Is Employee burnout a human rights violation?

What is Employee Burnout?

In simple words, Employee Burnout has three components: lost energy, lost enthusiasm and lost self-confidence. Mayo Clinic defines burnout as ‘a special type of job stress – a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.’ It is an extreme situation affecting your mental wellness which can be triggered by overwork. Some employees put in long days, respond to their superior’s emails at all hours, and willingly donate their off-hours (nights, weekends, vacation) without complaining.

Although few employees overwork out of their passion but soon lose their motivation when their passion is not felt considerable in the organization. Overwork cascades from the top of the organizational pyramid to the bottom. If even after overwork with a reasonable result, your work is not applauded, it raises doubts about your competence causing ‘Burnout’. Employees are most likely to experience burnout in the face of conditions such as

  • Unrealistically high workloads
  • No job control
  • Workplace discrimination or bullying
  • Low social support
  • Negative leadership behaviors

Now the next question is

Is it a Human Rights violation?

You have the right to have work that enriches and enlivens you, rather than diminishing you. Don’t you?

Employee burnout is usually caused when we are exempted from Membership rights and Empowerment rights in the organization. Let me highlight by an example. If Employee A works day in and day out to create a website of a company XYZ and is able to deliver it before time. His/Her expectations might be an appreciation, or another challenging assignment, a token of reward, etc. Sometimes it’s just about verbally appreciating the work done by an employee. That’s it. If an employee feels an inclusive environment for him and gets empowered after the completed assignment, mental job burnout can be prevented.

We have a policy issued by the Government of India, “National Policy on Safety, Health and Environment at the workplace” which embarks on work safety and healthy environments in offices, but it misses on the mental wellness of the employees. Employee burnout is still persisting in the world, like a fancy and unmeasurable concept. In the United States, there is usually a lot of confusion among both the employees and their employers concerning overtime rules. Federal laws, as well as many state laws, define overtime as the time that an employee works exceeds 40 hours in a week. As long as you are working over 40 hours in a single workweek, then you are working overtime. For every hour that is above that 40-hour threshold, employees are entitled to compensation that is one and a half times what they are paid as normal wages. That is fairly straightforward. An employer also isn’t allowed to make an employee clock out the 40-hours but force them to keep working overtime “off the books” to avoid paying them overtime wages. Ultimately, as an employee, we should know all of our rights with regard to work periods and work breaks and should make sure that our employer is not exploiting you in any way.

Karoshi – Death by overwork in Japan

Karoshi, a term coined in Japan for overwork death where employees either die of a cardiac arrest or physical illness due to starvation caused by overwork. If employees commit suicide due to overwork, its called Karojisatsu. The recent government bill in Japan considers overwork of 80 hours per month and 100 hours per month (during busy periods) reasonable i.e Almost 20 hours of additional work in a week compared to 40 hours work week. In my personal opinion, you cannot define a boundary. There are many subjective factors that play a role, the nature of work you do, organizational policies, and workplace discrimination which can cause burnout.

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Employee Burnout – Reality Check

In my opinion in addition to physical health, mental health should also be a Survival Right. The breach of major human rights can cause Personal Aggression, Political and Production Deviance leading to anxiety, depression, and impact on physical wellness. Regulation of hours of work and working-time arrangements is a fundamental issue for the ILO and its different for different regions. The left-sided graph is the official overtime limit set by the corresponding regions while the right bar graph is the actual overtime(Data as per ILO 2009 report). For example, the Middle East is limited to 48 hours overtime but the reality check states 50% regions in the Middle East follow 60 hours or more of overtime. Were they given remuneration or not, is another issue. But isn’t it a violation?

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Stanford researchers looked into it and found that it leads to the spending of nearly $190 billion and 120,000 deaths per year. According to the WHO study, 615 million people in the workplace suffer from depression and anxiety. Caregiver roles of doctors and nurses are most susceptible to burnout leading to the highest suicide rates amongst other roles.


An employee should be aware of his/her rights and should be open to communicate and get mental support. He should try to break up his calendar with other activities as well and try to be passionate and enthusiastic, making good relations and asking for your rights.

It opens a big debate. What should you do?

Work to live or live to work

Put your opinions in the comment section below.


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