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Both work stress and poor recovery have been shown to contribute to the development of burnout. However, the role of recovery as a mediating mechanism that links work stress to burnout has not been sufficiently addressed in research.To examine recovery as a mediator in the relationship between work stress and burnout among teachers.A cross-sectional study of Finnish primary school teachers, in whom burnout was measured with the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey and work stress was conceptualized using the effort–reward imbalance (ERI) model. Recovery was measured with the Recovery Experience Questionnaire and the Jenkins Sleep Problems Scale. Multiple linear regression analyses and bootstrap mediation analyses adjusted for age, gender and total working hours were performed.Among the 76 study subjects, high ERI was associated with burnout and its dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy. Poor recovery experiences, in terms of low relaxation during leisure time, partially mediated the relationship between ERI and reduced professional efficacy. Sleep problems, in the form of non-restorative sleep, partially mediated the relationship between ERI and both burnout and exhaustion.Supporting a balance between effort and reward at work may enhance leisure time recovery and improve sleep quality, as well as help to reduce burnout rates.