Burnout and Occupational Overload

Increasing your EQ and AQ may help prevent and reduce Occupational Overload

Dr. Brendan O'Brien

By now, we are all familiar with the concept that Burnout is defined as an occupational phenomenon "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed" (World Health Organisation, 2019). At Creative Thinking Institute, we conceptualise Burnout as Occupational Overload as a way to acknowledge and emphasise the extreme occupational demands associated with burnout. 

While solving the root cause typically requires changes to the workplace setting (e.g. increased manager support, changes in workload or role), these actions can often be outside the employee's direct control.  

If this is the case, what aspects of the individual employee's control might ease or prevent Occupational Overload?  

To answer this question, this blog summarises several key insights from a recent research paper (Bakker & De Vries, 2020) in combination with internal research conducted by Creative Thinking Institute into EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and AQ (Adaptability).   

Together, this blog article provides some preliminary insights into how AQ and EQ can help individuals take helpful actions to reduce and prevent work-related strain.

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An introduction to Occupational Overload 

Simply put, Occupational Overload results from enduring and unresolved workplace strain. There are three key signs of Occupational Overload (Maslach et al., 2001), which can be experienced as one or a combination of the three signs: 

  1. Feelings of fatigue and exhaustion – even after attempts at recovery or rest
  2. Reduction in own self of professional efficacy - that is, feeling less confident in one's ability or capability at work 
  3. Feeling emotionally and mentally distant from your job - even if your work is something you typically enjoy and love.  

The bottom-line cost of Occupational Overload to organisations is high: decreased performance, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover. The real cost is even higher if you consider hidden costs associated with turnover (e.g. hiring, re-training etc.)

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When things get out of balance at work 

The Job Demands-Resources model (JD-R) is a common and well-researched framework used to understand and predict job strain (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti et al., 2001). This model centres around two core concepts – job demands and job resources

  1. Job demands: are organisational, psychological, physical or social factors that require sustained effort and energy. Over time, these demands can take a toll on employees if not managed. Examples: high workload, time pressure, a hostile or high-risk workplace etc.   
  2. Job resources: are positive organisational, psychological, physical or social factors that help the employee to meet work goals, feel engaged, and reduce stress. Examples: adequate manager support, autonomy, positive work relationships, role clarity, career development opportunities etc.

When job demands outweigh our available job resources, this leads to job strain. If not managed in the long run, this can result in Occupational Overload. This can lead to serious health implications, including: 

  • Increased likelihood of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse (Ahola, 2007) 
  • Increased likelihood of a range of physical health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and respiratory problems (Salvagioni et al., 2017) 

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The new frontier? EQ and AQ may help reduce and prevent Occupational Overload. 

While the workplace is primarily responsible for shaping a healthy and balanced job environment, emerging research from Bakker & De Vries (2020) suggests that adaptive self-regulation strategies can help manage job stress and fatigue

These include positive behaviours such as proactive job crafting, i.e. taking the initiative to customise your work tasks to optimise your productivity and work satisfaction and investing time in recovery activities, i.e. self-care activities such as relaxation and learning a hobby, creating a side hustle, building a new community-based project. You know - the list goes on - do something that makes a difference.

Do something that matters - to you, to those you care for, to those you interact with. Acts of random kindness. Practice these.

Learn to be grateful, learn to reward others for their valuable contributions

Treat people equally, fairly

Together, these self-regulation strategies form part of a broader set of personal resources/characteristics that help reduce and potentially prevent Occupational Overload

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So how does all this fit together with working on your EQ and AQ? 

One challenge to contend with is that when an individual has an imbalance of demands to resources – it becomes increasingly difficult to find the energy and time to engage in practical activities such as job crafting and recovery. This is where personal characteristics such as EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and AQ (Adaptability) come into the picture.

EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is defined as our ability to understand and navigate our own emotions and the emotions of others to respond appropriately to any given challenging situation.

How working to increase your EQ may help: 

  • Heightens your ability to recognise your own emotional needs, such as when you are starting to feel the effects of stress at work (self-awareness);  
  • Increases your self-awareness so that you can proactively take steps to manage your emotions, such as investing in self-care and recovery activities (self-management); 
  • Strengthens your willingness to ask for help, and seek social support from others when needed (vulnerability)

AQ (Adaptability) is defined as our ability to cope and thrive with change by demonstrating flexibility to self and others, remaining open and curious, unlearning and relearning, refocusing resilience to persist, delaying personal gratification for more significant gain, applying problem-solving skills, and tolerating failure through to succeeding. 

How increasing your AQ may help: 

  • Increases your ability to generate different or unique solutions to a problem (e.g., high workload, time pressure) by job crafting in innovative and collaborative ways (problem-solving) 
  • More quickly recovering or 'bouncing back' from your setbacks by re-framing challenges and obstacles in relation to your higher-level purpose and goals (refocussed resilience) 
  • Decrease stressors related to failure and mistakes, as these are framed as resources, that is - opportunities to learn and improve rather than demands on oneself at work (tolerance for failure) 

While the Bakker & De Vries (2020) study is a discussion paper that will benefit from further exploration via future research studies, it does provide us with several important lessons in how individuals can help relieve feelings of job strain and burnout.

Notably, at the Creative Thinking Institute, we strongly believe that both characteristics can be learned and developed. This means that with awareness and deliberate practice, anyone can build the mindset and personal tools that help prevent and reduce Occupational Overload.

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Read the full research article here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10615806.2020.1797695  

Need immediate support today? Access a trained counsellor through Lifeline. 

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Bakker, A. B.  & de Vries, J. D. (2020). Job Demands–Resources theory and self-regulation: new explanations and remedies for job burnout, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2020.1797695  

Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The Job Demands‐Resources model: state of the art, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328, https:// doi.org/10.1108/02683940710733115  

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands–resources model of burnout.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(3), 499–512. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.86.3.499   

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 397–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397    

Salvagioni, D. A. J. , Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani F.L., Andrade, S.Md. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185781. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185781  

World Health Organisation (2019). Burnout an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases, Accessed 23rd December via  


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