The workforce is exhausted. Living through uncertainty and constant disruption has taken a toll, with themes of lack of self-care, having to work over capacity and burnout emerging.
LinkedIn, which employs over 15,000 full-time employees, became so worried about the problem that it paid for everyone to take a collective week off work1. With chief people officer, Teuila Hanson, saying the most important thing it could do after seeing clear signs of burnout was to allow everyone to ‘collectively walk away’ and recharge.
Of course the opportunity to fully detach from work for a period of time is important, especially given that the average UK worker had 14 days of unused holiday left over last year2. But for employers not in a position to offer such a generous break from work, here are five ways to prevent already fatigued employees from developing burnout.
1. Give back control
Burnout is characterised by feelings of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion resulting from exposure to prolonged stress, so it’s important to reduce stress levels.
Clearly this is easier said than done during a pandemic creating constant uncertainty and disruption, but the HSE’s management guidelines for reducing stress highlight the importance of giving people a sense of control over their workload, deadlines and how they get their work done. Similarly, flexible working isn’t just about allowing people to work from home, it’s also about giving them autonomy and trusting them to fit work around getting outside for proper breaks, having lunch with a friend or meeting a child from school, so they can stay energised and reduce the pressure they’re under.
Allowing people to flex their day in this way, instead of expecting them to be behind a screen all day, can provide immense mental health benefits. It can also make people, more, rather than less productive, to shift the focus from the hours worked to results generated.
2. Allow people to recharge
If your employees are in the trenches all day, what are they doing after work that tops up their energy? Are they able to fully disconnect from work to enjoy time with their family or go out for a walk or read a book or do some meditation? Or are they constantly connected to work, trying to keep on top of housework or watching depressing amounts of news?
Help them to disconnect from work and consider what impact the activities they’re doing outside of work are having on their energy levels and to differentiate between what really matters to them and what can give. Yes, it would be nice to have a perfectly clean home, but is it really realistic to try to take on all the work a cleaner was doing before the pandemic? Or before everyone was at home messing up the house every day of the week?
Similarly, even though the risks and stress associated with jetting off to warmer climes has encouraged many people not to go aboard this year, it’s important that people still take holiday and try to use that time to have some downtime.
3. Create a caring culture
Instead of waiting for people to burnout, it’s far better to encourage them to come forward for help before they get to this stage. Critical to this is making sure people know that it’s okay not to be okay about finding ourselves still in challenging circumstances.
Create a workplace where people feel safe being open and honest with one another, by encouraging managers to talk about what they’re personally finding challenging right now, be it additional workload or having to cover for colleagues off sick or isolating.
Encourage managers to also talk about how they’re going to be drawing a line between work and home in the evenings or making sure they get some time outdoors during the day, to communicate the message that ‘wellbeing is a priority’.
4. Provide psychological insights
Quite often when we’re feeling overwhelmed, or physically and mentally exhausted, it can be difficult to think of tactics for resolving our situation. Even after opening up to family and friends who might have conflicting views and opinions.
It can therefore be very helpful to offer employees the opportunity to have a group or one-off individual session with a psychotherapist, who can help them to review the issues impacting on their wellbeing and help them to build a strategy for dealing with these. Including how to get more rest, exercise, time for themselves and time in nature, plus what issues are preventing them from giving themselves this.
By making this a proactive education initiative, rather than waiting until people get sick, you can help reduce the stigma associated with talking about and proactively managing mental health and also sign-post people to further support, such as the practical and emotional support offered by an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or mental health first aiders.
5. Promote positive thinking
Another factor increasing the risk of people experiencing burnout is the huge rise in how anxious we’re all feeling. According to the ONS, one in three (37%) of people across the UK are now experiencing high levels of anxiety, compared to 19% before the pandemic.
Left unchecked, this can lead to an exhausting tendency to catastrophise and view situations as being much worse than they are. For example, “If I don’t get this report in on time, I’ll lose my job”, or “If I have to start using public transport to go to work again, I’ll probably catch the virus and die.” Constantly thinking like this can also impact negatively on sleep patterns and energy levels.
Positive lifestyle changes, such as more time outdoors and more rest, might not be enough to correct the problem, but even just a few sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (typically provided by an EAP), can be enough to get the individual to listen to their inner voice and consider if they would talk to a friend like this, or if all the negative thoughts they’re having are even that well-founded. So they can take that internal pressure away and develop healthy coping strategies, to reduce their risk of burnout.
- To prevent burnout, LinkedIn is giving its entire company the week off, CNN, April 2021
- Even when we have nowhere to go, taking holiday is important, Metro, Jan 2021
About the author
Louise Abbs is managing director of PAM Wellbeing and supports some of the UK’s best-known employers to create and deliver mental health initiatives. A qualified counsellor, her expertise lies in creating preventative mental health strategies that stop people from becoming too sick to perform or attend work. With 15 years in the industry, she is responsible for overseeing PAM’s Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and Psychological Services, which support over a million people in the UK with their mental health. Find out more at PAM Wellbeing’s stand at this year’s MAD World Summit.
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