Following the past year, it’s no surprise that psychologists are reporting a rise in “pandemic burnout” according to The Guardian. Many people have found themselves isolated with financial difficulty, on top of the obvious health concerns. Reports are showing significant percentages when it comes to people feeling the pressures of working from home. For example, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope according to the Mental Health Foundation.
Having been thrown in the deep end to work remotely just over one year ago, the cracks are clearly starting to show and the effects on people’s mental health is undeniable. But there does appear to be a divide emerging between employees and employers when it comes to using the word ‘burnout’. It has negative connotations for employers in that it is suggestive of overworked employees. In this article, we draw a line under this common misconception, offer guidance on how you can eliminate the risks of burn out and explain what to do if you think you’re noticing tell-tale signs that an employee may be suffering from burnout.
First and foremost, let’s try and get to the bottom of what ‘burnout’ really is. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now officially recognised it as an occupational condition (it is not classified as a medical condition), describing it as a ‘syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. The WHO goes on to cite the following ‘dimensions’ that characterise the condition:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout Red Flags:
- Increased Sensitivity
Are your employees suddenly sensitive to minor critique or feedback? Have you noticed that they appear upset frequently over extra workload? If so, it might be time to arrange a one-to-one chat about personal or work matters to get to the bottom of it.
- Low mood or lack of engagement
It’s important to be aware of how your employees are engaging together. If you notice an employee is particularly quiet within a virtual meeting or call, they could be struggling.
- Not taking time off when sick
Usually, if an employee was feeling unwell, you would expect them to call in sick. If you notice employees are continuing to work whilst not feeling 100%, it’s important to reassure them that they should follow the same protocol. It can be easy to let things slide, but continuing to work from home whilst unwell can build up unnecessary resentment between you and your employee.
- Lack of boundaries
Whilst adapting to the new normal of flexible/remote working, it has been easy for employees to inadvertently work overtime. The lines that once clearly separated work and home have been blurred. With more access to / use of work-related Instant Messaging (IM), employers have a greater responsibility to ensure this line isn’t overstepped. By encouraging employees to keep to their pre-COVID working hours (assuming those hours haven’t been subject to contractual variation in the meantime) and keeping out of hours messaging to a minimum (if not completely eliminating them), you can demonstrate understanding and support. According to Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Mind UK, “Those who invest in staff wellbeing typically report increased staff morale and productivity as well as reduced sickness absence and turnover”.
It is important to note that as an employer, you do have a common law duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of your employees, with this duty covering both their mental and physical wellbeing. In this regard, you must take positive steps to ensure the safety of your employees in the light of the knowledge that you either have or ought to have. When it comes to burnout, although the WHO labels the condition occupational as opposed to medical, you should still be mindful of symptoms associated with it, such as depression, anxiety and stress. These can render an employee a ‘disabled person’ under the Equality Act 2010. Where this is the case, employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, including those who are experiencing mental health problems.
If you would like any further guidance on how you can support workers whilst working from home, please refer to our home working policy here. Alternatively, please get in touch with one of our team and we will be able to offer bespoke advice depending on your circumstances.