What is Neglect Burnout?

What it looks like and how it erodes morale and retention.

When you’re struggling with neglect burnout every task feels like a challenge.  

When setbacks come up, they feel daunting even if it’s a relatively simple fix. Tasks that once felt simple feel much harder and you dread getting out of bed on a workday.   

Not all burnout looks or feels the same. Studies have identified three types of workplace burnout – over-load, under-challenged, and neglect. The over-load type of burnout is the one most talked about. It’s caused by having too much work and stress for too long – you can read more about it here.  

Neglect burnout, however, is born from feelings of professional helplessness. They are not burning out from overwork but from lack of agency. They have a manageable workload, but they lack the motivation and confidence required to get it done. The outcome is a tanking of employee morale and high turnover rates. However, it’s important as leaders to understand that burnout of any kind, including neglect burnout, is less about the individual and is a sign of dysfunction within an organization.  

Think of the last time you felt really motivated – bet you felt in control. When we don’t feel in control of our actions, we’re less motivated to act. We ask ourselves, what’s the point?  

Feelings of helplessness causes a decrease in confidence. If someone has been struggling with their performance and can’t figure out how to improve, they’re at risk of developing neglect burnout. It’s hard to keep trying when we don’t see results. 

So as a leader, what can you do to help someone on your team who’s struggling with neglect burnout? 

  1. Discuss Your Concerns.  

They’re work output isn’t satisfactory and you’ve noticed a decline in their mood and attitude – it’s time to talk to them. Communicating your concerns will be a jumping off point to establish a plan to prevent severe burnout.  

How can you support them in a way that brings agency back into their workday? Clear expectations and achievable goals are important for all employees, but someone suffering from neglect burnout will likely need help planning to reach those goals. Don’t make the plan for them but be there to affirm their ideas and provide guidance when needed.  

When you are suffering from neglect burnout you can see the mountain top, but the path to get there is obscured. To make meaningful change with your employee who is struggling with this type of burnout, you’ll have to provide extra support and guidance while they find their way. Help them plan and then set regular check-ins to discuss progress and setbacks.  

  1. Encourage To-Do Lists. 

To-do lists are a tried-and-true way to bring feelings of structure and control into your work life. It gives you a clear list of tasks to work from and a feeling of accomplishment once a task has been crossed off. 

While recommending to-do lists, take the time to discuss best practices around them. A to-do list won’t be effective for someone with neglect burnout if all they are listing is the major tasks. Saying “complete project X” isn’t helpful. Project X needs to be broken down into achievable, bite sized tasks.  

  1. Encourage Workday Routines. 

Creating routines helps us create a sense of agency over our day.  

It’s important to be realistic when setting new routines. They need to be built slowly and deliberately. Encourage them to start with something simple and to build on that success. For example, someone could start drinking a cup of green tea at the start of the day or start taking their lunch every day at noon. Once a regular routine has been established, then they can add a new habit.  

  1. Consider Professional Development.  

You’ve identified that your report is struggling but you might not have the capacity or experience to provide the support that they need, consider bringing in a professional. Professional development is a great option for the individual and organizationally in addressing bigger cultural issues at hand. Investing in your team in this way speaks volumes.  

Professional development through coaching would give them concentrated support in the areas they need. Coaches can help them build the plans, create their to-do lists, and help them regain agency in their role. They can work on confidence issues and provide the real-time support that your report needs. 

If coaching isn’t in the budget, then development through courses is another great option. Knowledge is empowering and providing a struggling employee the opportunity to learn and grow in a setting outside their regular workday can be affirming. It shows that you and your business care about their development and it provides them with new skills to implement.  


Burnout is tough to handle for individuals and leaders and understanding root causes is important to knowing how treat it. Ignoring the symptoms won’t make the issue go away – it’s important to communicate concerns and to really listen when concerns are brought to you.  

Severe burnout is incredibly damaging to individuals and businesses. Employee retention is really difficult once burnout has become severe and coming back from it is a long journey for the person suffering. But we aren’t helpless in this, even when it feels like we are. Start talking about it and you’ll see how things can change.