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When Major Engagement Leads to Major Burnout

The most highly engaged employees are often easy to spot – hard-working, fast-paced, go-getters. Engaged employees function well as both planners and doers. But underneath those A+ stars is something that often goes unnoticed: high levels of stress. And thanks to recent research by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, we are seeing that engagement-induced stress may lead to a scary outcome: burnout.

Burnout, or the feeling of being overwhelmed with your job or a project, is one of the top signals that an employee may be heading for the exit sign. It’s no stranger to our workforce, with approximately two-thirds of employees reporting burnout at least sometimes. The feeling shows up most frequently when employees are treated unfairly or not properly compensated, and is often a direct result of negative company culture. Yet we are beginning to see a new target for burnout: our highly engaged workers.

 “While engagement certainly has its benefits, most of us will have noticed that when we are highly engaged in working towards a goal we can also experience something less than positive: high levels of stress,” reports the Harvard Business Review in their latest article. With one out of every five highly engaged employees also reporting high burnout, it is increasingly clear that our hard workers are exhausted. 

Burnout acts as negative feedback control for overly engaged and overworked employees. Those who push themselves too far eventually reach a level of burnout, which then lowers their levels of engagement. It’s like the body telling the mind “We’ve done all we can do here, boys. Time to pack up and shut down for a while.” 

So how can we keep our top performers at their best without feeling overworked? The solution is actually pretty simple: recognize and value them for the job they do while protecting their time and energy.  Here are some ways you can translate that directly into your management style


Many employees, especially those who are more than willing to take on more and more work, feel overwhelmed by the workload that falls directly on their shoulders. Help take off some of that weight by offering to delegate certain job duties to other employees who can help.

Ask for their input. 

These highly engaged employees are taking on a lot… and learning a lot too! Ask for their input when it matters, such as when developing new processes or looking to promote internally. Chances are good they can provide helpful feedback, and they will appreciate their voice being heard. 

Defend them. 

Everyone makes mistakes. The old mantra rings true whether you are a star employee or not. With your workers being continually motivated towards perfection, it can be difficult for them to feel as if they messed up. Stick with your employees, protect them, and remind them that they are still valuable to the team, whether or not they have an occasional accident. 

Make time stand still. 

It’s amazing what a few hours of uninterrupted work can do! If your employee is overwhelmed by not only their large project, but also constant distractions (ringing phones, chatty coworkers, etc.), offer to make time stand still. Pause their emails, silence their phones, and set them up in a comfortable work environment without distractions. Accomplishing a few small projects can do wonders to lower anxiety and put them back in the game!

Offer rewards for a job well done. 

When the event finally wraps up, the project is presented, or the last brick is laid, reward your superstar. Find what works for them (check out our Languages of Appreciation blog post here!) and do it. Here are some great ideas to get you started: 

  • Award a giant sum of points on their social recognition platform like Carousel®
  • Treat them out to a fancy lunch with their coworkers
  • Offer up your court-side tickets to see their favorite team play
  • Add a few days of PTO, courtesy of your organization, to their schedule next month
  • Consider them for a large annual award, such as an Employee of the Year or Leadership honor. 

Unfortunately, burnout is a true possibility when discussing our highly engaged workforce, which is why it is critical to be protective of your employees and reward them frequently for a job well done. Need some more recognition ideas? Reach out – we’d love to help!


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