Having bounced from a global pandemic to a cost-of-living crisis, the UK workforce has become accustomed to living in challenging, uncertain times.
But when the stresses and strains of everyday life are overlaid onto this difficult backdrop, the effects on individuals can be damaging. It can leave people feeling overwhelmed, anxious and at risk of burnout.
In recent years, this issue has risen to prominence in areas from business to politics. Indeed, when Jacinda Ardern stepped down from her post as New Zealand Prime Minister saying she no longer has “enough in the tank”, her words resonated with many people.
In this article, we explore how burnout is affecting employees in the UK today, looking at what the problem means for employers and what they can do to support the mental health of their workers.
What is burnout?
There are few jobs that are completely stress-free. Workloads, deadlines and even colleagues can all contribute to the overall sense of pressure that an employee will experience in relation to their work. When that stress is experienced over a long period of time, however, it can result in burnout.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” rather than a medical condition, and states that it is the result of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. According to WHO, there are three dimensions to burnout:
- 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.
Those suffering from burnout are likely to experience symptoms familiar to those experiencing mental health conditions such as depression. These include tiredness, lack of motivation and hopelessness. But while burnout has been identified as a pre-cursor to such conditions, it is important to note that it is driven by workplace pressures rather than biological factors.
Who does it affect?
Anyone is prone to experiencing burnout. Indeed, research suggests that as much as half of the UK workforce is currently at risk of burning out. Separate studies indicate that the vast majority (79%) of employees have struggled with burnout in the past, with 35% claiming their experience was at high or extreme levels.
What is the impact on employers?
While the direct effects of burnout are felt by the employee in question, there is an indirect impact on employers through absenteeism and lost productivity.
Collectively, stress, burnout and poor mental health are thought to have resulted in 23.3 million lost working days in the UK in 2022. The cost of this lost productivity equates to an estimated £28 billion a year.
What can be done?
All employers have a legal duty to assess the risks to an employee’s health from stress at work. Clearly, many employers go well beyond this baseline, implementing proactive strategies to support mental wellbeing. The following areas of focus are key in tackling workplace stress:
Whether it’s one-to-one conversations with individual team members or company-wide staff surveys, it’s important to communicate clearly with employees to get an understanding of where key stress points exist in the organisation. This enables potential triggers for burnout to be addressed at source.
Through their actions and words, managers can be a significant influence on burnout, and they are also in a pivotal position to identify when staff are struggling. Effective training can ensure they demonstrate empathy and compassion towards colleagues – valuable qualities that can prevent worries and concerns developing into something more serious.
Empowered with the right tools, employees can do more to support their own mental health. This could be access to technology, such as well-being apps, or it could be the provision of flexible working arrangements to help ease the pressure and support a healthy work-life balance.
Healthcare insurance can also be invaluable for employees affected by stress and burnout. Many policies today provide access to trained counsellors, medical professionals or other sources of advice and guidance.
Taken in isolation, all of these approaches can be used to address the issue of stress and burnout. However, it is when they are integrated into a company’s culture that organisations and their employees can truly benefit.
Creating an atmosphere of openness and acceptance when it comes to talking about mental health while also placing support mechanisms within reach of employees can be an effective combination. It can also make the difference between having to reactively deal with the impact of burnout and being able to proactively snuff out the risks.
The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information. Vintage Health or any of its associated representatives shall not be liable for any technical, editorial, typographical or other errors or omissions within the content of this communication.