective. Meetings tend to stretch to an hour…and then the next meeting is ready to go.

According to the Global Workplace Burnout Study, burnout is a growing industry problem.

There are three dimensions to burnout:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increase mental distance and feelings of negativity towards work
  3. Reduced professional effectiveness.

What Causes Burnout?

There are three conditions:

1. Personal

  • Predisposition behaviour refers to certain qualities that might have been connected to someone’s early childhood experiences. These qualities could include feeling anxious, fearful, intense phobias, or dealing with mental disorders. These factors can influence how they behave now. That’s why people react to the same situation differently. No two people are the same.
  • Perfectionism is when you want to do everything perfectly, but it can hurt you significantly. People who struggle with it have difficulty making choices and often delay getting things done.
  • Lifestyle mismatch refers to a situation where a person’s personal habits, preferences, and daily routines clash with the demands of their work environment. A disconnect between how someone naturally lives their life and the expectations of their job can lead to increased stress at work. For example, if a person who values work-life balance finds themselves in a job that demands long hours and constant availability, it can create a sense of imbalance and strain.
  • Time mismanagement occurs when individuals struggle to allocate their time wisely. Tasks and deadlines can pile up, leading to a sense of overwhelm. As stress mounts, concentration and productivity tend to decline, creating a vicious cycle.

2. Team*

  • Lack of manager support – Managers are on the frontline of burnout. They can be central to preventing burnout or driving the problem. An absent or disrespectful manager leaves employees feeling isolated, exploited, and stuck in survival mode.
  • Unreasonable time pressure – When deadlines are unreasonable, and pressure is excessive and/or unending, this creates a pressure cooker environment that fosters burnout.
  • Unmanageable workload – The number of hours people work each week does matter, with burnout risk increasing significantly when employees exceed an average of 50 hours per week. This escalates even more substantially at 60 hours per week.
  • Unclear and inconsistent communication from managers – When expectations and accountability are inconsistent or unclear, employees can become frustrated and exhausted simply by trying to figure out what their manager wants.
  • Unfair treatment – When people are treated fairly and respected, they are more resilient and form stronger, more collaborative and productive relationships. When the treatment is biased unfavourable, or they feel they are mistreated compared to others, trust breaks. This allows burnout to take over.

3. Organisation*

  • Poor senior leadership – Senior leaders have the most influence over how an organisation operates and the environment that it creates. When senior leadership don’t “walk their talk”, they provide an atmosphere of unhealthy work conduct or even toxic culture.
  • Lack of support structure and guidelines – When employees feel that their work environment is supported, their workload is manageable, and expectations are realistic, employees will feel supported. But the converse is true.
  • Under resourcing – Do more with less is a commonly used corporate mantra for efficiency, but it often seeds burnout within the organisation. For example, budget cuts can lead to greater long-term costs through under-resourcing.
  • Outdated modes of working – Outdated ways of working such as endless meetings, excessive administrative work, ‘the client is always right’, hierarchical approval processes and the normalisation of working weekends are the structures that burnout thrives.
  • Value mismatch – People are increasingly craving purpose, both in their lives and in their work. However, when the value of the employee does not match the organisation’s worth, it will cause significant angst.

* The 2021 Global Workplace Burnout Study by Infinite Potential

What are the impacts of an employee who is exhibiting burnout?

As stated earlier, “burnout” is caused by unmanaged chronic workplace stress.

Stress at work that is ongoing and low level causes the feeling of burnout.

People are the main drivers of organisational success, and the health of the organisation is a crucial determinant of productivity and quality of work.

There is a significant gap in the productivity and quality of work between those who are burnt out and those who are not. (Source: According to the State of Workplace Burnout 2023 by Infinite Potential)

However, productivity is not the only outcome of people being burned out.

Employee burnout is a threat to your organisation, and this could be the case for several reasons. If your employees do the bare minimum, they may find achieving “cyber hygiene” difficult.

For example, they may skip necessary security steps like creating smart passwords, updating their computer with critical security updates, clicking on URL links or opening attachments that they shouldn’t be opening.

They will simply be unable to care or pay attention to threats such as phishing and other social engineering attacks.

But it gets worse.

It can compromise an employee’s ability to focus and make sound decisions, which can be particularly problematic in safety-sensitive industries.

It can lead to a sense of detachment and disengagement from work.

Burnout can have significant negative impacts on an employee’s physical and mental health. It can increase stress, anxiety, depression, physical health problems and weakened immune systems.

Those who suffer can strain relationships with colleagues due to increased irritability, reduced communication, and diminished teamwork. This can negatively affect the overall work environment and team cohesion.

Strained relationships and difficulty focusing and working will most likely lead to increased absenteeism. Those who are burned out are more likely to seek new job opportunities.

Those who suffer and feel poorly cared for and supported by management may lash out against their colleagues or organisations, causing significant harm.

Examples Of Possible Scenario: Software Engineer Causes Software Outage

A software engineer at a large tech company felt burned out after working long hours and having unrealistic deadlines. He started making mistakes at work, such as submitting code with bugs and missing important meetings. He also became withdrawn and irritable, which made it difficult for him to collaborate with his team.

One day, the engineer made a critical mistake that caused a major outage in the company’s software. 

The outage cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue and customer goodwill. The engineer was eventually fired, and the company implemented new policies to prevent employee burnout in the future.

Other Possible Examples:

  • The nurse’s error, which led to the patient’s death, was a direct consequence of burnout resulting from the long working hours in the hospital.
  • A police officer at a large city police department became so burned out that he started abusing alcohol and drugs. He was eventually fired from the department.
  • A teacher at a public school became so burned out that she started yelling at her students and making threats. She was eventually placed on leave and later resigned from her job.
  • A customer service representative at a large telecommunications company became so burned out that she started snapping at customers. This resulted in several customer complaints, and the representative was eventually demoted.
  • A flight attendant at a major airline became so burned out that she started making mistakes during flights. This resulted in many delays and cancellations, and the flight attendant was eventually fired.
  • A social worker at a non-profit organisation became so burned out that she started having difficulty sleeping and concentrating. This made it difficult for her to do her job, and she eventually took a leave of absence.

Are You A Workaholic?

Are you staying at work late into the night? Or perhaps you are bringing your work back home? Do you find it challenging to disengage from work?

The term “workaholism” was defined by psychologist Wayne Oates back in 1971 as a compulsion or an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.

Work “addiction” is a complex condition in which an individual develops a mental, emotional, and social dependence on work.

People with work addiction often work compulsively at the expense of other aspects of their lives. They may work long hours even when it is not needed, sacrifice sleep to get work done, and be paranoid about their work performance.

Can A Workaholic Drive Burnout More Readily?

Burnout and workaholism are both conditions that can have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental health.

The main difference between burnout and workaholism is that burnout is caused by excessive stress, while workaholism is driven by a compulsive need to work.

Burnout can happen to anyone, regardless of their work ethic. On the other hand, workaholism is often a sign of underlying psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression.

A workaholic is more likely to experience burnout than someone who does not work excessively.

Workaholics are at risk for burnout because they tend to:

  • Work long hours, often without taking breaks or vacations.
  • Put work before their personal lives.
  • Have difficulty saying no to new work assignments.
  • They are perfectionists and set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
  • They feel like they need to be constantly productive.

These behaviours can lead to chronic stress, eventually leading to burnout.

Final Words

According to “State Of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report” by Gallup it reveals frightening figures that 28% of workers say that they feel burned out at work either “very often” or “always and that only 24% of employees believe their organisation cares about their wellbeing.

Why Is This Important?

As we can see, a considerable group of employees are minimally productive, disengaged, and disconnected from their organisation.

And we have learned that stress is one of the critical anchors that drive employees to be burned out.

According to the same Gallup report, 44% of employees experienced a lot of stress.

The Gallup analysis continued that engagement has 3.8 times as much influence on employees’ stress. In other words, what people experience in their everyday work – their feelings of involvement and enthusiasm.

Low-engagement workers represent an uncertain situation for organisations, driving low morale, high turnover, and increasing costs to the business, potentially causing reputation damage due to poor performance and thereby losing their competitive advantage.

There Is, However, An Upside To This Situation.

As organisational leaders endeavour to navigate an uncertain economic outlook, addressing their employee wellbeing concerns and improving engagement should be top priorities.

Leadership and management directly influence workplace engagement, and there is much that organisations can do to help their employees thrive at work.



2021 Global Workplace Burnout Study – 

The State of Workplace Burnout 2023 –