Shifting work cultures to prevent burnout & retain talent

February 13, 2024
6 min read

Preventing & Recovering from Burnout in Sustainability Series - Part 3

In the final instalment of our burnout series, we delve into how managers and organisations can enact changes to better support their workforce. This series follows our recent workshop with Colwyn Elder. You can find Part 1 - The State of Burnout here, and Part 2 - Identifying Burnout Symtoms here.

In today's fast-paced work environments, burnout has become increasingly prevalent, impacting both individuals and organisations. The detrimental effects of burnout on employee wellbeing, productivity, and retention are well-documented. Recent statistics underscore the urgency of addressing this issue: 1 in 5 UK workers needed time off due to poor mental health caused by work-related stress and 4 in 10 US employees state that their job negatively affects their mental health. Alarmingly, less than 1 in 4 employees believe that their organisation genuinely cares about their wellbeing, indicating a critical gap in support and recognition.

Many of the following examples can be exasperated in the sustainability profession, where small teams, tight budgets and unrealistic expectations can be particularly rife. Individuals who suffer from perfectionistic tendencies, the need to be in control, or those who have a particularly pessimistic worldview are also at additional risk of experiencing burnout at work.

Part of our mission at The Now Work is to help build a future of impact work where people thrive, setting them up to make bigger and more impactful change. This is something our dominant management models aren’t designed to do. Current models, which were popularised in the late 1800’s, are designed to extract as much value from workers as possible. This model of work is no longer fit for purpose.

The research below is based on our existing work paradigms and how to improve our current work systems. We’ll be exploring new possibilities in the ways of working across the coming weeks, but until then, consider how the below can help prevent some of the symptoms of burnout.

Understanding the Causes of Burnout at Work

Gallup research identifies the top 5 causes of burnout at work:

  • Being treated unfairly - feeling disrespected, as well as equity of pay and advancement
  • Unmanageable workloads
  • Unclear communication from management - this relates to the expectations that are set for workers, and how things are communicated. Clear and honest communication from management as well as the ability for employees to feel safe bringing problems or challenges to their managers are key to this.
  • Lack of management support
  • Unreasonable time pressure - while deadlines can be motivating to some people, projects need to be managed in a realistic way and properly communicated with clients to prevent undue pressure on employees.

These factors contribute significantly to employee burnout, highlighting the need for organisations to address them effectively to create more supportive work environments.

Recommendations for Preventing and Combating Burnout

To prevent and combat burnout, organisations must adopt proactive strategies aimed at fostering employee wellbeing and resilience. Drawing from extensive research and expert insights, here are five key recommendations:

Implement High-Quality Performance Management

  • Establish clear performance goals and expectations, providing regular feedback and recognition (including fair pay and promotion opportunities) for achievements.
  • Ensure fair and equitable treatment of employees, addressing issues of fairness and transparency in decision-making processes.

Allow Employees to be Active Crafters of Their Work

  • Empower employees to have a say in their work processes and decision-making.
  • Encourage autonomy and flexibility in where and how tasks are performed, allowing employees to tailor their work to suit their strengths, preferences and home life.

Cultivate and Encourage Social Support

  • Foster a supportive workplace culture where colleagues can connect and support each other.
  • Encourage team-building activities, peer support networks, and open communication channels to enhance social connections.

Engage Employees in Decision-Making

  • Involve employees in decision-making processes that affect their work and wellbeing.
  • Seek input from employees on issues such as workload management, scheduling, and organisational policies to promote a sense of ownership and empowerment.

Provide Stress Management Interventions

  • Implement stress management programs and resources to help employees cope with work-related stress effectively.
  • Offer access to mental health support services, mindfulness training and relaxation techniques to promote emotional wellbeing.
  • While many companies focus on this aspect for employee wellbeing, it’s important that this is not the only intervention organisations make to protect their workforce’s mental health.

Practical Strategies for Managers

Managers play a crucial role in creating supportive work environments and preventing burnout among their teams. Here are some practical strategies for managers to consider:

  • Recognize and address signs of burnout in employees, including changes in behaviour, decreased productivity, and increased absenteeism.
  • Create a culture of recognition and appreciation, acknowledging employees' contributions and efforts regularly.
  • Empower employees with autonomy and flexibility in how they manage their workload and schedule their tasks.
  • Maintain clear communication channels and provide support and guidance to employees, addressing any concerns or challenges they may face.
  • Set realistic expectations and prioritise workload management, ensuring that employees have the resources and support they need to succeed.


Preventing and combating burnout requires a proactive approach from organisations and managers alike. In previous research conducted by Gallup and Workhuman, the significant correlation between employee recognition and wellbeing has been highlighted. Employees who receive appropriate recognition for their work experience lower burnout rates, with up to a 90% decrease in reporting being burned out at work "always" or "very often." Furthermore, turnover costs are significantly reduced in organisations with a culture of recognition. Past research by Gallup and Workhuman found that such a culture can reduce turnover costs by up to $16.1 million in a 10,000-person organisation with an already engaged workforce.

By implementing evidence-based strategies and creating supportive work environments, organisations can promote employee wellbeing, retention, and overall organisational success. It's time to prioritise employee wellbeing and shift work cultures to foster resilience and sustainability in the modern workplace.

However, what this research doesn’t cover is the deeper root causes of burnout at work - that our dominant management models are designed to extract the most value out of workers as possible. It isn’t designed to enable people to thrive. This is what we’ll be continuing to explore at The Now Work, so stay tuned.

You can watch a video recording of the full workshop here.

Colwyn Elder is a veteran sustainability strategist and yoga specialist. Having run two careers as parallel tracks for over 20 years, Colwyn is increasingly looking to the intersection of sustainability and wellbeing, both from an individual and a collective perspective, as given the great entanglement between human health and the health of the planet, the correlations are many and meaningful.

About The Now Work

The Now Work is a flexible talent platform for sustainability, matching world-changing people to world-changing work. In the wake of COVID-19 and the Great Resignation, we saw a huge shift in how people want to work, and we feel passionate about creating a future for work that is fit for life. If you’re a brand looking to curate specific expertise or bespoke teams to help you deliver your vision; a freelancer looking for opportunities to work with brands who take sustainability seriously; or you would like to explore ways to better prepare for the future of work at your organisation - register your interest on our website or email us at

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news, views and perspectives on sustainability and the future of work