Recognising burnout in the workplace

World Mental Health Day and National Work Life Week, both taking place in October, provide an opportunity for employers and employees to focus on wellbeing at work and work life balance. We discusses how employers can recognise and tackle burnout in the workplace.

“COVID-19 has bought the issue of mental fatigue to the forefront of our minds and is now more important than ever. During the pandemic, as many businesses moved to home working, the line between work / life balance offered became blurred. As a result, ‘burnout’ has become widespread in many businesses.

“Burnout is often seen where job conditions include long working hours and high demands, job insecurity and lack of control and perceptions of effort-reward imbalance. The rise of homeworking has also led to situations where there is low social support, or work to family conflict, juggling childcare or family responsibilities with a full-time job.

“Sadly burnout is often only seen when an employee reaches crisis point. Picking up any early subtle signs is important. These could include any of the following:

  • Poor productivity - Do your employees work ever-increasing hours without a corresponding increase in effectiveness or productivity?
  • Working long hours - Do you receive emails from your team late at night or at weekends?
  • Changes in behaviour - Is a member of your team withdrawing from social interaction at work? Or are you spotting signs of cynicism and detachment from work, difficulty making decisions, anxiety, irritability, or low mood and even anger directed at the workplace?

“As a manager, it is important that you promote a culture where employees feel confident to talk about their stress, ask them investigative questions during 1-2-1s and it is essential that you act on the information they present. The following techniques can be used to spot burnout:

  • Conduct risk assessments and employee surveys
  • Consider how your organisation recognises and appreciates contribution, and how this might be perceived by employees
  • Change the organisation’s culture to promote self-care and workplace wellbeing
  • Provide reflective supervision and supportive mentoring schemes
  • Finally, commit to continued improvement, perhaps via regular audits of key psychological risk factors

“It is also important for your employees to take regular breaks and step away from the mental intensity of work. Employers should encourage breaks and holiday leave when possible.

“Finally, Employee Assistance Programmes can be a valuable part of the solution. At Health Management, we provide occupational health support to businesses of all sizes. Additional support such as our mental wellbeing in the workplace training and our Resilience training help managers to spot the signs of burnout and address the issue in an effective way.”