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Jan 25, 2024 | by Margherita Musella

What works to reduce frontline worker burnout? Reviewing the evidence

Employment and job satisfaction are key drivers of individual wellbeing. Putting wellbeing at the heart of how we shape jobs and working practices can improve staff retention and also impact broader organisational performance. 

One way to support this is to address burnout, especially in sectors where employees are particularly vulnerable due to frontline roles, such as in client-facing charities. But how do we know what works?

Addressing burnout involves both organisational changes and actions, as well as interventions to support employees. 

Here, Evidence Associate Margherita Musella introduces key insights from our current project, which focuses on identifying individual interventions to improve wellbeing and reduce burnout in the homelessness sector.


Burnout and wellbeing

The World Health Organization defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It typically includes feelings of exhaustion and negativity, a reduction in professional efficacy, and is linked to low wellbeing.

In the UK, findings suggest heavy workloads and stress are the leading causes of short- and long-absence at work. In frontline roles, workloads can be particularly challenging due to increasing caseloads and prolonged exposure to high-stress situations. This makes these groups in particular susceptible to burnout.

Previous reviews from the Centre on job quality interventions and drivers of wellbeing in the workplace, address evidence for the actions and approaches organisations can take to support wellbeing at work.

While interventions targeting burnout can vary significantly, they tend to target individuals rather than organisations and aim to increase personal psychological and social resources to improve coping mechanisms.

What we did

Together, with the Centre for Homelessness Impact we are exploring what works to improve the wellbeing of frontline workers in the homelessness sector. 

In the first part of our project, we mapped the global landscape of light-touch behavioural interventions aimed at reducing burnout among frontline workers through a literature review. 

We searched for primary studies that:

  1. Measure the effectiveness of a workplace burnout intervention using an experimental or quasi-experimental design.
  2. Capture changes in burnout quantitatively using any standardised measure of burnout. 
  3. Target frontline staff.
  4. Are publicly available and published in English. 

We found 33 studies on the effectiveness of workplace burnout interventions. 

Find more information in the methodology section of the full report

Key findings

Findings from our literature review suggest that a range of interventions may be effective in reducing burnout among frontline staff, including:

  • Psychoeducational – such as educational modules to develop resilience, social and emotional skills. 
  • Therapeutic – such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness, and acupressure. 
  • Psychosocial – for example group skills training programmes to develop communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Other
    • laughter yoga;
    • coaching;
    • improving care pathways and strengthening team-working. 

Studies also suggest the following factors may be contributing to improvements:  

  • Psychological resources such as emotional regulation;
  • Social resources such as social connection and a sense of belonging;
  • Job characteristics such as workload, team-working and participation in decision-making.

For further key insights see our briefing.
Comprehensive findings are detailed in our full report

Implications, recommendations and next steps

For researchers

Our review highlights gaps in the evidence relating to:

  1. What works to alleviate burnout among frontline workers, specifically within the homelessness sector. We found no evidence from this sector. 
  2. The use of standardised definitions of burnout and research on how improvements are generated and sustained over time. 

Next steps:

  • Adopt clearer theoretical and empirical definitions of burnout and explore how reductions in burnout may translate into improved organisational performance in the medium-term.
  • Conduct more randomised controlled trials (RCT) and quasi-experimental research to test causal claims about workplace burnout.

For policy-makers and commissioners

  • Commit to exploring the scale and impact of workforce burnout.
  • Support organisations and employers more broadly to adopt evidence-based strategies that can effectively identify, monitor and mitigate burnout.

For practitioners

  • Frontline services are encouraged to run validated internal surveys to monitor staff wellbeing and known drivers of burnout.
  • Services should partner with research organisations to test burnout interventions, prioritising, in the first instance, more established approaches and light-touch, lower-cost interventions. Staff time and resources are so important that understanding the impact is essential and achievable.   

Our project

The next steps will be the design and implementation of randomised controlled trials (RCT) that will test what works to reduce burnout in frontline workers within the homelessness sector.

For more implications, recommendations and next steps, see our briefing.

Further Centre resources

  • Job quality review – A briefing based on a systematic review that looks at what approaches to improving job quality are most effective at improving wellbeing. This includes evidence for training and support, changes to ways of working, and organisation – wide approaches.
  • Learning at work review – This review examines the factors in different learning practices that lead to positive or negative wellbeing impacts, and those that show no effect on wellbeing.
  • Workplace wellbeing questionnaire – This project is intended to assist any organisation in identifying drivers of workplace wellbeing, to help employers target resources on areas where the impact is likely to be greatest.

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