Burnout is a very real concern for HR and people professionals, and is a result of prolonged exposure to high levels of stress and excessive demands in the workplace, manifesting when individuals feel overwhelmed, unsupported, or unable to meet the expectations placed upon them.
But are employers aware of who is struggling in their organisation and are they doing anything to put out the flames?
What is burnout and what are the signs?
According to Healthline, burnout is described as a ‘severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental and emotional exhaustion’. It can zap the joy out of an individual’s career, friendships and family interactions. It can also make it challenging for them to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities.
Burnout often surfaces from continual exposure to stressful situations such as problems at work (working long hours for example), but it can also appear in other areas of life such as parenting, caretaking or witnessing upsetting news.
It isn’t always easy to spot, but symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, isolation, escape fantasies, irritability, and frequent illness. If you are burned out, you could be experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of dread about work, and frequent feelings of cynicism, anger, or irritability.
Burnout usually isn’t something that goes away on its own and, if left untreated, can lead to serious physical and physiological illnesses such as depression, heart disease and diabetes.
Questions you can use to recognise the signs of burnout
Even on good days, stress can prevent employees from being fully focused and carrying out their best work, but too much of it can lead to burnout, disengagement, increased sick days and strained workplace relationships.
Following on from events in recent years like Covid-19 and the Great Resignation, it’s never been more important for HR and people professionals to be conscious of, and address, the mental wellbeing of their people directly. As prevalent as it is, burnout is often misunderstood, stigmatised, and costly to both employees’ health and wellbeing, and employers’ productivity.
One of the best ways of establishing whether your organisation has a problem with burnout is by hearing from your entire workforce. Here are a number of questions you can ask in your employee survey to recognise the signs and identify if any of your employees are struggling:
- ‘Do you feel as if you have too many projects and are rushed to finish them at work?’
- ‘(Agree, disagree or neutral) There are usually sufficient people in my team to handle the normal workload’
- ‘(Agree, disagree or neutral) I can cope with my workload without having to work extended hours’
- ‘(Agree, disagree or neutral) I can maintain a healthy work-life balance’
- ‘How would you rate your mental health right now?’
- ‘(On this scale) how stressed you are when it comes to work?’
- ‘(Agree, disagree or neutral) My job gives me flexibility to meet the needs of both my work and personal life’
Prevention and ‘treatment’ as an employer
One of the most worrying issues for organisations today is that very few employees actually know what plans their employer has in place to help spot signs of chronic stress and burnout (just 23% of 2,099 workers surveyed by Mental Health UK). It’s clear that employers must make more of an effort to communicate with their people. They need to communicate what support is available and educate them on recognising and managing stress and deteriorating mental health in themselves before things become too difficult to manage.
Dealing with burnout on a personal level requires the ‘Three R’ approach:
- Recognise – watch for the warning signs of burnout
- Reverse – undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress
- Resilience – build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health
As an employer, you must first establish whether you have employees suffering from severe stress or burnout. An employee wellbeing survey is an ideal tool for establishing this essential information.
A wellbeing plan and stress risk assessments are two additional strategies you can implement as an employer. They will help with stress and burnout in the workplace. Wellbeing plans help you identify what good wellbeing looks like at your organisation. Risk assessments help you explore the causes and identify the risks associated with stress at work.
If you have identified a burnout problem at your organisation, we recommend looking at Forbes’ 10 ways employers can start to reverse burnout through mental health. This includes tips such as encouraging mental health breaks and empowering employees to take control of their own work schedule.
If you're looking to implement an employee wellbeing survey and would like a demo of the WorkBuzz platform to find out how we can help solve your people challenges in this area, get in touch today by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.