Huge increase in number of employees experiencing burnout
A recent survey published in the Harvard Business Review clearly demonstrated the increase in the burnout phenomenon during the pandemic. Here at TeamDoctor, as specialists in workplace health, we have also found a significant increase in employers reporting that their teams are suffering from burnout. This is new, different from stress, and a huge concern for organisations.
The positive news is that burnout is not an irreversible state - you can recover completely but you need to recognise what problem you are suffering from before you can address it.
Chartered Occupational Psychologist, and co-author of 'The Strengths Based Organization', Emily Hutchinson works with TeamDoctor to produce films and courses to help employees look after their mental health in the workplace. She says burnout can come after periods of stress and chronic stress but is neither of those things. "It is not inevitable that you will develop burnout if you suffer from chronic stress, but signs to look out for include a complete sense of exhaustion (physically and mentally), and a real lack of interest in things which would have kept you focused and challenged previously."
The causes of burnout at work are very often the same as the causes of chronic stress. They have, in many cases, been exacerbated by Covid. These include heavy workloads, difficult line managers and a perceived lack of control.
To achieve a proper recovery from burnout, your company needs to address the core organisational issues mentioned above. Professor Sir Cary Cooper, who also contributes to the TeamDoctor health and wellbeing content, is President of the CIPD and is probably the UK's leading authority on workplace wellbeing. He maintains that real improvement does not come about through "ping pong tables and sushi at the desk. These things are nice to have but they don't address the fundamental issues causing the problems of stress in the first place."
So instead of applying sticking plaster, companies should look at tackling the issues of heavy workloads, difficult line managers and control in a way which really makes a difference to employee health outcomes. If changes don't make a difference, they are not working.
Let's have a look at “meeting overload” which is another key cause of burnout.
The US National Bureau of Economic Research analysed the data of more than 3 million people in the US during the pandemic and found that employees meeting time has increased by 13% rather than decreased, and the average workday is 48 minutes longer, so whilst many companies give lip service to the idea of removing overload, statistics show it is not happening in practice.
What are some of the rules companies can put in place across their organisation?
1. Back to back meetings all day every day should never happen. Where is the thinking time and the space and opportunity to get on with tasks? Companies need to focus on the length of meetings, how necessary they are and who really needs to attend.
2. Meetings should never finish on the hour - build in at least 10 minutes into each hour for a rest from the screen.
Addressing the issues mentioned above seriously, rather than papering over the cracks, will result in a big difference for individuals and organisations in terms of health, happiness and the bottom line.
Doing nothing is no longer an option.