Employee burnout is a global issue costing us billions each year—approximately £45 billion, in fact.
But it’s not just financial losses that are a direct and detrimental result of burnout. It has a huge impact on the collective wellbeing of the employees suffering with it, and by extension, public health and the development of our society.
In previous articles, we’ve talked about what employee burnout is and how to spot the signs that it’s present in your workplace. But simply understanding burnout and knowing how to identify it is not enough. It’s an employer’s duty to understand and attempt to address it too.
Now recognised as a diagnosed syndrome by the World Health Organisation, burnout is a very real threat to the mental wellbeing of employees and their ability to perform their work. BetterSpace is the first choice-based intelligent marketplace for employee mental wellbeing geared at reducing the risk of burnout.
We’re sharing our expert insight on how to deal with employee burnout and—crucially—how to reduce the threat it has on your organisation.
RECOGNISE THE PROBLEM
The first step in dealing with employee burnout is to acknowledge that it is an issue. In a busy work environment, the signs of burnout are easily overlooked. However, it is the duty of employers (under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1992) to continually look for these signs and take action as soon as possible.
The longer that burnout is left to develop within your company, the more damage it will cause. When burnout is already present, it’s important—for the sake of your employees’ wellbeing and the health of your company—to be as reactive as possible.
There are some key signals that burnout is an issue within your organisation. These can often be mistaken for laziness or a bad work ethic, but if a usually high performing employee starts to display these traits, it’s more likely an indication that they are suffering from burnout.
IDENTIFY THE CAUSES
If any of the above symptoms sound familiar, your organisation could well be the victim of burnout. But you’re not alone—in the UK, more than half of employees admit to experiencing burnout at some point in their career.
Although 61% of those who have experienced a mental health problem cite non-work issues as the cause, this does not take away the responsibility of employers to help where they can. While issues outside of work may be the cause for mental ill health, pressures within the workplace that cause burnout are an unwelcome addition that can have severe impact, including physical illness.
Five of the most common causes of burnout are:
- Time pressure
- Lack of comms/support
- Lack of role clarity
- Unmanageable workload
- Unfair treatment/favouritism/bias
There’s no one hard and fast or ‘right’ solution to fix the problem of employee burnout. Every employee is different, so the best approach to finding solutions that work for them will be completely unique.
While there are short-term respites that can be used to alleviate employee burnout, like time off and reduced workload, these are not long-term solutions that combat the issue at root level. This means that the employee is likely to face burnout again down the line.
To make long-term, substantial changes to the way your company tackles burnout, you need to take an approach which is proactive and can be tailored to each individual. Corporate mental health programmes simply are not fit for this purpose—they are reactive and structured in a way which does not meet the needs of each unique individual.
To find the best solutions to burnout, there needs to be an understanding of what factors affect our mental wellbeing. Our research shows that there are six main factors that we call the ‘Six Pillars of Wellbeing’: sleep, social interaction, exercise, helping others, meaningful activities and stress management. An imbalance in any one of these areas can cause an employee to experience burnout.
Understanding these factors enables employers to provide options which can help nurture these to protect and improve overall mental wellbeing.
Sleep deprivation is a huge issue that contributes to the increasing cost of mental ill health. On average, UK adults lose half a day’s sleep every week, and the effects of this can be grave.
The consequences of lack of sleep include poor communication, lack of motivation and decreased wellbeing. Sleep deprivation is known to be a symptom and a cause of a number of psychological problems that can leave employees feeling disengaged with every aspect of their lives, including work.
Activities proven to help improve sleep include:
- Weighted blankets
- Sleep apps
- Light therapy
Loneliness is an emotion that can contribute to depression and overall poor mental health. Moreover, it is costing UK businesses £2.5 billion a year in lost productivity. While feelings of occasional loneliness aren’t uncommon, prolonged periods of poor social connection can have detrimental impact.
With more workplaces adopting work from home, it’s more important than ever to ensure employees have quality social connections in place.
Activities proven to help with social connection include:
- National groups like Parkrun, Plastic Patrol and Nextdoor.
Exercise is proven to be good for us, and is a proven treatment for anxiety and depression. But getting around to doing it can be hard with the related costs involved, as well as other pressures.
Health organisations across the world recommend 150 minutes of exercise each week, but even a short burst of 10 minutes can improve alertness, energy and mood.
Here’s some exercise solutions from BetterSpace that can help your workforce become more active:
- Exercise apps
- Equipment and products
Helping others doesn’t just allow us to foster new social connections, the act of helping others in itself can make us feel good about ourselves and improve our overall wellbeing. In fact, showing kindness towards others, in the form of our time and resources, is a powerful stress reliever.
But encouraging employees to help others can be challenging. That’s why BetterSpace offers resources and activities which are focussed around helping others.
Activities which involve helping others include:
- Charity work, such as volunteering
- Community work
Time spent doing things that are meaningful to us, such as social and leisure activities, are directly related to improvements in mental wellbeing. This pillar is related to others, such as exercise, but has its own unique impact on mental wellness.
Detachment from things we enjoy and find meaningful can lead to an increased chance of unhealthy time displacement, as well as higher stress levels. Carrying out meaningful activities, on the other hand, is shown to make employees more productive and improve overall wellbeing.
A lack of meaningful activities can result in increased stress and a sense of disconnect.
Activities proven to help with social connection include:
- Crafts, such as painting, pottery or embroidery
- Music lessons
- Dance lessons
The scale of ill health caused by work-related stress is huge, with 828,000 cases of work-related stress anxiety and depression in the UK in 2019/20. The impact and suffering caused by stress is something we’re only just beginning to understand, so there’s lots of work to be done in this area.
Current understanding is that stress is not just its own problem, but a root cause of other mental and physical illnesses. Improving stress management among your employees can help reduce the risk of illness and related absence, benefiting both employee and company health.
Stress management solutions include:
- Online classes
- Therapy apps
Rather than heavily prescriptive corporate programs which only suit a small fraction of employees, BetterSpace’s pilot project with law firm Linklaters has shown that the majority employees value and react better to choice based solutions like these.
CHANGE THE CULTURE
Because burnout is a relatively new concept, some employees may feel unable to talk about the feelings they are experiencing due to a fear of their symptoms being misconceived as a poor work attitude. As an employer, it is your responsibility to educate staff on employee burnout so that they do not misread the signs, and let them know that it is ok—and quite normal—to experience it.
Knowledge is power—and this is especially true of burnout. Gaining understanding if the problem and sharing this knowledge among your employees helps normalise discussion. When an employee is experiencing burnout, having someone to turn to who understands what they’re facing and is equipped with the right tools to help treat it is key in the reform of company culture.