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Beating Burnout: How to build a resilient workforce

Staff at dating App giant Bumble were recently offered paid time off to tackle collective burnout in the organisation. This follows a similar move by LinkedIn who also offered its employees a week off, following a survey which revealed burnout amongst staff.

What is burnout?

In 2019, the World Health Organisation described burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from unsuccessful management of chronic workplace stress. The WHO categorised burnout in following three ways:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

It’s clear to see why burnout can be so detrimental for businesses, their employees, productivity levels and ultimately, profitability. But why is burnout on the rise now?

Psychologists have explained that humans have been operating in “survival mode” to tackle the uncertainty, anxiety and loss of freedom resulting from the pandemic. Now, with effective vaccines and the ease of restrictions, the population is starting to transition from “survival” to the status quo.

But with this transition comes the realisation that many are stressed and exhausted from running on high alert for the past 18 months. Work requires 100% effort to maximise performance but burnout is making this inconceivable.

Here are top tips for HR professionals for how to tackle burnout in your team:

1. Acknowledge burnout in the workforce

Step one to tackling burnout is acknowledging it within your workforce. Whilst it may be caused by the pandemic, could your working practices be a contributing factor?

Once you have acknowledged the issue and the staff effected, this will enable you to constructively mitigate it.

2. Think individually and collectively 

Naturally, some staff will be more affected than others and this could dictate how burnout is best tackled for each staff member.

The decision to provide staff with a week off was taken by Linkedin following a staff survey on employees’ general state of wellbeing.

A survey is an effective way to get a picture across the organisation and could save time on having 1-2-1 conversations if resources are stretched. If the survey is anonymised, you are likely to receive more candid responses. In contrast if the survey is not anonymised this will allow the business to adopt a more individual approach based on each employee’s specific answers.

Whichever you decide, thought should be given before implementing blanket policies to maximise effectiveness. Whilst some employees will appreciate an extra 30 minutes at lunch , others may prefer this time at the end of the day to assist with the school run, or the morning to attend a gym class.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation described burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from unsuccessful management of chronic workplace stress.

3. Communication with staff

Do your staff know who to contact in respect of wellbeing matters? Many businesses have designated “mental health champions” who are trained to provide mental health support to colleagues should they require.

However, some employees may not feel comfortable speaking to peers and so it is important that line managers are also trained to discuss wellbeing with staff.

If you have not done so already, consider including mental health in conversations regarding performance/progression as the two go hand in hand.

Employees can also be signposted to mental health charities or other external support if you are unable to provide support internally. The most important thing is to open up the conversation so employees know that they can raise issues early. This may assist in preventing burnout all together.

4. Consult with your employees on what they would like 

Ask employees what they think would help them to avoid burnout. Answers could range from time off, more flexible working hours, coming back to the office or remaining at home. Commercially, you may not be able to accommodate everyone’s individual needs but employees are likely to feel more engaged and supported by being asked what would help them.

If you are unable to implement certain changes, explain why. Employees will be more accepting if they understand the business rationale rather than being left in the dark.

5. Offer holistic wellbeing 

Exercise and a healthy diet are proven to have a positive impact on stress levels, sleep, and mental health generally. Are there any initiates that you can offer as an employer to encourage employees to look after their physical health in order to prevent burnout? For example, discounted gym memberships, internal fitness competitions, charity sport events and cooking competitions. Such initiatives will also promote cohesion across your organisation which is needed after the majority have spent over a year working from home.

It is clear that burnout has been amplified by the pandemic. In some circumstances, no matter how much support you can offer as an employer, employees will still be affected.

We have helped numerous clients navigate mental health issues amongst staff, short and long term sickness absence, including absence due to long-covid.

Please get in touch with our employment lawyers if you would like to discuss how to avoid burnout in your business, or how to deal with burnout staff should this be an issue you are facing.

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