Do some leaders put employees at risk for burnout?


West-European societies are being confronted with raising numbers of people dropping out due to burnout. Often, it takes weeks to months before these people are able to pick up their roles at work again. The causes of burnout are not easily understood. Given the suffering and costs associated with burnout, policy makers, union leaders and CEOs are frantically seeking ways to address and prevent burnout.

In a new study, we found that the personality of leaders might be an important factor contributing to the risk of burnout. In two separate studies, we found similar results: Leaders characterized by a competitive mindset, inclined to demonstrate their own competence and seeking to  outperform others, were found to push their employees to higher risks for burnout. In contrast, leaders with a learning mindset, inclined to develop themselves and emphasizing learning and progress, were found to buffer the risk for burnout. 

Leaders create work environments that may buffer against or reinforce burnout factors and their own personality may risk pushing them in the wrong direction. Organizations  may need to pay more attention to identifying and developing the type of leaders who nurture and strenghten employees’ mental health.


Sijbom, R. B., Lang, J. W. B., & Anseel, F. (2018). Leaders’ achievement goals predict employee burnout above and beyond employees’ own achievement goals. Journal of Personality.

Read paper here

Roy Sijbom

Jonas Lang

Frederik Anseel