Burnout doesn’t discriminate between engaged and disengaged employees, according to a recent study by the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence. Co-authored by Dr Jochen Menges of Cambridge Judge Business School, the study set out to determine the extent to which engagement and exhaustion coexist within the same individuals.

Based upon an analysis of 1,085 US workers, the study yielded some fascinating insights: while two in every five employees were described as having mild burnout coupled with healthy engagement, one in five was in a condition that blended high burnout with high engagement.

Surprisingly, the highest turnover intentions were expressed by that highly engaged, yet highly burnt out, slice of the study sample.

As Menges notes: “High engagement levels in the workplace can be a double-edged sword for some employees. Engagement is very beneficial to workers and organisations when burnout symptoms are low – but engagement coupled with high burnout symptoms can lead to undesired outcomes, including increased intentions to leave an organisation.

“So managers need to look carefully at high levels of engagement, and help those employees who may be headed for burnout, or they risk higher turnover levels and other undesirable outcomes.”

According to the Health and Safety Executive, more than half a million UK workers suffered from work-related stress in 2016/17, at a cost of 12.5 million working days. With the study showing that even some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated staff are feeling the burn, what measures must leaders take to ensure that their employees are not at risk of developing long-term health issues?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper argues that leaders must make a strong case for the benefits of self-care – and to lead by example. “It makes sense that there’s a correlation between engagement and a propensity for burnout,” she says, “because people in that subset care. As such, they’re going the extra mile, which is indicative of an engaged member of staff. So what those individuals must think about here is getting that balance right.”

She explains: “The risk is that you work so hard, and for such long hours, in the act of expressing that high engagement – but in the process, you end up tired, make poor calls on important decisions and get to the point where you are dwelling on and magnifying small, almost insignificant, details.”

Cooper notes: “By maintaining your health and having social relationships outside work, you are re-energising yourself. That means you are deepening the resources that you must have in order to support your professional effectiveness. If an individual is too busy to see their family, or their friends, or to look after themselves, then in the final analysis, that is not the badge of an engaged worker – but of someone who has got things badly out of proportion.

“That, in itself, can be a cause for concern, because if you are not looking after yourself in a broader sense, then what impact is that having on your performance and decision making – and indeed, your ability to maintain relationships with the people around you?”

For further insights into the subject of burnout, BOOK NOW for our upcoming webinar with workforce management solutions expert Gavin England, set to take place from 1:30pm to 2:00pm on Wednesday 14 March