Insights for Organisations

Addressing Employee Burnout in the Workplace

John Smith

615 million people suffer from depression and anxiety, causing an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity for the global workforce each year, a World Health Organisation (WHO) study has revealed.

Considering that most people spend on average eight hours a day in the workplace, it’s important to examine how our professional lives affect our mental well-being. As conventional ways of working evolve with the rise of remote work, loneliness, mental fatigue and burnout are becoming increasingly common issues among professionals.

A recent survey by Deloitte of 1000 full-time working professionals found that 77% respondents admitted to experiencing burnout in their current jobs with over half reporting multiple instances.

But what is burnout and how can individuals and businesses address it?

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What is burnout?

Mayo Clinic describes employee burnout as a particular kind of stress – ‘a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.’

Whilst burnout isn’t considered a medical condition, the WHO has recently included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases as an ‘occupational phenomenon’.

Common signs of burnout

One in five UK workers feel ‘unable’ to manage stress levels at work, Mental Health UK has found. When we consider the link between stress and business productivity, it’s clear that the onus is on employers to ensure the mental well-being of their employees.

However, before offering help, the first step is to identify the signs that someone is struggling. These are 5 commons signs of burnout:

Feelings of tiredness or exhaustion all the time

Someone who’s experiencing burnout will have constant feelings of tiredness and exhaustion with the inability to relax and trouble sleeping.

Reduced work productivity

One of the most common signs as well as effects of burnout is reduced levels of productivity at work. Burnout can cause a lack of motivation in one’s job and reluctance to complete tasks and collaborate with teammates.

Feelings of detachment from the job

When a person is experiencing burnout, they start mentally distancing themselves from the workplace. Feelings of isolation and detachment are manifested through behaviours like arriving late to work, not engaging in social activities and a lack of concentration.

Irritability with colleagues and clients

A constant state of being on edge can trigger irritability among those experiencing burnout.

Unexplained physical complaints like headaches or stomach problems

Sometimes, burnout can have physiological symptoms like headaches and loss of appetite. These ailments are usually unexplained and brought on without any related comp.

Causes of burnout

Some of the top reasons for burnout include:

  1. Toxic work environment
  2. Unfair treatment at work
  3. Unmanageable workload
  4. Lack of role clarity
  5. Lack of support from manager

1. Toxic work environment

A McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) survey has found that toxic workplace behaviour was the biggest cause of negative workplace outcomes like employee burnout symptoms and people leaving their jobs. The survey conducted across 15 countries found that one in four employees experience toxic behaviour at work.

Toxic workplace behaviour includes unfair treatment, non-inclusivity, sabotage, cutthroat competition, abusive management, and unethical conduct that make employees feel undervalued, belittled, or unsafe.

2. Unfair treatment at work

When employees feel that they’re treated unfairly at work, this can lead to dissatisfaction and experiencing burnout. Unfair treatment can include favouritism, unfair pay or business policies.

3. Unmanageable workload

An excessive workload can be a key cause of stress where an employee is constantly struggling to meet deadlines and finish tasks. This can eventually trigger a burnout and can lead high-performing individuals to lose confidence tackling an unmanageable workload.

4. Lack of role clarity

For employees to thrive in their roles, they need clarity on what’s expected of them. Uncertainty about deliverables and expectations can quickly spiral into blame games when deadlines aren’t met and tasks aren’t finished. This can and often does reflect poorly on an employee’s performance and can seriously impact their mental well-being, leading to burnout.

5. Lack of support from manager

An empathetic and supportive manager can encourage their teams to be their best and provide guidance when needed. On the other hand, a lack of support and clear communication from a manager or worse still, a confrontational manager can create a negative workplace experience for an employee where they might want to leave the company.

How to avoid employee burnout?

1. Access to resources

According to the Mental Health Foundation, businesses should make mental health promotion tools like mindfulness and exercise available to all employees. The idea is to create an inclusive environment that promotes mental health for everyone whilst providing support to those who’re experiencing distress.

Companies should also consider having Employee Assistance Programmes that are open round-the-clock to provide support and guidance to those who need it, even outside work hours.

2. Invite a guest speaker

Organise a virtual event and invite a guest speaker to talk about mental health, touching on themes of loneliness. Hearing other people talk about mental health issues and saying #Ivebeenthere instils confidence in others to come forward and speak about their issues – the first step towards getting help. Virtual events are a great because they can be attended by teams from around the world. You could even record webinars and upload them to your company website to be accessed at any time.

3. Involve Line Managers

It’s a good idea to involve and train line managers to detect and address mental health issues in their teams. Line manager can make the most of internal communication channels and set up regular check-ins with their teams. This creates a sense of belonging and makes it easy to flag any issues if they come up.

4. Encourage breaks and regular hours

A rested employee is a productive employee. Companies should encourage employees who’re working remotely to take the full time off for their lunch break and finish their workday on time as often as possible. Having this directive from senior management shows employees that they’re thinking about their wellness.

5. Address discrimination

One of the fundamental rules for ensuring mental wellness is to address any and all discrimination against mental health issues. Any infractions to this should be addressed as harshly as discrimination against other protected characteristics like race, gender or sexual orientation.

FDM Supports Mental Health and Wellness

FDM Group has several programmes to assist in our employees’ mental health and wellness. Some of our dedicated support networks like UNIQUE, CARE, PRIDE, and others aim to assist FDM-ers with visible and non-visible disabilities including mental health issues, those with parental and/or caring responsibilities, our LGBTQ+ community and more.