How real is the threat of burnout to your people?

Burnout is increasing, with a recent survey from Indeed finding that over 50% of workers are experiencing burnout in 2021.  This is up from 43% who said the same in their pre-Covid survey.i

The same study found that workers need additional annual leave every 43 days to avoid succumbing to the pressures of burnout, with 7 in 10 agreeing they suffer fatigue and feel rundown if they go too long without taking an extended break.ii

For industries and sectors such as care, education and frontline teams, as well as many other business’s who have adapted to survive during the pandemic, it has been a challenging time to take leave.  This is commonly because of a lack of resource due to either colleagues being furloughed, or isolating due to Covid or financial pressures, resulting in many people feeling unable to take their well needed annual leave.  Further to this, with lockdown restrictions in place, many felt it was pointless to take leave to stay at home. 

We are now entering month 18 post the start of the first lockdown, albeit with a brighter outlook in terms of being able to move around with greater freedom and return to working in person with colleagues more frequently.  However during this prolonged period of pressure, people have established new working patterns and habits that might be compromising their wellbeing and could lead to burnout.  Longer working hours, less boundaries between work and personal life and additional responsibilities due to lack of resources to name a few. 

The problem with burnout is that it can creep up without you noticing, as usually by then you are in a heightened emotional state, in survival mode, not always thinking clearly and noticing unhelpful patterns and behaviours. 

I should know this well having suffered burnout at a previous point in my career, resulting in me being really poorly and making some significant decisions about how I live and work, for the better.  I also work with people every day in the subject of managing their wellbeing and resilience, but even I still found myself suffering from the early pressures of burnout this summer after a busy period of work combined with challenges in my personal life. 

It was only after I took a good 2 week break from work and my established habits and patterns, that I gained a new perspective and realised that I was not OK.  I can say this now I am on the other side of it, but at the time I felt ashamed to say I was finding it hard to cope, despite having the most phenomenal support system around me, at work and in my personal life.  Having this break enabled me to see things for what they were, draw upon my inner resources and make some well needed changes to enable me to cope better and continue to perform in my role at work and as a wife, mother, friend and all the other roles I hold in life. 

I know I am not alone in this, as in research conducted by analytics solutions firm Visier, more than 37% of employees said they’re not comfortable talking to their manager about their burnout. When asked why, employees’ top reason was a fear of being seen as incapable of doing their jobs.iii  This wasn’t true in my case as my manager and I have an open, honest and supportive relationship where I can discuss anything I need too.  But if despite this, I did find it hard, then it got me thinking that it is no wonder half of people experience burnout. 

We need to do more to reduce burnout and improve resilience in order reduce this figure. The impact on individuals, their families and organisations is huge, and the pandemic has just escalated it.  We can help people by enabling them to notice the signs people exhibit when they, or others aren’t coping and have those important conversations so they can express how they are feeling and access the support they need before burnout creeps in.

So what can organisations do to support this?

1) Enabling and encouraging employees to take annual leave

There has been a lot in the news recently about organisations giving teams additional breaks to help against burnout.  Citigroup have asked all junior bankers to take two ‘fully disconnected’ weeks away before the end of September amid concerns over long working hours taking their toll.  In June, the dating app Bumble closed its entire business for one week to give its circa 700-strong workforce a needed break to destress and recharge.  That isn’t always practical for organisations, but taking a more proactive approach to using annual leave spread out over the year and encouraging employees to take a two week break to fully recharge can help.  Further to this, creating a system where employees feel they can take leave by ensuring adequate holiday cover and a structured work hand over of essential tasks can relieve the pressure and enable people to fully switch off.

However, although this can support a number of people, the Visier study also found that nearly 50% of employees said that taking additional annual leave only provided a temporary relief from symptoms of burnout.3  So what else is important?

2) Creating a culture of openness about burnout.

There is a lot of shame and stigma around burnout, but as the data shows, it is incredibly common and I believe it will become more so after such a prolonged period of stress and pressure caused by the pandemic.  If it isn’t already, it should be on the people agenda of every organisation, large and small to ensure that support is available for people and the business culture enables conversations about wellbeing, mental health and burnout. 

Create an environment where it is OK not to be OK without fear of retribution and regular conversations are happening throughout the organisation about how we ‘feel’ not just what we ‘do.’  Role modelling behaviours from the top around taking leave, switching off to recharge and adopting health and wellbeing practices is crucial. 

3) Enable managers to spot the signs of burnout

As I mentioned, burnout can creep up and often it is only when things are verging on falling apart do we notice it ourselves. However, the signs are often there and it is important that managers and fellow colleagues are able to spot them in each other and then have a conversation to support.  This is more challenging in a virtual or hybrid working world where we don’t have as much in person contact, and therefore opportunities to notice.  To do this, communication skills such as questioning, listening and being empathetic should be developed, alongside managing mindset and stigma around mental health and wellbeing.  It is also important to adapt management practices to more consciously create opportunities for connection with team members.  Of course alongside these management behaviours, making sure they understand what practical resources are available to support.   

How can we help?

Life is tough and has been more so over the last 18 months.  Burnout is and will continue to be a ‘hot’ theme for organisations and the people with in them with over half of people already experiencing it to some degree.  What more could you be doing to support your people with spotting the signs and ensuring the right conversations and support is there when it is needed before burnout occurs? 

To find out how we could support your organisation to combat burnout call us on 01491 414010, or complete the contact form at the bottom of this page and one of our experts will be in touch.

References

i https://www.hrgrapevine.com/content/article/2021-08-31-calls-grow-for-uk-to-have-more-bank-holidays-how-can-hr-deal-with-extra-time-off

ii https://www.hrgrapevine.com/content/article/2021-08-31-calls-grow-for-uk-to-have-more-bank-holidays-how-can-hr-deal-with-extra-time-off

iii https://www.hrgrapevine.com/content/article/2021-08-26-citigroup-tells-bankers-to-disconnect-go-away-for-two-weeks-will-it-work?utm_source=template-pardot-2107-v2&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=hr-26-08-21&utm_content=news&utm_term=Wellbeing+concern

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