With the significant rise of employee burnout and employee resignation, especially in the U.S., interest in employee wellbeing is on the rise.

But to better understand employee wellbeing and make the necessary interventions to improve it, it’s best to start with understanding and clarifying the terminology to accurately describe their mental and emotional state. Commonly used terms such as stress, fatigue, depression, and burnout are closely related, but are different concepts that we hope to distinguish in this article so you can communicate more accurately within your team.

Let’s start with two clearly listed psychological disorders: Burnout and Depression.

Burnout or Employee Burnout

Burnout is a fairly new phenomenon that results from chronic work stress and may lead to other chronic issues like anxiety. At the foundation of employee burnout are negative feelings and attitudes towards work; whether it’s the job or role, the company or management, and/or colleagues and team members. Employee burnout manifests as the feeling of being physically and emotionally exhausted.

Want to learn more about the signs of employee burnout? Check out this article!


Clinical Depression is a concept used to characterize employees who are sad, melancholic, and/or unhappy within a company. The term “depression” may be used casually for moments of sadness. However, if feelings of melancholy and frustration are persistent and intensify over a long period of time, it may lead to clinical depression. It’s important to note that work stress may or may not play a role in depression, unlike in Employee Burnout, where it is a key factor.

What is stress?

Stress can be defined as “an imbalance between the demand of the environment and the individual’s ability to respond under conditions in which failure to meet the demand has significant repercussions and/or consequences”. Basically, it results when one is unable to deal with one’s environment, and the inability to respond often comes with undesirable consequences.

Work stress in particular has repercussions both in work performance and quality of work as well as in one’s personal life. Work stress implies less motivation, a passive attitude, greater frustration and dissatisfaction, and a lack of participation.

The most frequent symptoms of stress at work can be divided into physical symptoms: high blood pressure, heart problems, cervical and lumbar pain, gastric and duodenal ulcer, digestive disorders, tremors, headaches, dizziness, immune deficiency, tumors, etc. On the other hand, psychological symptoms are: fears, phobias, anxiety, anguish, tiredness, fatigue, dissatisfaction, social problems, irritability, loss of self-esteem, loss of enthusiasm, etc.

What about fatigue and job dissatisfaction? What do they mean and how do they connect to stress and burnout?

Fatigue and job dissatisfaction are considered psychological symptoms. They can be symptoms of both stress and employee burnout.

Fatigue is an overwhelming tiredness that cannot seem to be relieved by any form of rest. While stress is the inability to meet the demands of the work environment, fatigue is that feeling of weariness and debility. Someone suffering from work stress or employee burnout may or may not show signs of fatigue. And one can experience fatigue yet not be going through work stress or employee burnout.

On the other hand, job dissatisfaction is defined by Muñoz (1990) as “the feeling of displeasure or negativity experienced by individuals when performing a job that does not interest them, in an environment in which they are unhappy. This happens within the scope of a company or organization that is not attractive to them and for which they receive a series of psycho-social-economic compensations not in accordance with their expectations.”

Stress may also sometimes be confused with job dissatisfaction, so it’s important to delineate between the two. An employee may be suffering from work stress but still maintain interest in their job and their team. It’s important to note that job dissatisfaction does not share the physical or psychological symptoms of work stress or employee burnout. But the behavioral signs may be similar, for example: absenteeism.

At the end of the day, these are terms we can use to better discuss mental and emotional wellbeing in the workplace. Understanding the terminology may help pinpoint and clarify issues, allowing us to make effective interventions that contribute to the wellbeing of the workforce and the success of the company.

Interested in getting reliable, real-time data on employee burnout risk, engagement levels, and other wellbeing metrics? Book a demo now!

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