Is burnout the new pandemic? When answering a Forbes survey in 2021, over half of all respondents reported feeling work-related burnout during that year, marking an almost 10% increase from the year before. With mental wellness a hotter topic than ever before, if burnout isn’t on your workplace radar, then it’s time to change that!
To help you out, we’ve put together everything you need to know about what burnout is and how you can support your staff. Read on, and let’s create a healthier workplace for everyone.
What Is Burnout?
Essentially, burnout is a state of exhaustion. Usually, this is a mental problem, though it can occasionally present itself in physical symptoms, and it’s more frequently seen in the office (at home or on-site) than anywhere else.
Burnout occurs when an individual has been stretched too far mentally (and sometimes physically), leading to emotional exhaustion. Some of the most common signs include:
- Feeling drained and fatigued more often than usual
- Overwhelming self-doubt
- A lack of motivation
- Feeling helpless and defeated
- Procrastinating and taking longer over tasks
Pushing yourself too far can take a huge toll on your mental health, and burnout is a very serious result of that. In some cases, it can even lead to depression and the need for mental health treatment, with sufferers finding themselves completely debilitated by their exhaustion.
Burnout in the Workplace
As we mentioned, burnout is most frequently seen in working environments. If you’re an employer, you need to be aware of this rising problem and be on the lookout for signs in your staff. You also need to have plans in place to help those in need of additional support. That’s where our tips come in, helping you help your employees who are struggling with burnout. Let’s get into them!
Always Encourage Open Communication
A key step to helping your employees with burnout is knowing that they’re struggling. The best way to find out? By talking to them.
As an employer, you don’t have to sneak around watching out for burnout all the time; you can encourage your staff to come to you if you need anything. Adopting a supportive culture of open and unbiased communication is crucial to achieving this. Be sure to let them know that you prioritise mental wellbeing through company values that are expressed right from the start during onboarding and continued to be a priority through company initiatives and campaigns such as mental health awareness days.
According to the Centre for Creative Leadership, Psychological Safety is “the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes”. This can be applied to concerns around mental health. So, if you’d rather your staff tell you that they’re struggling instead of suffering in silence, make that clear to them.
When someone does come to you, be ready to sit down and listen. Ask them how you can help, offer support, and follow up with them in the coming days and weeks to see how they’re getting on.
Encouraging communication is more than just words, but actions, too. If staff know they’ll be supported when coming to you, they’ll be much more likely to do so.
Carry Out a Survey
Gauging the mental well-being of your entire staff is a great way to know if you need to make changes. But you can’t talk to everyone about their well-being. This is where surveys come in, and they’re a fantastic way to quickly assess how your team is doing.
Create an anonymous survey that asks your staff how their overall mental health at work is and whether they feel they need more support. To ensure that staff feel comfortable giving honest feedback on sensitive matters to do with their mental health and wellbeing, it’s vital to state that any feedback will not be traced back to them. Be clear in the survey how this data will be handled and by who – depending on the size of your organisation this will most likely be someone in HR.
Communicate clearly that any feedback given will not be linked to any personal identifiers. This can be done effectively by using a numerical rating scale, rather than a comment field. Making it easier for people to accurately let you know how they’re feeling if they struggle to put it into words.
It’s then vital that you not only read your responses but use them to implement positive change. It’s easy to ask for feedback, but the crucial part is acting on it.
Don’t Overwork Your Staff
One of the main reasons that staff become burnt out is because they work too hard for too long – it’s simple, really! If you want to support employees, don’t overwork them. When they clock out for the day, let them know they can turn their email and work phone off and that they never have to work outside of their hours if they don’t have to.
Reframing ‘going above and beyond’ as an incentive to secure promotions should be widely communicated and acknowledged throughout your business as something to achieve within the standard working hours of their contract. Anyone who does want to do overtime is welcome to but check in with them every now and then to gauge whether they’re doing too much. Deadlines can be pushed back, mental health can’t be.
Since hybrid and remote working have taken professional work life by storm, there are concepts such as flexications and workcations that are a growing trend in many corporations. This is where individuals travel and take vacations whilst still fulfilling their day-to-day obligations. This is a prime opportunity for burnout to arise, but it’s worth reviewing your company’s policy surrounding remote work. Take a look at our blog on whether flexible working is an option for your team. It includes some of the questions you should ask yourself before deciding whether the processes and structure of your company can support it whilst still maintaining a supportive company culture.
Teach Your Staff About Mental Wellness
Although the world is slowly becoming better aware at dealing with mental health and wellness, that doesn’t mean everyone has caught up. There is often a lack of emotional intelligence from both sides of the coin; employer and employee. Take time to fully understand the complex nature of mental wellness and what this looks like to a team of unique individuals, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health and it’s important to acknowledge that and tailor your approach accordingly.
Ensure you have good training programmes in place to educate your team on wellness. Bring in health professionals to teach your staff the full extent and early signs of burnout to help combat it effectively:
- Coping with stress
- Looking after their mental health
- Dealing with personal issues in the workplace
- Supporting others with mental health issues
- Talking about burnout
Make sure you attend these sessions yourself, too. As an employer, you can set a good example and show you care simply by turning up and taking part in group activities.
Increase Motivation, Belongingness, and Fulfilment
Sometimes, staff can become burnt out because they don’t get enough out of their work. They lack a sense of fulfilment, making their tasks seem pointless. It’s an incredibly demoralising feeling and one that can drain motivation.
Belongingness can also be a huge strain and stress builder for many professions. When an unconscious bias is present in an organisation, employees can experience feelings of isolation, alienation, and can end up feeling side-lined from their peers. Unconscious biases limit employees’ potential, preventing individuals from making better decisions for themselves and for the wider company.
If you see staff lacking fulfilment, you need to step in. Consider how you can shuffle tasks between staff to give everyone meaningful jobs and stretch assignments, and utilise individual skills. When you give out a task, ensure the employee knows they’re being given it because you believe they’re the best person for the job.
Individuals who work in heavily screen-facing roles such as communication and marketing are often overstimulated by screen time in their day-to-day. Encourage regular creative workshops where teams get the chance to work more collaboratively. And think of new concepts and initiatives that will help fulfil their roles long-term, producing more quality work and moving away from the ‘churn and burn’ many professionals experience.
Offering training to leadership teams is another great way to improve staff wellbeing. Give plenty of opportunities for senior management to level up their skills around effectively managing a team whilst prioritising the mental wellbeing of their team. This will ensure fulfilment is experienced by your top talent in-house and benefits the wider organisation at the same time.
Burnout is a very serious problem facing the global workforce. If you’re an employer, make sure you put staff wellbeing first with these top tips. Every ounce of effort you put into helping your team will come back to you ten-fold when you receive their work!
Author: Sophie Bishop – Freelance Medical Digital Journalist
Photo credit: Creativeart on Freepik