HR's role in helping burnt-out executives

With statistics indicating some 25% of executives suffer from burn-out, what role to HR professional play in resolving the issue? Karen Barker provides her insights.

HR's role in helping burnt-out executives

With statistics indicating some 25% of executives suffer from burn-out, what role to HR professional play in resolving the issue? Karen Barker provides her insights.


With almost 25% of executives alone experiencing burnout, it is a real issue in today’s modern workplace that not only affects the health and personal life of the employee who is experiencing it, but also the profitability and morale of their organisation. HR professionals need to be aware of burnout so they can seek out help and resources for sufferers and formulate initiatives to combat it.

Outlined is some advice to help HR professionals to recognise the signs of burnout and help employees within their organisation to overcome it.

What are the signs of burnout?

Some of the signs are easy to recognise, and some are a little trickier to pick up on because of their personal nature.

People experiencing burnout might:


  • be highly emotional about small, incidental things;
  • have frequent feelings of being overwhelmed;
  • be in a state of constant denial and constantly say that everything is fine;
  • come in late, skip lunch or miss a deadline – that is, their behaviour might change in an obvious way;
  • appear to be working excessive hours but have nothing or little to show for it; or
  • believe that nothing can happen or be done well without their involvement.


Where do HR professionals come in?

With high work-related pressures, stress and emotions that arise from long working hours, meetings and erratic travel, it’s no wonder that some employees get so easily burnt out!

For this reason, HR professionals should have regular one-on-one meetings with senior executives to ensure that they are in the loop and aware of how executives and their teams, both collectively and individually, are performing and feeling. During these meetings you should try to ascertain what their current challenges are or if they foresee any challenges on the horizon, how their team is handling challenges and if they are adequately equipped. You should also ask if everyone has leave scheduled and if HR can offer any support in scheduling leave or in any other capacity. Remember to take notice of the senior executive’s non-verbal communication and to read between the lines, as sometimes the telling is in the unsaid!

So, how do you stop burnout in its tracks?

If you recognise the signs of burnout in an employee, there are a number of things that you can do to diffuse the situation and set about restoring some balance:


  1. If they tell you that they often feel overwhelmed, advise them to stop what they are doing when these feelings arise and go for a walk outside or to do something other than the task at hand.
  2. Make them accept that things are not OK in a judgment-free zone.
  3. Encourage them to take a day off to reflect on what is going on or to make an appointment with their doctor or health practitioner.
  4. Suggest that they incorporate some exercise or even meditation into their daily routine. A lot of people find listening to relaxing music in the car on the way to and from work helpful.
  5. Ask if they have an upcoming holiday booked. Research suggests that having a holiday or something to look forward to increases your happiness and productivity at work, which makes sense!
  6. If they are not comfortable or simply won’t talk to you, ask them to talk to someone they trust about how they are feeling and to discuss what they would like to do about the way they are feeling. You might consider engaging the services of an executive coach to help out.


Cases of burnout manifest themselves in many shapes and forms, and they can have serious consequences for the employees and organisations involved. It falls to HR professionals to ensure that employees experiencing burnout are properly identified and given the appropriate assistance so that organisations can continue to be productive, profitable and enjoyable places to be.


About the author

Karen Barker is Director and Principal Consultant at Transitional Executive, and is an International Coach Federation credentialed coach.

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