How to Help Clients Combat Burnout and Feel Engaged at Work
By Kristen McLaughlin
These days, burnout at work is commonplace and on the rise. A recent Aflac report surveying 2,001 employees across the U.S. found that 59% of workers are experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout. Additionally, these levels increased by 7% from the previous year (Aflac, 2022).
Reasons for Burnout
In order to help clients combat feelings of burnout and feel more engaged at work again, it is important to first understand some of the causes.
There are a number reasons for employee burnout (Wigert & Agrawal, 2018), including:
- Mis-alignment with the actual work or role – sometimes clients no longer enjoy their work in the same way they did when first hired
- Work environment or culture does not fit with client’s values, or there is a toxic culture
- Conflicts with a manager or colleague
- Long work hours or lack of flexible work options
Additionally, an increase in a client’s workload due to high company turnover can cause burnout, as they take on additional responsibilities of employees who left the company. The 2022 Job Seeker Nation Report states that 40% of employees reported their workload was increasing due to employee turnover. As a result, 78% of those workers reported an increase in stress and feelings of burnout (Employ, 2022).
Ways to Help Clients Combat Burnout
To help clients better cope with burnout, career practitioners may want to guide reflection through sets of focused questions, such as those suggested below. While walking clients through this process, it may be necessary to remind them that it is unlikely that they will enjoy 100% of their daily work tasks. Clients will probably have some responsibilities they would rather not perform, even if the job and the company are a great fit. Understanding this balance and having realistic expectations are important to address with clients.
During coaching sessions, clients may report that their burnout and dis-engagement are impacting their mental health or physical health – including difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Practitioners can suggest resources, including determining if their employer offers wellness benefits (Myers, 2023), incorporating a self-care plan (Hodrick & Pipitone, 2022), or making a referral to a qualified mental health professional.
To help clients better cope with burnout, career practitioners can begin by discussing the client’s future ideal state.
Practitioners can ask clients vision-based questions such as:
- How would you describe your ideal work environment?
- What would the opposite of being burned out look like and feel like?
Then, the practitioner can help clients evaluate their current state by asking why they feel burned out. Even though coaching may be future focused, it is helpful for both the practitioner and client to look back to understand when the burnout first started.
Questions to ask in the evaluation phase include:
- What was happening around that time?
- What may have changed?
- When was the last time they felt supported at work?
The client’s responses can help provide some clues into their current situation. Perhaps they were assigned additional responsibilities they did not want or expect. Maybe there a company or departmental re-organization or other change within the workplace, or the client’s relationship with their manager or colleagues shifted in some way.
Finally, work with the client to create an action plan to move forward, identifying 3-5 professional goals they can work on over the next few months. Coaching clients on expanding their mindset will be critical during this process, as it will help them connect to the larger meaning or purpose behind their work. Strategies for incorporating mindset into goal setting include using growth-mindset trigger words to re-frame goals, such as improve, develop, or become, and establishing progress and pivot points so clients can alter or reframe their goals along the way, as needed (Grant, 2022).
Questions for clients to consider in this action phase include:
- What is in my control that I can change about my current situation?
- How can I re-frame my mindset around projects or tasks that I don’t enjoy, but are necessary for my role?
- What might I be able to learn from this situation?
- Is there an additional project I can work on within another part of the organization that would help me feel more engaged?
How to Help Clients Feel Engaged Again
Career practitioners can help clients assess their strengths and values in an effort to better understand themselves and how to use those attributes in their current role.
Powerful questions for clients to consider in this assessment phase include:
- How can I better use my strengths and preferred skillsets in my current role?
- What do I like about my current role? How can I work on more of those items on a day-to-day basis?
- What excited me about this role when I first started?
- Why did I want to join this company or organization in the first place?
- Which goals and concerns can I discuss with my manager?
If a client is unsure how to talk to their manager to request changes to their work or responsibilities, career practitioners can role play with them to increase their comfort level and confidence. As clients identify the topics that are most important to their current and future work, they can prioritize their questions and requests.
Sometimes, in spite of their best efforts to implement these steps, clients may still feel burned out and unsatisfied at work. It may be necessary for them to consider leaving their position for a more fulfilling opportunity.
As clients begin the process of transitioning to a new job, practitioners can help clients identify why the role was not a good fit, so the client does not land in similar circumstances and repeat the burnout cycle. By taking the time to reflect on and better understand their situation before starting a career transition and job search, the client can make more informed career decisions and secure a new position with a better fit.
Aflac. (2022). Workplace benefits trends: Employee well‑being and mental health 2022-2023. Aflac workforces report. https://www.aflac.com/docs/awr/pdf/2022-trends-and-topics/2022-aflac-awr-employee-well-being-and-mental-health.pdf
Employ. (2022). 2022 Job seeker nation report: Dynamic motivations of modern workers. Author. https://www2.jobvite.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/JSN-2022-3-25.pdf
Grant, H. (2022, September 30). Setting career goals when you feel overwhelmed. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/09/setting-career-goals-when-you-feel-overwhelmed
Hodrick, V., & Pipitone, E. (2022, November). Helping clients incorporate self-care during job loss. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/471024/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Myers, M. (2023, March). Helping clients reduce anxiety symptoms at work. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/494889/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Wigert, B., & Agrawal, S. (2018, July 12). Employee burnout, part 1: The 5 main causes. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx
Kristen McLaughlin, founder of KM Career Coaching & Consulting, works with professionals who are at a transition in their career and want clarity in identifying their next steps. She is passionate about working with clients to uncover their strengths and how best to utilize them in the workplace. Kristen earned her MBA and Executive Coaching Certificate from Case Western Reserve University and is a Board Certified Coach. She is a member of professional organizations including the International Coach Federation, Cleveland Chapter. She can be reached at linkedin.com/in/kristenmclaughlin/ or firstname.lastname@example.org.