Burning the Midnight Oil is not Burning Out: The real link between burnout and job performance

Key Points:

  1. Burnout is a multi-dimensional concept, that is not about working long hours.
  1. Job performance suffers when people experience burnout, and there are stronger performance impacts for feelings of inefficacy.
  2. Organizational interventions to support well-being and curb burnout need to focus on the measurement of burnout and how it may affect various occupations differently.


Burnout. It’s a term and workplace phenomenon that has gained significant attention during and immediately following the pandemic; however, burnout is not new.  Even though the World Health Organization in 2019 included burnout as a formal disease classification, it was first described and researched in the 1970s (e.g., Freudenberger, 1974 and Maslach, 1976). Since that time, countless studies have been conducted to understand the impact of this occupational and workplace issue, particularly its effects on job performance. To date, while results show significant impacts, these are often mixed.  

A recent meta study undertaken by Corbeanu and colleagues (2023) offers an updated investigation on the link between burnout and job performance with a more nuanced perspective on what conditions exacerbate this relationship. Specifically, these four questions were examined:

  • Is burnout associated with a reduction in self-perceived job performance or performance as viewed by others?
  • Does burnout have different effects on task or in-role job performance – requirements – or contextual extra-role job performance? Does burnout also extend to discretionary performance?
  • Does the measurement of burnout matter in how burnout affects performance?
  • What does the relationship between burnout and job performance look like for customer-facing versus non-customer facing roles?

Bringing Clarity to Burnout

We can see and cite the real consequences that burnout has on individuals and organizations. However, burnout is not about working long hours. It is often misused to describe what people are dealing with and widely misunderstood in terms of how to combat it. So, let’s first clarify its definition.

It’s a work-related condition, characterized by three distinct dimensions whereby an individual experiences:

In short, burnout is a result of prolonged exposure to unmanageable work-related demands and not having enough resources – personal, social, material, etc. – to alleviate those stressors.

When people experience burnout, their work suffers.

While intuitive, the first finding of the current research investigation does in fact support prior research but given that the power of this study reveals more conclusive evidence.  All three aspects of burnout negatively impact job performance, with inefficacy being the strongest, which is critical to understanding the full impact that burnout has. 

Contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis, the type of performance measured does not change the relationship between burnout and job performance. Meaning that whether you are working on requirements for your role, or progressing toward work that is an extra – job performance, overall, will suffer. 

Likewise, there was no significant difference in the relationship between burnout and job performance based on how performance is measured.  

Occupation makes a difference, but it is nuanced. 

For individuals in a corporate role, there was a much stronger negative association between inefficacy and job performance. Meaning that those who suffer more on this aspect of burnout will likely face steeper performance declines than someone in a customer-facing role. Experiencing this aspect of burnout makes it more prevalent and associated with corporate roles.

While not as strong of an effect, but still significant, results showed that individuals in customer-facing roles tend to see a stronger relationship with exhaustion and depersonalization and job performance. It is suggested that the added complexity of handling customer needs and demands in combination with your one’s job role, leads to greater energy depletion and detachment due to the compounding demands and not as much opportunity to replenish resources. 

How burnout is measured might matterg 1

Of the two most prominent measures of burnout, it was found that burnout has a much stronger relationship to job performance, especially at it related to exhaustion, when using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). This measure of burnout focused very specifically on assessing exhaustion from an emotional and affective perspective. It appears to be more aligned with an individual’s connection to evaluating work experiences, self-reflection on their response to something they are experiencing themselves.

Takeaways for your practice

  • Addressing burnout through interventions that target working hours, well-being programs and benefits, will not alleviate or mitigate the experience of burnout. 
  • Tackling burnout isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Understanding that frontline employees, customer-facing, and corporate-desk-oriented workers experience burnout differently can help determine what might be more important when it comes to work design, and structuring work to mitigate burnout.
  • Inefficacy tends to be the strongest in its relationship to job performance, so understanding what is getting in the way of not feeling accomplished is key.

This research consolidates and extends prior investigations exploring burnout and job performance. It highlights the importance of examining the individual aspects of burnout and their impacts on job performance, with studies focused on working adults and those that studied more than one facet of burnout. Lacking energy (exhaustion), withdrawal and decreasing motivation (depersonalization) and lowering sense of accomplishment (inefficacy) all play a critical role in diminishing job performance. These impacts may vary for different job types, which calls for consideration in the interventions to help employees mitigate and deal with burnout.

Trustworthiness score:

The trustworthiness of the study is high (90%). This means there is a 10% chance that alternative explanations for the effects found are possible.

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For more Reading

  • Maslach, C. & Leiter, M.P. (2000). The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. Jossey-Bass; San Francisco, CA.
  • Maslach, C., Shaufeli, W.B., & Leiter, M.P. (2001). Job Burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, . 52: 397–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

You can find the original article herehttps://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1359432X.2023.2209320!

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