cover photo Reflect Blog
Ingo Kallenbach

Burn-out has nothing to do with overload

More and more people feel tired from work and exhausted, burnt out, stressed out. The demands that the VUCA world places on today's employees can be expressed in insecurity and excessive demands and an unmanageable workload. These factors and excessive stress can increase the risk of burnout.

Burnout is defined as a state of total exhaustion and reduced performance satisfaction.

Symptoms of burnout vary between rather unspecific early symptoms such as
- persistent fatigue and exhaustion
- declining productivity
- retreat
- inner emptiness, loss of meaning, or
- psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, sleep disorders, digestive problems or back pain, to depression and total inability to work.

For years, burnout was considered a typical managerial disease. The thesis is that people who work too much and suffer from stress suffer from burn-out. However, mental stress has many facets. In addition to the negatively perceived stress, the so-called Disstress, which is considered the trigger for burnout, there is also a positive stress, the so-called Eustress. This occasionally occurring stress spurs us on to peak performance and increases our willingness to perform.

Recent studies show that burn-out can be triggered not only by stress and overload, but above all by isolation, lack of results, support and appreciation (Seppala, King 2018). These factors can be very well counteracted in a healthy organisation with a balanced leadership style. An approach to avoid burnout is therefore a cultural change towards a healthy organisation where relationships at eye level, a common culture, adaptive structures and agile processes form the cornerstones.



We would also like to give you below a pragmatic methodology to protect your employees and yourself from burnout and proactively develop resilience against burnout.
Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Creating awareness for burn-out risks - flow concept

One method to create awareness for burn-out risks is the flow concept of motivation. The luck researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi developed the flow theory. Flow can arise during the control of a complex, fast happening in the area between overstrain (fear) and understrain (boredom). In this state of flow people forget space and time and are fully concentrated and happy in their task.

So-called flower experiences are important motivational moments and can only be experienced in the flow channel (the state between over- and understrain).

The prerequisites for experiencing flow are:

- Activity that creates meaning
- Concrete goals
- Use of strengths and potentials
- Increase of requirements and competencies in the course of the project
- Attention by managers
- Control over the result

The following procedure has proven to be helpful and practicable from our experience:

First, create your personal flow matrix for your area of activity. To do this, first estimate what percentage of your working time you are in which channel on a pro rata basis. Example: Starting from 100% you get 10% in the "boredom channel", 30% in the "relaxation channel", 20% in the "control channel", 15% in the "flow channel", etc.

Then assign your typical activities to the respective channels. Example: Boredom channel: Make a filing, enter travel expenses. Relaxation channel: Conversations, voting. Control channel: Design concepts, create plans.

Reflect on the results: Is the majority of your activities more in the right area of the flow matrix? How high are the shares in the channels fear, anxiety or apathy? What are the causes? Is it possible to change activities or hand them over to someone else? Can you reach a different assessment through competence building?

If necessary, talk to your manager or colleagues about your results and ideas. The involvement of experts (coaches, psychologists, occupational physicians) can also be helpful in deriving meaningful conclusions and measures.
As a manager, you can then proceed identically with your employees in order to come to an initial assessment and talk to them.

In a healthy organisation, the flow concept can be used to work out the requirements with which employees can best develop their talents and abilities. Together with the manager, resilience against burnout can be developed, as the employee regularly defines, reflects and above all controls his or her area of work.


Burn-out is not exclusively about work-related overload. It is only one of many factors that increases the risk of suffering from burnout. Stress, especially positive stress, the so-called eustress, makes us more efficient and spurs us on to peak performance. Without stress, we lagged far behind our possibilities. There are therefore people who work a lot and are not at risk of burnout.

Far higher factors to get burn-out are isolation, lack of appreciation and support. Therefore, companies should strive for a cultural change towards a healthy organization in order to develop resilience against burnout. For executives we can recommend the flow concept. It helps managers and employees to classify the healthy area of activity between skills and requirements.

If you have any questions, we will be happy to help you work with the Flow Concept in our Leadership Development Workshop. Contact us via our contact form. We look forward to working with you to develop a resilience against burnout in your company.


Hombach, Stella; Jacobs, Luisa: Young and burned out, In: Time online, under: (published on 01/31/2019)

Gukelberger-Felix, Gerlinde: Chronic Stress - How Constant Stress Makes Us Ill, In Spiegel Online, Unter: (published on 04/07/2014)

Kallenbach, I. (2016). Leadership in Healthy Organization. Exceptional performance through potential development. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel

Koch, Uwe, Broich, Karl: The Burn-out Syndrome, In: Bundesgesundheitsblock 2012 - 55:161-163, Unter: (published on 01/30/2012)

Seppala, Emma and King, Marissa: Burnout has nothing to do with overexertion - but with a completely different factor, In: Business Insider, under: (published on 11/26/2018)