With apologies to Neil Young, it’s not better to burn out than to fade away.

Burnt Matches


In 1978, legendary Canadian rocker Neil Young (number 34 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of greatest rock ‘n roll artists) recorded his landmark song, “My, My, Hey, Hey”.

One of the lines in the song became famous above and beyond the rest: “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”

Famously echoed by many artists (and famously disagreed with by John Lennon) the lyrics are of course more appropriate to rock and roll than the world of employment. In fact, 42 years later in 2020, Forbes has identified “burnout” to be one of the major issues affecting workplaces.

The problem is widespread enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined burnout as a syndrome in its International Classification of Diseases. According to the WHO, the syndrome results from chronic workplace stress, and manifests through three conditions: energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or negative/cynical feelings toward work; and reduced efficacy.

In a study earlier this year by the employee engagement firm Emplify, 62 per cent of survey respondents reported suffering from burnout. That’s not a wake-up call; it’s a fire alarm.

As with many conditions, there are things that conscientious organizations can do to lessen the likelihood and the effects of burnout. Promoting work-life balance is an effective cultural step. Managers need to set a good example for this effect to take root.

An effective preventive measure is to ensure managers have regular one-to-one check-ins with their direct reports, above and beyond annual or semi-annual performance reviews. Training in the early warning signs of burnout can save organizations time and money.

HR professionals should make sure that everyone in the organization is aware of the resources available through benefit plans and/or Employee Assistance Programs. Advice on everything from de-stressors to exercise to diet can play a part in mitigating the causes of burnout.

Prospect’s employment professionals have helped hundreds of Albertans find support systems and techniques to combat conditions that can influence burnout. Recently we helped a job seeker who was coping with PTSD, depression, anxiety and other disorders. By boosting the candidate’s confidence, building a routine, augmenting their skills and facilitating behavioral modifications, our team was able to help the person secure employment.

The additional stress and mental fatigue brought on by the COVID pandemic means that mitigating burnout should be on everyone’s minds. Think of it as a volunteer fire brigade for your organizational effectiveness.