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Preventing burnout: How to protect employees’ wellbeing during Covid-19

In the months that have followed the easing of Covid-19 restrictions and the return to the workplace, the impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health has started to show.

Pandemic impact

Employee have been feeling increasingly burnt-out, with Glassdoor noting that mentions of burnout on employee reviews have increased by 128% since May 2021.

Burnout has been described by Mental Health UK as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, which occurs when a person experiences ‘long-term stress’ at work. Symptoms of burnout include feeling drained, trapped or detached, having a negative outlook, experiencing self-doubt and becoming overwhelmed.

If not addressed, burnout could lead to an employee developing long-term mental health issues such as depression, which in turn could lead to long-term absence from the business.

The Centre for Mental Health is forecasting that at least 500,000 more people in the UK will experience ill mental health following the pandemic, with an increase in anxiety, stress and loneliness seen in the British public.

This has been supported by research by ORACLE and Workplace Intelligence in 2020, which found that 78% of the 12,000 respondents to their survey felt the pandemic had negatively impacted on their health.

Employer duties and wellbeing strategies

Worryingly, 76% of these respondents also felt that their company should be doing more to protect the mental health of their workforce, and so employers should be considering what steps they can take to better support their employee’s mental wellbeing.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees, which means they must support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing. Mental health issues may also be considered a disability if they meet the criteria under the Equality Act 2010, and so employers must also ensure they do not discriminate against the employee.

Employers should look to their management team to take the lead on employee wellbeing. Training should be provided to ensure managers have the skills they need to have conversations with their direct reports or teams around wellbeing, and to be able to respond appropriately to the issues raised.

How these conversations are conducted will depend on whether the employees are physically in the workplace, or whether they are continuing to work from home. It may be in-person catch-ups over coffee on days when the employees are in or arranging a video call to ensure contact is maintained.

Managers should also be able to set clear objectives for their employees. Burnout can be caused by an employee not knowing whether they are doing enough or the job requirements shifting. It is therefore important a manager can give clear direction and guidance as to expectations and be able to adjust workloads if it becomes too much.

This could be particularly important for those working at home, who may be finding it difficult to balance their home and work lives. Managers should watch for those working longer hours than normal and check in with these employees to see what support can be offered.

If not addressed, burnout could lead to an employee developing long-term mental health issues such as depression, which in turn could lead to long-term absence from the business.

Creating a supportive environment is key to protecting employee wellbeing, whether in the workplace or from home. Employees should feel that they can come to their line manager at any time and taking screen breaks or having lunch away from the workspace should be encouraged.

As the Government decides how to deal with the risk of Covid-19 during the winter months, it is more important than ever that employers focus on how to protect their employees’ wellbeing. If you want more detailed advice or guidance on how to do so, please contact our Employment Team.

About this article

Disclaimer
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

About this article

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