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More than One-Third of Working Canadians Are Burnt Out

mental health psychological safety Dec 14, 2023
More than One-Third of Working Canadians Are Burnt Out


One-third of working Canadians are currently feeling burnt out, according to a recent survey from The Harris Poll on behalf of Express Employment Professionals.1 A separate survey conducted by Robert Half Canada Inc. revealed that 36% of Canadian employees feel more burnt out than a year ago.2 These numbers show that burnout remains a consistent issue in organizations, despite many employers saying they’ve implemented measures to reduce it.

Five industries showed burnout rates above the national average of 35%3:

  • Health and patient care (53%)
  • Nurses (66%)
  • Mental Health Professionals (61%)
  • Transportation (40%)
  • Finance, legal and insurance (39%)
  • Education and childcare (38%)
  • First responders (36%)

Before mental health concerns intensify in employees, it is important for employers to acknowledge the root causes of burnout and the associated risks. Recognizing the signs of distress and implementing prevention and intervention strategies prior to complete burnout can make a significant impact on employee health and productivity in the long run.


What Is Burnout?

Burnout occurs when an individual has become physically or emotionally exhausted as a result of prolonged stress. It arises when individuals cannot access enough recovery between stressors. The prolonged stress is typically caused by a variation of factors, but usually the main sources of stress stem from home life, work life, or a combination of the two. The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as “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.”4

The signs of burnout will vary, but some general signs may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of engagement
  • Challenges with managing emotions and sometimes conflict in the workplace or at home
  • Inability to manage multiple things at once
  • Lack of concentration or problem solving, feeling of overwhelm
  • Aches and pains
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, stimulants, gambling, or food to cope with stressors

Studies have shown that burnout can lead to more serious health consequences if not addressed. This includes cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, insomnia, and depressive symptoms.5 In short, burnout is more than feeling exhausted and unmotivated to do your job – it affects your physical and mental well-being in negative ways.


Causes of Burnout at Work

There are six primary themes that have been identified as risk factors for professional burnout6:

  • unmanageable workload
  • perceived lack of control
  • lack of recognition or reward that does not match the work
  • lack of a supportive community
  • absence of fairness
  • mismatch of values to the skills required on the job

Frequently, the strongest and most productive employees are the ones who suffer from burnout (employees who were once very engaged and hard-working suddenly lack motivation and ability to get quality work done on time.) This can be due to the following:

  • Employees who care about their job and want to do well put higher expectations on themselves, causing more stress when they can’t meet expectations to do the job perfectly.
  • Employers tend to give more complex and difficult jobs to employees they consider more capable and this can cause a heavier workload for the employee.
  • Consistently productive employees realize they have proven themselves to be a strong employee and are constantly attempting to go above and beyond expectations to maintain their abilities.


The Link Between Psychological Safety and Burnout

Preventing burnout effectively starts with training leaders at the top of the organization to create psychologically safe workplaces. A study from the Institute for Work and Health found that “higher job demands, lower job control, higher job insecurity, and lower organizational justice led to burnout over time.”7 However, experiencing burnout did not increase work stressors; in fact, it only led to lower supervisor support over time. This data shows that addressing the psychosocial factors in the workplace that contribute to poor mental health is more effective than treating employee symptoms of burnout.

According to Dr. Faraz Vahid Shahidi, lead author of the paper on the study, this also reveals how some managers may respond to burnout in their employees: “What we think burnout can do is maybe tarnish a worker’s interactions with supervisors and managers, who may lay blame on the worker for being burned out. This can lead to unfair or discriminatory treatment by supervisors.”

Ultimately, managers who strive to make their employees feel valued, respected, and supported are less likely to have employees suffer from burnout. As a result, they are more likely to have lower rates of absenteeism, lower turnover rates, and higher rates of productivity and job satisfaction.


Employer Strategies to Prevent Burnout

It’s important for employers to start the conversation about burnout with their employees. Having an open-door policy and building a trusting rapport with your employees allows them to be more open and honest when feelings of stress start to arise. For severe cases of burnout and fatigue, employers may need assistance to support of their employees.

Here are some strategies employers can use:

  • Develop a psychologically safe workplace – Employees should know that they have what they need to complete the job, raise concerns, and have clear and fair expectations.
  • Review workloads and provide recovery time – Provide employees with the strategies to manage workloads or adjust expectations. If an employee has had a heavy workload for a consistent amount of time, decrease their workload for a stretch of time. Express that you’ve noticed their hard work and that you would like them to take it easy for a week or two to recharge and take care of their well being.
  • Provide flexibility – Allow employees to take their personal days and paid time off. Develop flexibility in your workplace so that workers can practice self-care and balance work/home responsibilities.
  • Provide purpose – Engaging employees and reminding them why their role is important to you and the business gives incentive to care about work production. Recognize and reward workers regularly in a meaningful way for the employee.
  • Get to know your employees – Be wary of your employees’ stress levels and work ethics. Implement a well-being mindset with positive discussions about the importance of self-care.
  • Provide opportunities to build social connections – Assist with social support in your work environment. Humans are social beings and feeling connected to those in your work environment can decrease chance of burnout.
  • Know the signs of burnout and disengagement – Intervene when you notice an employee seems disengaged in their work or if their work production has weakened over time.
  • Remind employees of their resources – Let employees know about EAP, government resources, and mental health tools that they can use to get help.


How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

  • Our team can support an objective assessment of the work demands of a job and a worker’s ability to stay at work.  An Occupational Therapist can provide practical tools, strategies, and coaching to support an employee in maintaining productivity, getting the right intervention and resources, and recovering from burnout. Make a referral for success coaching or an accommodation assessment for an employee with mental health concerns.
  • We can assist in auditing and adjusting your work practices to improve psychological safety in your organization. Book a consultation to learn more about how we can help with your program development.
  • We provide training to managers and employees on ways to support themselves and others in the workplace. Manager Mental Health Training can help your team support employees who are struggling with disability or distress in the workplace. Contact Gowan Consulting to learn more about how we can deliver one of our programs to you.



[1] Express Employment Professionals. (2023, May 24). Canadian Employees are Burnt Out – Companies Must Act or Risk Losing Workers. Globe Newswire.

[2] Human Resources Director. (2023, June 1). Canadians more burned out now than this time last year.

[3] Canada Life. (2022, January 17). New research shows more than a third of all Canadians reporting burnout.

[4] World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases.

[5] Salvagioni, D. A. J., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PloS one12(10), e0185781.

[6] Duncan, Rodger Dean. (2022, Nov 25). Reduce Burnout Risk: Fix The Workplace ‘Mismatches.’ Forbes.

[7] Institute for Work and Health. (2022, February 7). IWH study finds psychosocial work stressors lead to burnout, but not vice versa