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THE RISE AND COST OF WORKPLACE BURNOUT

By Clare Jupp, People Development Director

Recent research has revealed some shocking statistics surrounding the topic of workplace burnout. Furthermore, this research found that 57% of all employees interviewed feel worn out by work. Interestingly, this number rose to over two-thirds (67%) for working parents and 70% of senior managers.  Particularly noteworthy was the revelation that 75% of professionals aged 25-34 already feel worn out by work.

 

With this in mind, I think it is vital that organisations continue to think seriously about workplace wellbeing and to look out for the signs of burn out. Furthermore, taking a short term view on this issue will undoubtedly have serious, long term, costly effects. Employers should also consider that when stress turns to burnout and this turns to possible sick leave and disability benefits, it is estimated that the cost of this to employers is a staggering £9billion per year.

 

When we refer to workplace ‘burn out’, we might immediately think of late middle aged, senior managers who have spent too many years ‘in the saddle’. However, whilst the threat of burnout for these workers is indeed very real, it is also important to point out that burnout is not reserved for middle age or later life. Moreover, workplace burnout is possibly happening to people whom you work with NOW and that might even include you, whatever age you are.

 

For example, did you know that last year in the UK, younger workers took more days off work due to stress than older workers? (roughly 65% of 16-24 young workers compared to only 24% of older workers). Therefore, we must surely move away from the idea that stress and burnout is exclusive to our more mature team members. Indeed, I believe that young, ambitious team members need to be carefully watched. Furthermore, they may not have partners and children to ‘distract’ them from their work and may well end up working all of the hours under the sun simply because they can. This very issue occurred to me the other day in a coaching session with a younger team member. The temptation to work late, check e mail, makes calls out of hours is far greater when there are not other things around you to absorb your time and focus.

 

Whilst burnout might be affecting individuals across the age groups, according to the research that I looked at, there are still vulnerable ‘groups’ within companies that need targeted support and observation. Moreover, working parents and senior managers are more likely to be experiencing a challenge in terms of balancing responsibilities and priorities, with therefore, less switch off time and more pressure. Can your organisation alleviate some of these pressures through adopting a more understanding approach and allowing a more flexible working arrangement? Are senior managers allowed to holiday without an expectation of staying in touch?  Do you provide awareness surrounding the recognition of stress symptoms? Do you have a culture of openness where employees can be honest about their vulnerabilities? 

 

7 MAJOR SIGNS OF BURNOUT

  1. Severe exhaustion. You can barely get up in the morning. There’s no desire to do anything that involves effort. Just the thought of work, of doing what you do well but have overdone, can make you physically sick.
  2. Excessive workload. Excessive workload drives stress and prevents the body from physical recovery and the mind from replenishing mental resources. It leads to little sleep, bad diet, no exercise, and unrelieved stress, and eats away at the immune system. Physical exhaustion leads to mental and emotional exhaustion.
  3. Cynicism. There seems to be no point to anything, no sense of accomplishment anymore. What used to fuel—pride, service, ambition, challenge, even money—seems meaningless. Belief, in the profession, achievement, anyone else, it’s pointless.
  4. Emotionally draining work. Burnout was first identified in social workers whose clients and large case loads burned up excess emotional resources. If your work involves intense emotional demands, and there’s nothing to replace those resources or help with them, the constant stress can dry up adrenal glands, causing severe physical fatigue and a lack of defense chemicals to manage stressors.
  5. Absence of positive emotions. This is one of the hallmarks of burnout. A brain on chronic life-or-death watch from chronic stress fixates on the perceived emergency, on threats, resentments, problems. Even what you used to enjoy outside work feels meaningless.
  6. Catastrophic thoughts. Burnout leads to dire thinking. It colors everything dark and strips away the will and effort to change the situation. It sets off awfulizing and worst-case scenarios on a grand scale. “I can’t do this job anymore.” “I won’t be able to take it.” “Why bother?” It’s all coming from an ancient part of your brain that doesn’t know how to interpret the social stressors of the modern world. It feeds false beliefs, and there are no coping resources left to fight them.
  7. Lack of support or rewards. When you go beyond the call of duty over and over, it can lead to a loss of emotional and physical resources. You may be able to work long hours for a while, or for rewards that make you feel the work and you are worthwhile, but when there’s no payoff for going the extra mile, all that’s left is exhaustion and resentment. You wind up detaching yourself from everyone and everything, lose social support, a key resource, and have no opportunity to feel effective, a core need.

 

We must, of course, be ever mindful of the good mental health and wellbeing of all of our team members and assume that no individual is immune from stress, burnout or mental health issues. The good mental health of our workforce is always a high priority for us at Brightstar and we work hard to support wellbeing and work life balance. Our coaching programme allows us to stay ‘in tune’ with our people and to hopefully get to smouldering issues in their infancy rather than at ‘def con 9’ stage. Our Wellbeing Room and the access that employees have to support services, alongside a culture of openness also promote good wellbeing and good mental health. Finally, our senior managers work hard to set good examples in terms of family life and work life balance and advocate the benefits of wellbeing treatments, counselling if required as well as facilitating flexible working arrangements wherever necessary.

 

A proactive approach to workplace burnout, in my opinion, provides the best chance of keeping employees mentally well and also at work. If you know what/who the vulnerable groups/individuals are, the early warning signs of problems and you have a strong people management strategy in place, you are more likely to avoid employees becoming stressed, over worked and ultimately burnt out…

 

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