Under-Challenged Burnout: How to Spot and Manage this Tricky Type of Burnout

It’s a new year, but many workers are feeling the same old burnout.

Burnout is affecting companies across industries, with workers reporting high levels of burnout. This is concerning because it affects employee retention, productivity, and overall happiness at work and at home.  

The symptoms of someone suffering from burnout are fatigue, cynicism, and detachment, but the root causes aren’t always the same. While all burnout stems from prolonged interpersonal stressors on the job, what these stressors look like can come from different factors.  

The three main types of burnout are overload, neglect, and under-challenged burnout. 


Overload burnout is the most well known version. An employee suffering from overload has too much work. Overload often affects high achievers or employees with reliable output who want to people please. They take on too much, and at some point, they start to struggle.  

While workload does influence overload burnout, interpersonal stressors are a root factor. Their desire to excel in their job and not let anyone down creates an environment where they don’t advocate for their needs. Or, if they are bringing up concerns, they aren’t being listened to and continue to try to manage.  


Neglect burnout creates feelings of professional helplessness. An employee struggling with neglect burnout feels a lack of control over their work life and like they are nothing but a cog in an uncaring machine.  

They don’t feel important to those around them, which erodes morale. While people who are overloaded are over-relied on, employee struggling with neglect feels ignored and unimportant. It’s hard to want to show up to work when it feels like no one will care if you don’t. 


Under-challenge burnout comes from boredom and monotony. When someone struggles with this form of burnout, they feel like a hamster on a wheel. They’re going nowhere, so it’s hard to keep moving.  

Someone who is under-challenged understands the importance of their role to others but feels unfulfilled. They’ve learned their job and do it well but have plateaued professionally. Praise ends up feeling like a pat on the head because their strong performance doesn’t translate into opportunity.  

We’ve already covered how to manage overload and neglect burnout in earlier blogs, so we’ll focus on under-challenge here. It’s important to understand the factors that lead to burnout so that you can adequately support someone who is struggling.  

While there are some common treatments for all types of burnout, the needs of an employee suffering from overload burnout are drastically different from those of someone under-challenged. Removing the workload from someone overloaded is necessary, but this won’t help someone who is under-challenged.  

Someone who is struggling with under-challenge burnout is dealing with the fatigue, cynicism, and detachment that characterizes burnout. You’ve noticed that their attitude and approach has changed but don’t see immediate reasons why. Their workload hasn’t grown, and the team values their work. So, what’s up? 

They are bored.  

They’ve learned everything they need to do their job adequately and are in maintenance mode. While this may sound like a good thing, it can start to make work feel like Groundhog Day. Their work lacks challenge and inspiration, and this erodes motivation. Again, it feels like being a hamster on a wheel.  

So how do you help? 

Talk to them.  

As always, when you have a concern, the first thing to do is to talk to the person you’ are worried about. Book some 1:1 time and ask them how they’re doing.  

In this conversation, ask them what they would like to be doing. Is there a skill they would like to develop or a project they’d like to be a part of? What are their professional goals and how you can assist in bringing their spark back to work? Be curious – understanding what excites someone is key to motivating them.  

You don’t need to make promises during your discussion but listen and take notes. Then take what you’ve learned put some thought into it before your next conversation.

Consider what you’ve learned.  

Now that you’ve discussed the issue, you should understand what excites them professionally.  

For example, if someone feels siloed in their job, consider what meetings might be beneficial to include them in. Increasing their understanding of how the company is run and building connections with people in other departments might be the challenge they need. 

Or maybe they are passionate about the environment – is there a sustainability committee they could join? Finding a passion at work can boost overall happiness and productivity.  

Is professional development an option for them? 

Professional development can do wonders for employee engagement. If someone is expressing symptoms of burnout, it’s easy to think that adding to their plate might be damaging, but if they’re under-challenged, it might be exactly what they need.  

If there a skill or a software that they’re interested in learning, investigate how your company can facilitate this. Do they need a software license, an opportunity to take a course or a coach

Prepare options for them to consider.  

This step is important. You need to prepare solid and realistic options for creating a more fulfilling work life. 

Consider all the questions they’ll ask to create trust in your relationship. How will the new challenge fit into their week, and will there be further growth opportunities if they excel? If you’re going to include them in an upcoming project, give them a sense of the timeline and what you’d like their role in the project to look like. 

Remember, if an option includes expanding their scope of work, you need to be prepared to have a conversation about compensation.  

Follow up.  

Try to ensure this meeting occurs within two weeks of your initial conversation and be transparent about why you need time. This will show them that what they shared matters and that you are serious about helping them with their burnout.  

Present your ideas and make an action plan with their input. If they ask a question that you don’t have an answer for, it’s okay to say you don’t know. Just write it down and follow up later.  


Under-challenge burnout is tricky because someone suffering from it doesn’t require the straightforward type of support needed by people who are overloaded or neglected. They are needing to be engaged which means different things to different people.  

As a leader, you need to be curious and creative. How can you enrich your under-challenged employee’s working experience in a way that benefits them and the business?  

This can be challenging, but remember, an under-challenged employee is under-utilized. By investing in their development, you’ll be creating a better work life for them and better work for the company.  

If you think professional development might be right for you and your team, we’re here for you. Reach out here to connect and discuss your options.