Could HR’s Workload be the Biggest Barrier to Better Burnout Support?

Street Sign the Direction Way to Balanced versus Burnout

Burnout’ is a type of stress-related exhaustion that severely impacts a person’s professional and personal life. It is characterised by low motivation and energy, fatigue, low productivity, an inability to concentrate, poor memory, sleep problems, addictive device usage, irritation, and a general state of ‘nothing more to give.

Recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “occupational phenomenon”, burnout has been increasingly prevalent since early 2021 and rates are continuing to rise. According to McKinsey & Company: “Employee burnout is ubiquitous, alarming – and still underreported”.

Many companies prioritsed mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic, so why are we still so burned out? New research goes some way to providing an explanation.

Burnout is about your workplace culture

Insights from clinical employee mental health service provider Wellbeing Partner’s research shows that the most cited issue preventing HR from providing better burnout support to employees is their own workload. Thirty-two percent of HR managers say this is a problem. Thirty-one percent also struggle to recognise signs of burnout in employees.

The survey of 200 UK HR managers also shows that while 6 in 10 (59%) say they’ve seen an increase in employee burnout in the last 6 months, 26% admit to having limited understanding of how to deal with it, Furthermore, more than 1 in 5 (23%) don’t understand the exact protocols to take when employees show deteriorating signs of mental health.

Unsurprisingly, 17% don’t know when it’s appropriate to refer employees’ on to mental health professionals.

HR is burnt out too

Wellbeing Partners’ research also reveals that 94% of HR managers say they have signs of burnout too. Nearly half (47%) struggle to find motivation and stay focused, 4 in 10 (39%) feel tired or drained most of the time, 30% say they don’t sleep well most nights and 27% feel that nothing they do is effective or makes a difference.

On top of this, unhelpful coping strategies are taking place: over a quarter (28%) say they ‘just want to go on their phone or watch television’ and 17% use food, drugs and/or alcohol to cope.

Commenting on the findings, Lou Campbell, Programmes Director at Wellbeing Partners said:

“Many HR teams are expected to handle employee burnout and mental health issues, essentially becoming counsellors to support employees with any number of problems. This is a dangerous precedent. HR is unlikely to be professionally trained to navigate employee mental health issues, plus too many HR professionals are simply overwhelmed with so many priorities. It’s creating a vicious organisational circle.

“HR can take manageable action. One key step is to learn the appropriate framework – the boundaries – for having supportive conversations with employees. This helps conversations follow an appropriate path, utilising techniques and phrases which prevent support turning into therapy sessions, and bring conversations to a safe close. While showing care for employees, a framework can help HR professionals avoid entanglement in mental health or personal issues, and provides psychological safety for all parties.

“Ultimately, HR must remember that they are not counsellors and should also learn the skills to signpost employees to professional support. Taking on a counsellor role is not appropriate; ensuring employees get the support they need is. In doing this, HR can gain valuable time for their own wellbeing.”

You can find out more about how to recognise the symptoms of and head off burnout by joining our free to attend webinar on 22nd March. The content is principally focused on the challenges professional services face but tips are transferrable to any sectors and any job roles where people are under constant pressure to deliver. Find out more and register here.

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You might also be interested in:

This useful CNBC article which explains that reducing burnout requires changing how work is done.

This Harvard Business Review article: Burnout is about your workplace, not your people

Simon Blake OBE, CEO of MHFA England Shares 10 Tips to Prevent Burnout

Five Ways To Help Fatigued Employees Avoid Burnout




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