Early career burnout - Part 2: Workplace factors

Early Career Burnout and mental health in the workplace reflecting organisational culture and workload challenges as well as individual factors such as perfectionism and imposter syndrome. By Perquiro and The Skill Collective Clinical Psychologists …

EARLY-CAREER Burnout (Pt 2: workplace factors)

by Giulia Villa, Fel Donatelli + Joyce Chong



In case you missed it, our last article was a primer on early career burnout and those individual factors that increase the risk of suffering from this affliction. To refresh:

  • Early career burnout refers to the work-related state of mind comprising exhaustion, distancing from one’s work, and decreased personal achievement [1] affecting new graduates.

Looking at individual factors in burnout sheds light on only one piece of the puzzle. Critically, workplaces shape conditions that lead new graduates down the path of burnout. In this second part of our series on early career burnout, we look at those organisational factors and see what actions workplaces can take.

Organisational factors in early career burnout

Various organisational factors contribute to early career burnout, and it’s helpful for workplaces to consider how they can promote better wellbeing to buffer against it.


Job characteristics and design

The overall environment of a workplace is a major contributor to the wellbeing of every employee. Burnout has been linked to excessive workload, inadequate compensation, lack of community and absence of administrative support [2] . More specifically, the following job characteristics are believed to contribute to burnout:

  • Low autonomy and job control where an employee does not have much independence or influence in their role.

  • Low role clarity where an employee has low understanding of their role and responsibilities.

  • Subjective overload where the expectations of the workplace exceed the employee’s capabilities.

Optimising job design means crafting a balance between keeping the employee engaged and benefitting the organisation. The presence of low autonomy/job control, low role clarity, or subjective overload, all pose a risk to employee motivation and satisfaction. Indeed, job characteristics are more likely to predict burnout than individual factors, suggesting that job re-design is the most effective way to prevent burnout.



Onboarding processes: Lack of adequate support, training, and socialisation in the role

Commencing a new role is fraught with confusion and uncertainty. Questions fill the heads of new graduates - what will my colleagues be like? What does my future have in store? What’s expected of me? Indeed, a lack of role clarity is most frequently observed as ambiguity in relation to:[3]

  • How their job performance will be evaluated.

  • Whether there are paths for career progression.

  • What is the scope of the responsibilities.

  • The expectations of others.

This confusion about their role is just another thing for new starters to worry about and in fact has been linked to higher stress levels and emotional exhaustion.[4] A good understanding of the job description and the relevant duties and responsibilities is crucial to ease the anxiety and inadequacy often experienced by new graduates. It is important to inform new starters of all things relating to their role as part of their onboarding process.

Sometimes, new graduates face a culture of ‘learning by osmosis’. However, a lack of adequate support, training, and socialisation as part of an onboarding process, can contribute to individuals feeling overwhelmed early on in their career. This can lead to feeling underprepared for the role, and inadequacy and frustration can set in thereafter. A lack of socialisation with peers into the role may mean new graduates struggle to assimilate into the role.


Flexible work practices and ever-evolving technology breeds the ‘always on’ culture

Even before COVID-19’s arrival we were witnessing an increasingly blurred boundary between work and play due to technology and flexible work practices (in fact, take a look at this article on constant connection contributing to burnout amongst millennials ). Smartphones and laptops have revolutionised the way that we work; their portable nature means we can essentially always be ‘always on’. Notifications and alerts can lead to overwhelming ‘telepressure’: the feeling that you have to respond to any email as soon as it arrives[5] .

If the separation between work and play wasn’t already challenging enough, the global pandemic transformed traditional ideas of what can constitute a workplace. Many companies opted out of physical office spaces indefinitely in favour of working from home, whilst others were in prolonged lockdown and forced into a more permanent state of blurring the boundaries between work and home lives.

Unfortunately for those commencing their careers just before, or during the pandemic, working from home early in the piece meant missing out on structured formal onboarding processes as well as the informal, ad hoc collegiate support that emerges from being co-located. Put simply, it meant that some new graduates were left to navigate the overwhelming world of their new career from the solitude of their home.



Organisational culture

Workplaces play a pivotal role through their culture, so is your organisational culture building graduates up or burning them out? Organisational cultures that expect high performance and value output above all else, reinforce maladaptive perfectionistic behaviours, emphasise constant connection with the expectation of immediate replies to emails sent all hours of the day, and disparage errors made upon first attempt, are environments that may contribute to burnout.

Certainly, organisations hiring graduates are aware that they are in the early stages of their career, thus careful consideration should be given as to how to support them through this process through a combination of setting expectations in relation to a learning and feedback culture, as well as communicating realistic work practices and performance expectations.

Tips for organisations

 Given the importance of the workplace in fostering burnout or sustainable work practices amongst new graduates, how can organisations better support those in the early stages of their careers?


Getting an organisation’s culture right is critical as it serves to support new graduates early on in their career. Ways to promote a positive organisational culture include:

  • Hiring the right leaders who practice intentional leadership styles who will promote a culture of support and sustainability across the employee lifecycle and emphasise realistic work practices as well as valuing the idea of failing forward. The standards and behaviours imposed by leaders trickle down to affect all employees, greatly influencing organisational culture. Transformational leaders, who engage and motivate employees to enact the change they want to see, have been shown to decrease burnout by improving job satisfaction, performance and personal accomplishment.[6][7]

  • Actively discourage leaveism, or the practice of working when one is not supposed to be working, including using annual leave, sick days, or weekends to catch up.[8] This may include limiting access to technology and encouraging ‘proper’ time off. Discourage long working hours and constant connection as badges of honour, and instead stress the responsibility of employees to look after themselves to enable optimal performance when they are at work.  

  • Model realistic work practices and work/life balance, particularly in high performance cultures. It’s important for early career individuals to get an idea of how to step into this next phase of their lives, and how to set boundaries around work so that they have time to recuperate and focus clearly the next day.

  • Have a culture of learning and foster a feedback culture insofar that a new graduate is expected to not know the answers, to make errors, and to fail and these are all viewed as a necessary part of career development. Emphasise the value that new graduates can bring to the organisation. A rigid feedback culture can foster feelings of frustration and hopelessness in new hires. The ability to give feedback is an important component of any employee’s job control and engagement, which we know can be a predisposing factor for burnout.


Organisations that hire on the basis of school grades fail to consider if a graduate will be a good fit for that particular role. Developing capability frameworks and success profiles means that organisations are aware of what it takes to succeed in the roles they are hiring for. This cascades down to the hiring process, and incorporating psychometric assessment to match job characteristics to new graduates can not only reveal who may be the ‘best fit’ for the role, it may also reveal areas for an employee’s development and potentially reduce turnover.

Once hired, it’s important to check in on a regular basis with graduates particularly on those aspects known to contribute to burnout (autonomy, job control, role clarity, workload) and make adjustments to their role where indicated.


3. INVEST IN YOUR LEADERS (and, in turn, your culture)

Leadership plays a vital part in your organisational culture.[9] Leaders set the tone for their team in terms of expectations for performance, they can motivate them towards high performance and cohesion, and in doing so weather challenging times.

There are factors that contribute to good leadership, and by investing in the development of their leaders organisations are investing in better organisational culture. Perquiro outlines these factors in their A BRAVE Leader model, identifying these qualities as critical to good leadership:

Organisational leadership development and workplace culture by Perquiro Organisational development and consulting in Subiaco Perth
  • Authentic leaders have a strong understanding of their own values and act with integrity.

  • Balanced leaders remain calm in challenging situations and are open to feedback.

  • Rational leaders use logic to guide decision making, are consultative, and check their own assumptions.

  • Action-oriented leaders act promptly and demonstrate accountability.

  • Visionary leaders communicate the organisation’s vision and invests in building collective goals.

  • Empathetic leaders show genuine care and concern for others.



In much the same way that we would encourage individuals to reach out and seek help if they’re experiencing burnout, organisations would be well-placed to call in consultants to look at their overall culture, as well as their hiring and onboarding processes, and how these facilitate or buffer against burnout in their team and, particularly, their new graduates.

A blend of organisational design and workplace consultants (such as our organisational psychology arm Perquiro) and clinical and registered psychologists that focus on workplace mental health (that’s us!) can help set your organisation on the right path through helpful work design, appropriate recruitment practices, and equipping employees with the right tools to help them manage their own wellbeing.


Early-career burnout getting you down? Grab our tip sheet below to learn more about how to help yourself.


Grab our tip sheet and you'll also get access to our Resource Library filled with even more tips on wellbeing, mental health, and performance. You'll also receive news and updates at The Skill Collective. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any newsletter email you receive from us, or by contacting us. For more information please read our Privacy Policy and Terms + Conditions.



[1] Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B., & Leither, M.P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review in Psychology, 52, 397-422.

[2] Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2008). The truth about burnout: How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. John Wiley & Sons.

[3] Handy, C.B. (1976). Understanding Organisations. Penguin, Harmondsworth.

[4] Jackson, S. E., Schwab, R. C., & Schuler, R. S. (1986). Towards an understanding of the burnout phenomenon. Journal of Applied Psychology 71, 630-640.

[5] Peake, M. (2015, July 10). Do you have early career burnout? Friday Magazine. https://fridaymagazine.ae/life-culture/people-profiles/do-you-have-early-career-burnou-1.1547679

[6] Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K. G., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature. The leadership quarterly7(3), 385-425.

[7] Zopiatis, A., & Constanti, P. (2010). Leadership styles and burnout: is there an association?. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.

[8] Hesketh, I., & Cooper, C.L. (2014). Leavism at work. Occupational medicine, 4, 146-147.

[9] Mohelska, H., & Sokolova, M. (2015). Organisational culture and leadership – joint vessels? Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 171, 1011-1016.