With the coronavirus pandemic placing such a serious strain on the nation’s workforce, UK businesses are now facing a mental wellbeing crisis as individuals suffer in silence, having a knock-on effect on the culture, retention, productivity and overall performance of organisations.

Assessing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s workforce one year on, a recent research commissioned by the not-for-profit healthcare provider, Benenden Health found that as many as 61% of managers have suffered from burnout at work since the UK was first placed into lockdown, with a fifth (20%) of all managers either considering, or actually quitting their job as a result of the strain on their mental wellbeing.

The mental wellbeing at work report which is called The Elephant That Never Left The Room assessed over 1,000 non-furloughed working managers in the UK to find out ‘why stigma is still preventing employees from telling their boss the truth about their mental wellbeing in the workplace’. The report revealed the effects of the pandemic on the working lives of managers and their subsequent experiences of burnout, which includes exhaustion, stress, cynicism and/or feelings of reduced professional ability due to demands at work.

The main causes of burnout at work in the past year were shown to be:

  • Anxiety about the future (46%)
  • A lack of sleep (40%)
  • Limited social interaction (35%)
  • Increased demands from senior leadership (28%)
  • Managing home schooling with work (26%)
  • Working long hours (34%)

Only a fifth of managers took time off due to burnout brought on by the pandemic. Reasons for not taking the time off despite wanting to include:

  • Workload being too high (36%)
  • Team members needing them (33%)
  • Fearing an absence would impact their career progression (32%)
  • Senior management wouldn’t let them do so (16%)

With reference to seeking help, the survey further revealed the following:

  • Only 20% managers actively sought medical support
  • Only 33% either took time off as annual leave or a physical health sick day to hide the real reason for their absence.

On a personal level, the managers reported that work burnout has caused:

  • Increased anxiety in the past year (33%)
  • Mood swings (27%)
  • Poor diet (26%),
  • More alcohol consumption (18%)
  • Relationship issues (10%)

Responding to what the post-lockdown world of work might look like, managers had a rather bleak outlook:

  • They are worried about being encouraged to work from an office before they are comfortable doing so (17%)
  • The easing of restrictions will put more pressure on them at work (16%)
  • They fear the culture within their business will get worse once restrictions ease (12%)
  • They would like to work from home – at least part-time – on a permanent basis (69%)

While businesses are under pressure to consider how they maintain a feeling of togetherness as life returns to something more like normality, Naomi Thompson, Head of OD at Benenden Health had this to say: “What we are seeing is that there is a burnout epidemic across the nation’s managers, but too often these individuals feel too helpless, worried and embarrassed to open up and seek support for their mental wellbeing concerns.”

Naomi also highlighted for the urgent need to have honest, open conversations: “An open, two-way conversation must now take place to ensure employees are able to disclose and address any mental wellbeing concerns without fear. It is also important that employers are in a position to support appropriately and effectively, to the benefit of both individual employees, and the business as a whole. In building a happy, healthy and productive workforce, employers will also have to consider how their operations change as restrictions ease, ensuring that employee wellbeing is at the forefront of these conversations.”

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