How to support yourself and your team during the burnout crisis
When 52% of your employees tell you they’re suffering from burnout, you’ve got a problem.
The online job search company, Indeed, recently carried out a survey of 1500 workers around the US and found that more than 50% of respondents reported feeling burned out, with more than two thirds reporting that burnout had increased over the course of the pandemic.
And it’s unsurprising really, the pandemic has turned our work-life upside down. The lines between work and home life have been blurred, we have the ability to work any time (and we do!), we’re trying to homeschool our kids while doing our job, we’ve lost connection with coworkers, we’re more glued to our screens than ever before and everywhere we turn we’re bombarded with anxiety provoking news: from the pandemic to climate to change. It’s the perfect storm for burnout.
Those working virtually are more likely (67%) to report that burnout has increased during the pandemic than those still working on site.
So let’s have a look at what Burnout actually is, who is most at risk, and what we can do – at an organisational level and personally to reduce the risk.
What exactly is burnout and who is at risk?
Defined as a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion caused by long term or repeated exposure to stress, burnout can show up in all areas of our life, but it’s commonly related to work.
Job burnout can result from various factors, including heavy workload and long hours, lack of control over key aspects of the job, lack of resources required to do the work, unclear job expectations or dysfunctional workplace dynamics.
It’s prevalent in workplaces where long stretches of high energy are required or where monotonous tasks are commonplace. It’s also disproportionately reported by those in caring professions such as doctors, nurses, carers and other frontline workers, including those in emergency services.
But the reality is, we’re all at risk, and the aforementioned survey found that burnout is rampant across all industries, levels of experience and demographics. And while millennials seem to be the hardest hit, in fact it impacts all age groups indiscriminately.
Fifty-three percent of employees are working longer hours, making unplugging that much harder.
Signs you or your team could be suffering from burnout
What does burnout actually look like? Everyone experiences burnout differently but some red flags signalling that you or your team could be struggling include:
- Struggling to stay focused or concentrate
- Depression, cynicism, lethargy and low motivation
- Irritability with co-workers or customers
- Dragging yourself to work, having trouble getting started or feeling unproductive
- Self medicating with alcohol or other drugs
- Sleep issues and physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems
How can we tackle burnout at a personal and organisational level?
When it comes to handling job burnout, the good news is that there are lots of things you can do about it, both as an individual and an organisation.
In the workplace, mindfulness and mental fitness training has been proven to reduce employee burnout. A 2020 Meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials on mindfulness-based workplace interventions found that workplace mindfulness programs not only reduce burnout and stress, but also improved employee wellbeing, compassion and job satisfaction.
Research shows that workplace mindfulness and wellbeing programs significantly reduce the cost to a business associated with burnout and attrition. Put simply, it actually pays to look after your team. With mindfulness training we build mental resilience, self awareness, the ability to manage stress and wind down, increasing focus so that we can manage our time better – it’s like exercise for the brain and can provide relief for our nervous system, calming the mind and relaxing the body.
Another simple strategy is to simply introduce short breaks throughout the day. A recent Microsoft study looked at two groups. One went to back-to-back meetings, while the other group took 5 minute breaks between meetings to use a meditation app. The results showed a decrease in beta brain waves associated with stress and an increase in the ability to focus in the group that were allowed breaks.
Short breaks allow the brain to reset, reboot and recharge, reducing the accumulation of stress across meetings and increasing your ability to focus and engage better. You’re better able to transition between meetings and feel less exhausted by the end of the day.
At an organisational level, setting policies that help keep work at work can help protect your team from burnout. France has taken the lead here with their “right to disconnect” law, whereby workplaces are prohibited from expecting their workers to take calls or read work-related emails outside of work hours. Closer to home, the Victorian Police have also won the right to disconnect and it’s now prohibited for them to be contacted outside of work hours except in case of emergency.
Other things you can do, as an individual, to prevent burnout:
- Know that it’s ok to practice self-care and prioritize your mental health and wellbeing
- Discuss the options with your manager and try to find solutions and compromises, like adjusting schedules and deadlines, and arrange for some PTO
- Stay connected to family, friends and colleagues
- Physical activities like exercise, yoga or walking, or getting outside in nature for some sun and fresh air
- Prioritize quality sleep and a healthy diet
- Improve your work-life balance, ensuring you set boundaries between work and home life
- If you continue having challenges, don’t be afraid to have a chat with your GP about getting some help from a mental health professional.
- Remember to be kind to yourself
More ways organisations can help prevent staff burnout:
- Be proactive with implementing mindfulness and mental fitness training into your workplace
- Help structure the workday to support your team’s wellbeing, setting policies around breaks between meetings and work hours
- Be more flexible with scheduling and allowing PTO
- Encourage better work/life balance. Reassure staff that it’s okay to have other priorities outside of work and to take breaks when they need to
- Restrict work communications after hours and during holidays
- Make sure managers are modeling positive behaviors such as appropriate work hours, not emailing after hours, taking breaks – and that your workplace culture supports it.
- Investigate the trend towards the 4 day work week, which was trialled in Iceland with impressive results. The Good Place recently helped one business in Brisbane transition to a 4 day work week using mindful practices, which saw an increase in productivity, profits and happiness along the way.
In today’s world of remote and hybrid work, we all need to be proactive in looking after our mental health. Companies and leaders need to think long-term and address the burnout epidemic by encouraging staff to take more mental breaks and to set boundaries around work and home life. Doing so will not only protect the emotional wellbeing of employees and teams, it will also improve productivity and performance, increase staff retention rates, and ultimately benefit the bottom line by reducing absenteeism and presenteeism. It’s a no brainer.