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Tip of the Day

The hidden Psychosocial Hazard

By April 11, 2024No Comments

Is this Hidden in your Organisation?

Are you a leader who rewards long hours of your team? Or perhaps your leader rewards you for going that extra mile, sacrificing time with family and personal interests for the betterment of the team?

So what if I do? That is how we get work done around here. This is how we out-perform our competitors or even stay afloat. I get it, I really do. I have experienced and been responsible for all of the above. Some leaders and employees thrive in this environment, but new findings suggest quite the opposite. You also may be creating a culture that rewards Burnout, which may be deemed to a Psychosocial Hazard in your organisation, attracting hefty fines, with an average of 11% of Australian employees hiding they are in Burnout.

Employee burnout can develop due to increasing job demands, job ambiguity, poor organisational change management, working remotely or in isolation, and inadequate reward and recognition. These factors have also been recently legislated as psychosocial hazards in the workplace.

The term ‘burnout’ has been thrown around in team, board and executive meetings for some time, more often since the pandemic. However, we now have a clearer definition of what Burnout is, and it is very different to someone who is a bit overworked and needs a holiday. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes Burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, characterised by 3 dimensions”. (WHO, 2019).

1. Exhaustion that doesn’t go away after rest or time off.

2. Negativity or cynicism towards work or colleagues.

3. A feeling of ineffectiveness, or incompetence

Burnout is a risk not only to individual employee performance. Burnout can also lead to cultural norms where Burnout is considered a badge of honour, e.g., taking on more job demands, working long hours, and being rewarded for looking fatigued and stressed. However, if an employee is unable to manage additional job demands, yet feels they have no choice, this could be considered a psychosocial hazard and further lead to Burnout. If employees are unable to commit to a culture that rewards Burnout, we see increased sick leave, unwanted resignations, and soon hefty fines if Burnout is the result of not addressing psychosocial hazards.You can find further information about the types of psychosocial hazards that will be assessed, and penalized if not addressed here.

Hidden Burnout – a greater risk

Working for several years as a registered Psychologist and Leadership coach, I have observed that most leaders are unaware that they are in Burnout, or they fear admitting they are experiencing Burnout. This is typically for 2 reasons.

1. Their organisational culture rewards Burnout as explained above, and do not want to lose their status or job.

2. Someone in Burnout has shown signs of fatigue, perhaps taken time off, and are judged as not keeping up with workload. Leading to job tasks or projects the person does not enjoy, or even a demotion, resulting in added stress.

Both very good reasons to hide Burnout.

McKinsey recently conducted extensive, global research on Burnout in workplaces, and it was reported that on average 24% of Australian employees are experiencing it, and 13% of those are not coping. The remaining 11% are still experiencing Burnout, but are giving the appearance of coping.

Assuming the law of averages, 11% of your employees are in Burnout, but hiding it, and even worse, 24% of your workforce are in Burnout.

What would it mean to your organisation if up to 24% of your employees were experiencing Burnout, coming to work with exhaustion, negativity, cynicism and ineffectiveness? But worse, you didn’t even know about it? Instead finding out via receiving a penalty and fine for not providing a safe workplace.

So now what?

Short-term. As someone who experienced Burnout 10 years ago, I can attest to the good news that Burnout is not a life sentence. I got the help I needed, and within a few months, I was thriving. In fact, I wrote my first book when I came out of it. The bad news is that a holiday or time off won’t ‘fix’ it. With the right support, many people move out of Burnout in a few months however, only a trained professional can identify if someone is in Burnout and what to do next. If you have employees or leaders in your organisation that appear to be in Burnout, you need to provide them with appropriate support. A trained professional is your best immediate go to. This could be a Work Healthy & Safety (WHS) employee within your organisation, or you engage an external consultant who is qualified in helping people with this issue. Please reach out if you would like to discuss this.

Mid-term. Education. Provide webinars or workshops two or three times a year that educate employees on how to better manage stress, how to identify Burnout in themselves or others and what to do about it. Ensure these are run by qualified professionals – even something delivered during a lunch break on a regular basis can be effective. My Beat Burnout – 1 hour webinar, has received excellent feedback. Please reach out to find out more about this.

Within 12 months. You need to do identify if you have psychosocial hazards in your organisation. If you have WHS team members, they may be able to complete this assessment without the need of external support. However, if you don’t have someone in your organisation to lead this assessment, or you want to support your WHS team, then you may want to consider engaging an organisation who specialises in these assessments. I would recommend Natasha Hawker – GAICD and her team at Employee Matters


Burnout if not identified, and managed well, can negatively impact team and organisational performance, unwanted turnover, and now may also lead to expensive fines. By identifying, understanding and addressing Burnout and implementing appropriate strategies, teams and organisations can avoid and resolve Burnout, which for some organisations, can be a hugely positive turning point that leads to a happier, healthier high-performance culture.

For more information visit www.margieireland.com

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Margie Ireland is the author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis. She is a registered Psychologist, Leadership Coach and Workshop Facilitator. Margie is highly regarded for helping Leaders and their teams navigate stress and change with healthier coping strategies, leading to happier, healthier and high-performing teams.