Burnout, the Critical 20 Percent and Your Bottom Line

In our last article, Burnout: What It Is, Isn’t, and Your Role, we defined burnout and discussed the importance of the relationship between the occupational syndrome, the organization - and the individual. Picking up where we left off, we further examine the overlap between engagement and burnout. We believe this insight is critical to mitigating burnout.

DEFINITION OF ENGAGEMENT: The strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel towards their workplace.

The Overlap of Engagement and Burnout

There is a strong misconception that engagement and burnout are opposite sides of the same continuum. Many believe that employee engagement determines an employee’s level of burnout, believing that, if an employee is engaged, they cannot experience burnout. However, a 2018 study conducted by the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence refuted this claim, finding that employees with low engagement and high burnout are actually quite rare. In fact, only 1.8 percent of those surveyed were disengaged and experiencing burnout as defined by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new definition. Strikingly, 18.8 percent of respondents were experiencing both high levels of engagement and burnout (Figure 1).

Figure 1 is an infographic depicting the following findings: A negative inter-individual correlation between engagement and burnout suggested that burnout tends to be lower when engagement is high. The correlation of burnout and engagement in US workers are as follows:

  • High engagement and high burnout co-occured in 18.8 percent of workers
  • Moderate engagement and moderate burnout co-occured in 35.5 percent of workers
  • High engagement and low burnout co-occured in 41.1 percent of workers
  • Low engagement and high burnout co-occured in 1.8 percent of workers
  • Low engagement and low burnout co-occured in 2.4 percent of workers

These figures are taken from a study that can be found here.

When an organization uses engagement alone as a proxy for burnout, they miss the need to support the 18.8 percent of employees with high engagement and high burnout. Organizations risk wasting effort and resources on inefficient solutions and the loss of key talent by neglecting to protect this population from burnout.

Deploying strategies to reverse and prevent burnout for highly-engaged but unmotivated employees should be a top priority for every organization. These employees are likely among top talent, given the Pareto Principle which states that approximately 80 percent of consequences and results are attributable to 20 percent of the causes – i.e. the “vital few”. In the workplace, the Pareto principle means that 80 percent of the responsibility and work are shouldered by only 20 percent of your employees. Josh Bersin, a leading global human resources analyst and thought leader, states, “[This] reflects the fact that a small number of employees potentially deliver a significant proportion of the productivity.” You can then imagine the bottom-line implications of 20 percent of the workforce who potentially provide as much as 80 percent of the productivity functioning indefinitely with unresolved burnout.


Scott Spohn
Partner, DHG Healthcare

Erikka Baker
Business Development, Change Catalyst LLC

Dr. Victoria Grady

Christi Rich


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