Seven in 10 workers experiencing burnout or imposter syndrome, research finds

Experts say it is employers’ responsibility to counteract issues and model healthier work practices

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Seven in 10 knowledge workers have experienced burnout or imposter syndrome in the last year, with more than two in five (42 per cent) experiencing both, new research has found.

The study, which surveyed more than 10,000 workers as part of Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work report, found that the root causes of each condition may be related, with millennials and business leaders, separately, at most risk of experiencing both.

The research also highlighted the negative impact that burnout can have on organisational outcomes, with 70 per cent of C-suite leaders saying burnout affected their ability to make decisions. 

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In addition, the findings showed that anyone at work suffering from burnout is at a higher risk of having low morale (35 per cent); being less engaged (30 per cent); making more mistakes (27 per cent); and leaving the company (25 per cent).

Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St Christopher’s Hospice, explained that in order to counteract this issue, teams needed to be staffed correctly; companies needed to better address work-life balance; and leaders needed to model healthier behaviours.

He said: “We need to overstaff a bit [to cover absences and changing workflows], because historically we’ve had a lack of thought around developing structures that can avoid burnout.

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“In addition, leaders have a central role and can model a healthy work-life balance by leaving at five, and picking up their kids, for example. It’s a sign a workplace doesn’t just work, work work work. However, it’s difficult to do that in this day and age because no one wants to be seen as ‘weak’.”

Arshad also said that employees, function leaders and team managers needed to work together to ensure cultures of overwork did not proliferate.

He added: “We need line managers to manage workload and performance more effectively, but employees can also be part of the issue and managers turn a blind eye to that. They’re pushing to do more work and we only realise when they’re fully exhausted.”

However, the research also found that more than half (51 per cent) of workers do not feel comfortable talking to their manager about burnout.

This results in a lack of communication, which Clare Josa, author and director at burnout and imposter syndrome training experts Soultuitive Leadership explains can result in unwanted workplace outcomes.

She said: “When we are heading towards burnout, coping with it and pushing on through, changes happen in the body and the brain that means we’re living in near-constant ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode.”

To counteract this, Josa suggested looking at cultural and communication resets as well as strategic issues, such as workloads, how performance is conceived of, and what leadership culture is like at the organisation.

HR and leadership teams will seemingly have to act quickly: recent Glassdoor figures showed that negative discussion around burnout was up by 48 per cent in the last year.

Ruth Cooper-Dickson, psychologist and CEO of wellbeing experts CHAMPS, said solutions to this growing trend can be effective if a psychologically safe culture, as well as clear work boundaries, were created.

She said: “By having open and psychologically safe conversations with your team to learn about what they notice about you as a manager when under pressure. This can be difficult to hear and does take a certain amount of vulnerability.”

In addition, she said imposter syndrome can be tackled if achievements were celebrated accordingly and ‘superhero loops’ – when someone says yes to everything and tries to excel at it all – were tackled by showing that not everything has to be brilliant.

Here, she said managerial intervention can be crucial. “Think about how managers respond when someone makes a mistake in the team. Do they [talk] about failures or mistakes? Are they encouraged to fail (within reason) and to learn and make mistakes?,” she added.

Jill Cotton, career trends expert at Glassdoor, added that workplaces can do more to ensure pathways to success were modelled in order to overcome an individual’s imposter syndrome, too.

She said: “As an employer, implementing effective diversity and inclusion strategies will help underrepresented groups see a clear path to the top."