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From Burnout to Vigour: The Psychology of Employee Engagement

4 minute read

By Stavy Papasotiriou, Organisational Psychologist, Employee Happiness Consultant, and Founder of Work Unlocked

Over the past 50 years, researchers have been on a quest to understand how work environments affect employees’ energy and well-being. Turns out, it's a big deal! The way we feel about our jobs can be seen as a spectrum, with burnout on one end and engagement on the other. So, the big question is, what leads to burnout, and how can we move towards a more energised and fulfilled workforce?

Organisational psychologists have uncovered a fascinating dynamic between burnout and engagement caused by an interplay between job demands and job resources. Job demands, like heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and challenging physical conditions, push us closer to burnout. On the flip side, job resources, such as having control over our work, getting feedback on our performance, and having opportunities to grow, lead us towards engagement. They even act as a shield against the negative effects of demanding work.

Now, let's dive deeper into the psychology behind shifting from burnout to vigour. We'll explore the magical ways you can increase your employees’ engagement by building up job resources and dialling down the job demands.


Job burnout has been dubbed the 21st century’s greatest occupational hazard. It is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that can arise from long-term stress or frustration at work. It can happen to anyone working in an environment where they feel unappreciated, underpaid, and overworked.

Burnout is a syndrome of:

  • Emotional exhaustion: A lack of energy and a sense of emotional resources being consumed fully by work.
  • Depersonalisation: Cynical and impersonal response.
  • Reduced personal accomplishment: Tendency to evaluate oneself negatively.

Burnout can manifest in feelings of cynicism towards the job and its goals, lack of motivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, frustration with colleagues or managers, and even insomnia or frequent sleepiness.

In contrast, employee engagement is a mental state where employees feel full of physical energy (vigour), are enthusiastic about the content of their work and the things they do (dedication), and are so immersed in their work activities that time seems to fly by (absorption)


Job demands are like those challenging parts of employees’ jobs that require a lot of effort, skills, and energy. They can be physical, psychological, social, or organisational, and they come with their own set of costs. When job demands are sky-high, they tend to drain employees’ mental and physical energy, leading to burnout and reduced professional effectiveness. Ouch!

But fear not, there's a superhero in this story called job resources. These are the awesome aspects of the job that actually help employees achieve their work goals while reducing the costs associated with demanding tasks. They also provide a fertile ground for personal growth, learning, and development. Think of them as the secret sauce that increases work engagement and makes individuals feel fulfilled. Here's the cool part: job resources also fulfil employees’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, leading to maximum well-being. Oh, and did I mention that job resources also play a motivational role? They make employees want to give their all to their work because they create an environment where their efforts and abilities shine.

When job demands hit the roof, exhaustion swoops in like a supervillain, paving the way for burnout and sky-high sick-leave rates. On the other hand, when job resources are scarce, disengagement and low organisational commitment take centre stage, resulting in rampant absenteeism rates. We definitely don't want that!

Now take a moment to reflect: Do your employees have an abundance of demands but few resources to support them?


Prepare to have your preconceived notions shattered! You don't need fancy, over-the-top perks to rescue your team from burnout and ignite their energy. It's a simple equation: either dial down the job demands or crank up the job resources.

If lowering the demands is a tough nut to crack, fear not! Team up with your employees and figure out what resources they need to shield themselves from the stress of those demands. This is typically done with the help of half-day job crafting workshops – a quick and easy way for employees to redesign their roles, without actually changing their tasks. Not only will this empower employees to shape the jobs they love, but it will also transform those daunting demands into meaningful challenges.

Additionally, you should train your leaders to unleash their inner transformers. Transformational leadership styles are proven to reduce job demands while boosting job resources. That’s because transformational leaders encourage employee participation in decision-making, job recognition, and building quality relationships. These superpowers build up employee resources and contribute to more positive work attitudes and stellar job performance.


Let's face it, job demands can take a toll on even the most resilient employees. So, gear up! It's time to give your team the tools they need, whether it's reshaping their roles or unleashing the powers of transformational leadership. The key to a happy and thriving work life lies in finding the right balance. Make sure you have enough job resources to fuel your growth and engagement while managing those pesky job demands.

Get ready to witness a workforce filled with enthusiasm, rocking work attitudes, and delivering top-notch results!


Stavy Papasotiriou is an organisational psychologist and the visionary behind Work Unlocked — a leading HR consultancy on a mission to revolutionise employee engagement, performance, and retention in businesses worldwide. With a profound understanding of HR practices, Stavy leverages psychological principles to unleash the untapped potential of workforces. At Work Unlocked, Stavy crafts bespoke strategies that are grounded in research and tailored to each organisation's unique needs. These strategies are designed to yield remarkable results while requiring minimal resources.

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