The number of clients who still come to me on the brink of burnout is shocking.

So many people struggle to manage unreasonable demands imposed at work despite the long, ongoing campaign in the media around workplace stress, mental health and wellbeing and the shecession. I hear the same story anecdotally from friends too, many of whom have chosen to leave senior, well-remunerated positions that they have worked hard for, because they are just not sustainable.

While change may be happening in some quarters, it is slow and far from universal. Toxic attitudes and expectations still persist.

This week McKinsey On Point looked at making workplaces more “sticky”. More than 4.3 million US workers voluntarily quit their jobs in December 2021 and, they say, not many are keen to go back.

Employees “have been operating under extreme circumstances for extended periods and have been unable to find an adequate balance between work and life—so they are choosing “life” until they absolutely need to go back,” the report said.

According to their Great Attrition, Great Attraction survey (Dec 2020-Dec 2021) those who left jobs voluntarily without another job to go to cited uncaring leaders, unsustainable work performance expectations and lack of career development and advancement as their top three reasons.

Those surveyed who left jobs and returned to a new role cited workplace flexibility, adequate total compensation and sustainable work performance expectations as their top three reasons for going back.

It’s hard to exaggerate the impact of this culture of unsupportive leadership, unreasonable workloads, long working hours and lack of reward – or love.

Most employees set out with good intentions. They want to work hard and do well; they want to be successful and share in and contribute to business success; they want to develop themselves professionally and learn; they want to be part of a thriving and exciting organisation, to show initiative, to be willing, keen and creative.

Why do businesses and business leaders not capitalise on this energy and enthusiasm?

Aggressive, undermining or humiliating behaviour, a culture of working late and at weekends, lack of resource and support all lead to employee dissatisfaction, exhaustion and eventually, worse, breakdown or burnout.

The symptoms say it all: physical tension, fear and anxiety that won’t go away; self-doubt; a decline in performance, accuracy and focus; a sense of failure; loss of confidence; lethargy; lack of meaning or purpose; an inability to read situations rationally and effectively and an absence of joy.

And that’s just in work. This level of stress bleeds into all of life – relationships are strained, children de-prioritised, friendships avoided – as employees struggle to cope.

There’s nothing new here. It’s just hard to understand why it is still so widespread. Why are bullying behaviour, long hours and unreasonable pressure still synonymous with success when we know they make no business sense and lead to poor performance, high attrition rates – and misery?