HR Expert: Insight burnout
A client wants to know how to deal with burnout in the workplace. They also want a brief explanation of what it means and how to spot the signs.

The term ‘burnout’ has become more prevalent in recent times as employers try to manage the impact that increasing workplace demands have on employees’ health. This has only become more apparent during 2020, when many employees may have faced increased workloads, uncertainty and general pressure due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), common symptoms of burnout include:

  • feelings of energy depletion or mental exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job
  • feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy.

A key aspect of the WHO’s definition is that burnout only relates to work-related stress, which means that your client is taking the right steps by wanting to know more and acknowledging that they play an important role in prevention. One of the key stumbling blocks is that burnout, and by association work-related stress, can be viewed as ‘part of the job’ in many industries, or a necessity due to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

As burnout is recognised as an occupational phenomenon, it is obvious that it exists and is contributed to by employment, especially in a year where employees have faced the fears, uncertainty and stresses associated with working through a global pandemic.

Not all staff were furloughed, and for those who have worked throughout the pandemic, an increase in workload may have caused signs of burnout to start to show, and impact their performance overall. Your client is therefore best placed to interject and seek to prevent burnout occurring, or to support those who are burnt out.

Your client can do this by:

  • Assessing working hours and workloads for any imbalance and ensure employees have the support they need to meet targets
  • Ensuring employees have the training they need to be able to efficiently carry out their tasks
  • Avoiding creating a situation where staff are pressured into working long hours or taking work home with them
  • Encouraging employees to take their rest breaks and annual leave
  • Ensuring availability of cover during an employee’s annual leave so they don’t feel like they need to “log in” to avoid a pile-up of work then they return
  • Offering flexible working, or working from home
  • Keeping an ‘open door’ policy where employees can discuss any concerns they have.

While some may think that this is a personal syndrome and something for an individual to deal with, this is an attitude that can lead to burnout becoming prevalent in their business and having a significant negative impact on factors such as retention, productivity, and growth.

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