Written by Isabelle on January 12, 2021

Work-related burnout and fatigue

One term that’s become a hot button issue over the last year (and really over the last decade) is burnout. We’re not experts in burnout at ISS – but we do know how important it is to open up conversations and help people be more informed on the topic. We also know that many of the contributing factors to burnout overlap with contributing factors to fatigue.

Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) reclassified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. It defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The WHO characterises burnout by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.


Messed up sleep is a significant contributor to burnout, just like time of day and shift work can be contributors to burnout. We know that the 24-hour day and the circadian system can have a big effect on how easily you get fatigued or burnt out, “there’s a big extra challenge if you’re working particularly at times when you might normally sleep,” ISS CEO Dr Adam Fletcher says.


Burnout is essentially a stage we get to when we’re experiencing prolonged periods of chronic stress, just like fatigue is a stage we reach when we’re experiencing chronic lack of sleep. But somewhat unlike sleep, stress is extremely personal, sensitive, and subjective, “I can have the same stresses on different days and have very different responses,” Adam explains.

Work demands

We often think of burnout as an individual problem, solvable with simple-fix techniques like “learning to say no”, more yoga, better breathing, practicing resilience. Yet, evidence is mounting that personal, band-aid solutions are not enough to combat an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon. Not only is it about personal mental health, but about workplace demands. Adam pointed out that man of the work demands that contribute to fatigue can also contribute to burnout. “Long hours of work, unreasonable demands of productivity, workload that’s consistently too high because of in adequate resources or the wrong mix of resources, these can all add up to someone that is either fatigued, burnt out, or both,” he says.

Again, we’re not experts on burnout at ISS, but because it is such a personal experience with personal contributing factors, it really warrants having an approach that isn’t off the shelf or generic. There’s a strong argument for a scenario where you really need to personalise the care and support, because the same variables and demands for different people, or even the same people on different days, can have different results.

Blog post written by Isabelle

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