Care needed for workers as well as customers

Three-quarters of workers in customer-facing roles say they feel overworked, underappreciated and at risk of burnout, according to a new study.

The poll of 750 workers in customer-facing roles found 72% felt either burn out already or at imminent risk of being so. This rose to 83% of those working in contact centres. More than half (52%) of those polled said their workload had increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic.

The consequences of burnout can be devastating for a worker’s long-term physical and mental health, while the workplace can suffer poor productivity, high turnover of staff, higher absenteeism and a greater risk of work mistakes being made – in 2016, the World Economic Forum estimated the global cost of burnout at an unsustainable £255 billion.

“Burnout results from chronic or unrelenting workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and occurs in about one-fifth of the population,” said Dr. Karen Michell, IOSH Research Programme Lead (Occupational Health).

“Yet there is limited value in addressing the physical and mental health issues experienced by workers without addressing the workplace issues or psychosocial stressors that have caused the burnout. The physical and mental health issues are a consequence of the workers’ interaction with the organisational culture, so effective treatment requires getting to the root cause,” she added.

“It’s important to remember we are not trying to fix the worker here but rather the working situation and the way the worker reacts to it.”

Prevention starts by creating the right culture. Here are some tips for managers and supervisors:

  • Create open channels of communication and ask workers what they need
  • Be aware of workloads and time pressures placed on workers and ensure they are realistic and achievable
  • Provide workers with support (either emotional or in terms of resources) where it’s needed and give workers deserved recognition of their outputs
  • Workers need to understand what’s expected of them and what level of authority and responsibility they have when completing tasks. Ensure all tasks are clear and that everyone’s expectations are aligned
  • Avoid repetitive and monotonous work where possible and ensure workers are stimulated by work activities
  • Involve workers in decision-making – encourage them to have a sense of value and loyalty to the organisation.

And workers can do much to help protect themselves from developing burnout:

  • Know your limits – Be realistic about what can be achieved each working day
  • Manage workload – If your workload becomes excessive have a conversation with your supervisor about moving deadlines or sharing some of your work
  • Time management – Plan your activities to allow enough time to complete a task
  • Regular breaks – Take rest breaks away from your desk (avoid getting into the habit of working through lunch and eating at your desk)
  • Communication – Find time to talk to your supervisor when you are feeling stressed
  • Healthy lifestyle – Eat and drink well, take regular exercise and be sure to get enough sleep.


Lindblom, K., Linton, S., Lundholm, C., & Bryngelsson, I.-L. (2006). Burnout in the Working Population: Relations to Psychosocial Work FactorsInternational journal of behavioral medicine, 13, 51-59. 

Maslach, C., & Michael P Leiter. (2021). How to measure burnout accurately and ethicallyHarvard Business Review, 8. 

Moss, J. (2019). Burnout is about your workplace, not your people (KM). (Employee Retention, Issue. H. B. S. P. Corporation. 

Tottle, S. (2016). It's costing the global economy £255 billion, so what can we do to stop workplace burnout? The Conversation, 2021. Retrieved 19 Nov 2021, from 

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Jeremy Waterfield
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