How you can shift attitudes to workplace burnout

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Jane doesn't feel the same about work anymore. Something's changed. She can't put her finger on when it changed - it didn't happen overnight - more like a gradual slow burn. She use to approach work with commitment and drive, happily doing extra hours, taking on more work, juggling more balls as she believed in and was passionate about her job, where the company were going and what they were aiming for. They were in this together.

But now things are different. The extra hours, the extra work, the constant juggling and reprioritizing have become the norm, the expected. The compromises she is making are affecting her home life and her family life. Jane is starting to question her decisions: 'Have I missed one too many bedtime stories?' 'When was the last time I sat at home still and peaceful, without checking my emails or preparing for the next big meeting' or 'when do I not think about work?'.

This hypothetical example describes a common and real scenario in businesses today, and worryingly for many, it may be considered the norm. You may not even realize, but the chances are high that you know at least one Jane, perhaps even more.

Burnout at work is real and maybe more common than you think.

The UK Government's Health & Safety Executive (HSE) define work-related stress, depression or anxiety as a harmful reaction people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work. In 2018, 15.4 million working days were lost due to this condition alone, with the main work factors cited by respondents being workload pressures, tight deadlines, too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

The term' workplace burnout' is officially being recognized as an "occupational phenomenon." According to the World Health Organization, the agency that guides many health providers and organizations, burnout is the direct result of "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."

Behavioural changes from workplace burnout may include;

•   Poor sleep patterns

•   Loss of appetite

•   The dreaded 'Sunday night' feeling as the weekend comes to a close

•   Sickness

•   Persistent lateness

•   Disengagement

•   Unable to switch off

Employee wellbeing is critical to your business wellbeing. To give your best, you have to be at your best, and while healthy and motivated employees can have a positive impact on the productivity and effectiveness of a business, the opposite is also true.

Health and wellbeing, which addresses workplace burnout, should be an integral part of any HR people strategy. Shifting attitudes so that burnout is not just seen as part of the job, but a series health issue can be tackled by placing employee wellbeing on the business agenda. 

Individuals are not just looking for the highest salary or the most significant bonus on offer; they're looking for businesses who can help them achieve a work-life balance, leaders who care about what's going on in the inside (their emotions) as well as the outside (their productivity).

The urban myth which says the more hours you work, the more you will get done is simply that, a myth. In reality, the more hours you work, the less productive you become. Why? Because we all need quality downtime, and with 24/7 connectivity, it's tough to switch off completely. Put in place stricter after-hours work policies, such as no emails before 8.00am or after 6.00pm, or limited or no weekend working will ensure it's not just an add on but a fundamental part of your culture.

Downtime is vital to an individual's wellbeing. And in fact, some of our best thinking will be done in the quiet space of downtime, when we're relaxed, and at peace. Don't allow these moments to be compromised.

Give your people access to gym memberships, weekly meditation or yoga classes, place fruit baskets around the office and working space to promote healthy eating. When you understand your people's health and happiness is not a luxury; it's the energy source powering their performance, you place their emotional wellbeing on an equal footing to their physical wellbeing.

Business leaders must be developed in understanding the triggers which could lead to workplace burnout and more importantly create a safe and secure working environment to avoid it in the first place. For example, regular check-ins to understand workloads, awareness of hours working, any overtime requests, frequent and open performance conversations.

Enable employees to become their performance coach to highlight behaviours which are causing them concern (unable to switch off, poor sleep patterns, loss of appetite etc.), and secondly enable managers to spot the warning signs in their people (and selves!). If any concerns are raised, both employer and employee will know and understand the support available as this will be documented clearly in the company's people strategy.

We all recognize there will be times when the extra hard yards are asked of us – new product launch, new system deployment, a relocation – and we all put the hours in to make it a success, no questions asked.

But there is a fine line between being positively challenged and productive to being overwhelmed and stressed.  Show you value and care about your people by calling this out, and demonstrating the interventions that are in place so that line is rarely crossed.

 

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