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. The modern ways of life have drastically affected our work-life balance and stressors in life, causing many to experience burnout. We conducted polling of 2,060 working adults in the UK, capturing the public’s perceptions of burnout and the contributing factors in our Burnout Report 2024.

What is burnout?

‘Burnout’ is recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. While it is not a medical condition, it has been classified as a syndrome, meaning a collection of symptoms or signs associated with a specific health-related cause. Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress, for example, working a stressful job.

Common signs of burnout:

  • 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

When asked to identify the symptoms of burnout, 93% of UK adults correctly identified some symptoms of burnout. Meanwhile, 68% mistakenly identified at least one symptom of anxiety instead – a number which remained unchanged from our previous polling.

Why are we so concerned about burnout?

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

As prevalent as it is, burnout is often misunderstood, stigmatised, and costly both to employees’ health and wellbeing, and employers’ productivity.

91% of adults in the UK told us they experienced high or extreme levels of pressure or stress at some point in the past year.

Gender and age play a role in this prevalence, with women and young people reportedly feeling more prone to extreme stress and pressure at work.

Extreme stress isn’t limited to work, either. Full-time students (95%) and people who are unemployed (95%) tended to experience high or extreme levels of pressure or stress more in the past year than any other working status group.

The Burnout Report

All you need to know about burnout in the UK

Our Burnout Report reveals how we are becoming a burnt-out nation. With 9 in 10 adults in the UK experiencing high or extreme stress in the past year and 1 in 5 needing to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress, we must focus on challenging the causes of chronic stress across society and preventing burnout.

The role of the workplace

The working arena has changed, but it appears the tactics to support colleagues haven’t changed dramatically. Our research found that nearly half of workers (49%) said their employer doesn’t have a plan to spot the signs of chronic stress and prevent burnout in the workplace, while just 29% of people knew what plans their employers had in place.

Meanwhile, a staggering one in four (24%) told us they felt ‘unable to manage stress and pressure in the workplace’, with one in five working adults (20%) needing to take time off work due to poor mental health caused by pressure or stress in the past year.

What contributes to burnout and what can we do about it?

Our study explores some of the key factors that could significantly contribute towards burnout in the UK, factors which remain prevalent and pertinent today. We’ve highlighted what these are and what you can do to help combat them. Expand each factor from the list below to learn more.

Interestingly, despite the WHO’s definition of burnout being an “occupational phenomenon”, not all of these factors were explicitly work-related, perhaps indicating that the pressures of work, combined with the additional pressures brought about by the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis are having a big impact on our wellbeing.

We know that money and mental health go hand in hand; 53% of people agreed that financial uncertainty due to the cost-of-living crisis, and money worries in general, could contribute to burnout. Here are some ideas of how you can manage your money and budget:

Working arrangements also affect peoples’ experiences of burnout and could be a contributing or mitigating factor to burnout, depending on the individual. 30% of those working from a fixed location (i.e., based at the same office/working location) cited this as a contributing factor, compared with 34% of field-based workers, 16% of home workers and just 17% of hybrid or agile workers. Meanwhile, 30% of workers said that being mandated back to working in an office or fixed location said this had caused them stress which may have contributed to burnout.

Here are some recommendations for how to avoid burnout due to your working arrangements:

  • Structure your day: If you work from home, you can think of your workday in the same way as if you were going to the office. Try to have a dedicated workspace, ideally a quiet place away from others and distractions. Try to get up in plenty of time to get ready for work. Make sure you have everything you need there for your working day. Plan your start, break, lunch, and end times. Sticking to an end time can be as important as a start time. We all need to recharge our batteries.
  • Make sure to have a break: No matter your working arrangements, breaks are important to refresh yourself and they can help you be more productive. Taking a five-minute break away from your screen each hour can improve your wellbeing and improve your concentration. Don’t feel that you have to be at your screen all the time to prove you’re working. You can use some of these breaks to incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.
  • Set boundaries: Clearly define work hours and avoid regularly working beyond them. Turn off work phones and put devices out of sight outside of working hours. When faced with excessive workload or unrealistic deadlines, ascertain if there is flexibility around delivery times and what further support would be helpful to alleviate pressure and stress. When working from home, if you live with others, it might be difficult to separate home and work life. It’s important to set boundaries about when and where you do and don’t work. You can have a discussion and agree on things together. You could write down your work schedule for the week and put it up in a place where all household members can see it. It is important to have clear home and work time.
  • Stay in contact: Working from home doesn’t mean you should silently concentrate on your work all day. You can still talk to colleagues by audio or video call. It’s good for everyone’s wellbeing and it is good to check in with others. Book in regular contact with your manager and other colleagues.
  • Manage your time: Time management in your job can influence your wellbeing and mental health. If you manage your time well, you can feel relaxed and in control and achieve the goals you want. But if you manage it poorly you can get stressed and be less productive. When you have a lot of things to do at work, it can be hard to decide what to do and when to do it.

Decide what you want to achieve:

  • Assess each task
  • Make a plan
  • Be flexible
  • Think about the four Ds when managing your workload: Ditch (does this task need to be done?), defer (could it be done at a later date?), delegate (could someone else complete it?), and do.

Approximately 1.4 million people aged 16 and above were unemployed at the end of last year. 40% of people agreed that worries about job security and fear of redundancy could contribute to burnout.

Here are some ideas on how to ease those worries.

  • Talk to your employer: If you are worried about your job security, you can speak to your manager. You can ask them if your job is at risk. And you can ask them to be honest with you. You can ask your manager what the next steps are and when you will know more information.
  • Get advice: It can help you to get expert advice on the situation to know more about what your rights and options are. You can contact ACAS for free confidential advice. You don’t have to give any personal details if you don’t want to.
  • Look for another job: If your job is at risk you could prepare to look for another job by updating your CV. Find out more information on writing a CV
  • Careers advice: You can contact the National Careers Service for careers advice. They provide information, advice and guidance to help you make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities.
  • Make a plan: If your job is at risk, it might help you to make a plan of the things you can do if you lose your job. Making a plan can help you to:
    • Take control of the situation,
    • Know what your options are, and
    • Reduce stress, by knowing there are practical things you can do if you lose your job.

Feeling lonely can have a negative impact on our mental health, which is bound to impact our work. 43% of people agreed that feeling isolated could contribute to burnout.

If you’re worried about isolation, you may find the following support services helpful:

  • Support lines: Talking about how you are feeling can have big benefits. People who care about you like friends and family are usually happy to listen and support you. But you can also call the following lines to talk about how you are feeling: Samaritans, Support Line, C.A.L.M, Silverline (for people over 55) and The Mix (for people under 25). For regional support visit the Hub of Hope.
  • Online forums: You may find it helpful to use an online support forum, such as Clic. On Clic you can access quick chat, discussion forums, information, videos and support contacts.
  • Support groups: Mental health support groups help you connect with others who have mental health issues and their carers. The following organisations provide support groups, so you can see if there’s one in your local area: Rethink Mental Illness, local Minds and Carers Trust (for support groups and services for carers).
  • Investing in relationships: The Mental Health Foundation’s top tips on relationships explains what you can do to create better relationships with yourself and with the people around you. This can help to reduce isolation.

Doing things that help us to relax and make us feel happy or calm, such as exercise, eating well and sleep, our mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and they influence each other. 46% of people felt that poor physical health could contribute to burnout. Here are some ways you could improve your physical health.

  • Eat healthy foods and have a balanced diet. Find more information on the NHS website
  • Keep physically active. Exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It can increase the levels of serotonin and endorphins which are your body’s natural ‘happy’ chemicals. Visit the Mental Health UK website for more information.
  • Drink enough water. Visit the NHS website
  • Avoid or reduce drinking alcohol. Visit the Mental Health UK website for more information.
  • Avoid or reduce smoking. Visit the Mental Health UK website for more information.

Problems with sleep can affect how you feel physically and mentally, and how you feel can also affect how you sleep. 64% of people felt that poor sleep could contribute to burnout.

Here are some ideas on how to improve your sleep:

  • Diary: Using a diary can help to see if there is a pattern to your sleep. It may also help to see what may be affecting your sleep. You may find using our 7-day sleep tracker helps you to do this.
  • Routine: Having a set routine before bed can help with having a better night’s sleep. You may have to try different things before you find the right routine that helps. It can help to do things that help you relax before going to bed. Find out more information about sleep
  • Relaxing techniques: Finding the right activity that can help you relax can help you with your sleeping. You may need to try different activities before you find the right one that helps you. You can try things such as yoga, meditation, art, listening to soothing music.
  • Speak to your GP: If you are having problems sleeping, going to see your GP could help as they may be able to suggest some options to help you.

It’s important for our wellbeing to have good relationships so that we can share our hopes, fears, confidence and happiness and, keep us going when we need extra support. 74% of people felt that problems in relationships could contribute to burnout. Here are some ideas on how to improve your relationships.

  • Your relationship with yourself: Having a healthy relationship with yourself is as important as your relationship with others. To have a healthy relationship with yourself self-care is important. Self-care can be different for everyone. Self-care can include resting, exercising, spending time outside, speaking to others and reflecting on the good parts of your day.
  • Your relationships with othersThe Mental Health Foundation’s top tips on relationships explains what you can do to create better relationships with others.
  • Your relationship with your partner: If you have a partner, it’s important to maintain a healthy relationship with them. Ways to do this can be:
    • Give time
    • Be present for each other
    • Listen to each other
    • Share thought and feelings

34% of people agreed that increased caring responsibilities, such as looking after elderly parents, could contribute to burnout.

If you’re worried about looking after someone with a mental health problem, our founding charity partner in England, Rethink Mental Illness has provided advice.

I'm an employer, what can I do about burnout?

As an employer you 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
  • their employees with 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.
  • 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.
  • stigmatising language around mental health and mental illness
  • unreasonable workloads and deadlines, review and redistribute tasks if necessary
  • the use of excessive overtime.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,060 adults of which 1,132 were workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 15th December 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Jennifer, Sophia and Shannon share their experiences of chronic stress and burnout at work