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4 Burnout Triggers in the Workplace (and Tips for Exhausted Teams)

Summary of Trudy Macdonald’s masterclass on reviving burnt out teams

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It's being dubbed the “The Great Exhaustion.” Microsoft research shows 48% of the global workforce reports work-related burnout, with Australia (62%) the highest of all countries surveyed.

Yet, in contrast to the “The Great Resignation,” many burnt out employees are dug-in for “The Great Stay” – where job security is becoming a priority due to the higher cost of living and rising economic uncertainty.

Warning for workplaces in 2024

As TalentCode HR founder and managing director Trudy Macdonald taught this week’s masterclass, without intervention 2024 will be characterised by many workers exhausted, unmotivated, and not performing at their highest level.

Ahead of our upcoming December event on psychologically safe workplaces, and February 2024 Australian visit of organisational psychologist, top-ranking TED presenter and work-life expert Adam Grant let’s look at what Trudy suggests to revive yourself and your team.

Mental health affected by work

Firstly, we need to realise burnout is affecting most ages. Younger people are particularly challenged by mental health issues, with 60% of Gen Z and 63% of Gen Y/Millennials reporting their mental health suffered because of work pressures. 58% of Gen X and 48% of Boomers felt the same way. (ACCA survey, 2023)

“We’ve got pressures from boards, economic pressures, and a workforce saying don’t put pressure on me because my mental health is suffering,” says Trudy. “If we have a workforce that’s exhausted, that struggles with the day to day, that’s a big challenge.”

Wellbeing initiatives are not enough

Trudy says many organisations have excelled at providing wellbeing support to employees, but burnout persists and is getting worse.

“We can’t yoga and meditate our way out of burnout,” she says. What is needed is tackling the root causes of burnout focusing on leadership, teams, and work dynamics.

Macro challenges contributing to burnout

Trudy says four main triggers contribute to burnout:

TRIGGER ONE: Hybrid and Remote Work

As some of us may have experienced, hybrid and remote work can lead to a reduction in meaningful connection, resulting in reduced wellbeing, a sense of disconnection with other teams, and the organisation generally.

Trudy says 50% of surveyed workers chose “difficulty building relationships” as the main barrier to effective remote/hybrid work.

She says research shows Gen Z and Gen Y are more likely to go into the office if their friends or teammates are there, or for professional development and mentoring. They’re less likely to go if their managers or senior leaders are there. Trudy says this tells us it’s the social and professional connections in workplace relationships that matter.

Actions you can take:

1.     Prioritise social networks and meaningful collaboration. Trudy suggests creating cross-functional relationships, perhaps offer a free lunch to encourage interaction.

2.     Tap into intrinsic motivation – Get to know your team. Recognise and leverage each person’s “why.” Younger generations are interested in entrepreneurship, says Trudy, so encourage ‘intrapreneurship’ and have them solve juicy problems.

3.     Build team connection. Trudy believes we’ve lost the space for connection and understanding each other. We all have elements of our job that we love and we loathe, so ask team members what they love about their job, “I love…………..” “I don’t love it when…..” then get them to share with each other. Trudy says if we spend 20% doing the things that we love it lifts our engagement more broadly (Harvard).


TRIGGER TWO: Lack of role clarity

Simply put, some people aren't sure what bits of the job are theirs and what belongs to others.

Trudy says a lack of role clarity leads to inefficiencies from task duplication or poor delivery. It also leads to people working harder and longer. Leaders are doing parts of other people’s jobs, so there’s burnout at senior level too.

Trudy shared a case study where leaders were burnt out and busy and so were dumping their daily task list onto others. She says there was no sense of team, no 1:1s or forums for collaboration, and people were feeling disconnected and unsupported.

Actions you can take:

1.Revisit your ways of working.

Trudy says hope is a powerful emotion, so you could give your team hope for the New Year by flagging that you’ll be pressing the refresh button in 2024. At the start of the year reflect on things you do well and things that haven’t worked and can be done differently.


·       Do we have role clarity and clear measures of success?

·       Where is there waste/inefficiencies?

·       How do we hold each other accountable?

·       How do we give and receive feedback?

·       Do our meetings have a clear purpose, agenda & outcomes?

·       Who attends our meetings? How long do they last?

·       How can we promote dialogue and debate?

·       How do we make decisions?

2.Revisit priorities

You could also get people to stop and think ‘What is going to have the biggest impact?” “What can we stop doing?” “What can we delegate/outsource?” Consider de-innovating by removing a piece of unwanted work from the worklist.

Considering aspects of your job, list out: What’s GREAT (adding future value to the business), GOOD (adding current value), POOR (W.O.M.B.A.T. = Waste of money, Bandwidth and Time), MISSING (Critical work that hasn’t been a focus, or we don’t have the skills/time to deliver).

revisit ways of working table

TRIGGER THREE: The changing demands of leadership 

Nobody ever liked it, but for Gen Y and Z there is no tolerance for authoritative leadership style, nor a hands-off leadership style. Instead, leaders must get the balance right between empathy and accountability. A high-performance environment is balanced, energising and motivational. It offers both high support and high challenge. 

Trudy says the key is to

1.     Develop courageous and connected leaders. They promote psychological safety, have a high degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and don’t shy from having regular accountability conversations. Without them, an “I can get away with it” attitude seeps into the workplace.

2.     Ensure leaders are visible and accessible. Trudy maintains that leaders should be able to be interrupted. They should actively participate in team meetings and activities, be seen across all levels, contribute to a sense of unity and connection, and be transparent in their communications to foster trust.

3.     Shift accountability back to the individual. Trudy says research shows 87% of employees reported they were productive at work in 2022, yet only 12% of leaders said they had full confidence their team was productive (Microsoft).

·       Make accountability more transparent: In other words, each worker should be able to say: “I know what I’m accountable for and I know what everyone in my team is accountable for.”

·       Ensure a psychologically safe environment: Here's a tip: Accountability is not punishment. In a meeting everyone should feel safe enough to say “here’s how I’m tracking” and “I’m struggling with this for the following reasons.” and be confident that the team will lean into this because “we are one team.”

·       Empowerment. This is about each person playing a part in the success of the whole. The team supports one another and plays to each other’s strengths. The team relies upon everyone being successful in their role, and celebrates as a team.


TRIGGER FOUR: Poor Culture

People like to feel safe and happy at work, so it's no surprise that employees who report high levels of toxic behaviour at work are 8 times more likely to experience burnout symptoms and 6 times more likely to consider leaving their employer.

Trudy says that if you’re tolerating toxic behaviours then it sets expectation that you’re okay with that. If there's a sense that toxic behaviours are in your organisation, the leaders should hold up a mirror, and ask “Are my expectations in line with what’s happening?” If not, Trudy says they must get them aligned. First step is to offer clarity around what’s expected and why.

Key cultural issues include toxic behaviours, but also microaggressions, lack of inclusion, and a poor psychological safety.

Key actions Trudy suggests you can take:

1.     Create an inclusive speak up culture. Cultivate psychological safety so people feel included and accepted, feel safe to contribute, feel safe to learn, and feel safe to challenge the status quo.

2.     Create a feedback rich culture. For difficult and sensitive conversations be specific about the situation, the behaviour, and the impact the behaviour had.

3.     Receive feedback well. Listen, be curious, accept the feedback, say thank you, reflect on what you can learn, circle back or take action to implement the relevant learning.

In summary:

1.     Accountability is not punishment. Balance accountability with empathy to engage your teams.

2.     Revisit role clarity and ways of working. Revisit ways of working and reset roles with clear priorities, starting with your own.

3.     Invest in leadership development. Develop courageous and connected leaders who can lead in the current talent market.

4.     Create an inclusive culture. Create an inclusive “speak up culture” where everyone is seen and heard. This will lead to commitment.

See also: What is Psychological Safety?

See Adam Grant in virtual livestream OR in person in 2024

There's an exciting event to catch in early 2024: Learning direct from one of the world's leading authorities on work culture and work-life. You have two options.

  • Option #1: If you're in Australia don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in February 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast (Some categories SOLD OUT). 
  • Option #2: To watch a (live virtual) livestream of this event, join 8000 global business leaders who are professionally and personally developing with a Growth Faculty membership. The livestream is included in membership. See full list of membership inclusions at Growth Faculty annual membership:

·       Unlimited access to dozens of live virtual masterclasses on trending topics around work, career, leadership, and culture; such as psychological safety, burnout, difficult conversations, strategy and execution, micromanaging, accountability and more, with opportunities to chat, ask questions of the speaker, and interact with your peers.

·       Unlimited access to our multi-module leadership programs at both emerging and senior leader level.

·       Discounts on tickets to be in audiences at our Global Headliner in-person events featuring top name speakers.

·       Year-round leadership content on demand with replays of our live events, highlight reels, interviews with top business authors, and more.

Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. See our latest program of live virtual and in-person events.


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