Almost half of UK workers report feelings of being ‘burnt out’ during the first three months of 2022.
This was one of the key findings made by the ELMO Employment Sentiment Index (ESI) which surveyed more than 1,000 UK workers. The index provides a snapshot of employee attitudes and trends.
What does the ESI data tell us?
Nearly half (45%) of UK workers say they felt ‘burnt out’ from January to March 2022. The highest levels were found in Northern Ireland:
- Northern Ireland 61%
- Wales 57%
- Scotland 49%
- England 42%
There was also considerable variation based on age. Younger employees are almost three times more susceptible to feeling ‘burnt out’ than older colleagues:
- Gen Z (18-24) 60%
- Millennials (25-39) 58%
- Gen X (40-59) 38%
- Baby Boomers (60+) 22%
Similarly to this, a third of those surveyed also reported feelings of being ‘overwhelmed’ by work responsibilities.
So, what does it mean to be burnt out?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. It defines it as, “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
It generally occurs when workers experience extended periods of stress or are placed in emotionally or physically draining roles.
Common signs to look out for include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling helpless/trapped
- Feeling detached/alone
- Cynical/negative outlook
- Lack of confidence
- Feeling tired
What are the causes of employee burnout?
Alongside the general risks of workers being overworked and/or overwhelmed, there are some more recent contributory factors:
The impact COVID-19 played on work-life balance
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns began to disrupt the employment landscape. Employees had to adjust to changing roles and shift to more flexible employment structures.
Alongside these changes, people’s ability to ‘recharge’ by travelling abroad has been limited by flight cancellations and restrictions still set in place. ELMO found that only 40% of employees had taken annual leave during the first three months of 2022.
Shifting to remote work
With more than 80% of UK organisations adopting hybrid work, the traditional face-to-face support networks are not always accessible. If a remote worker is feeling overwhelmed, it may not be easy for them to chat about issues or share problems.
How can HR teams protect against burnout?
Burnout is an issue that demands a proactive approach. It’s the basic duty of care that all employers have to protect workers from unreasonable mental or physical stress.
Tackling burnout requires a general ethos throughout an organisation that’s sympathetic, supportive, and cultivates an environment in which concerns can be raised and anxieties shared.
Dr. Amit Sood, Executive Director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing, advises that “Instead of focusing on productivity, focus on purpose, cultivate compassion, and give employees the agency to make decisions.”
Here are some effective strategies to help reduce employee burnout:
Increase burnout awareness
Make employees aware of the problem; covering the potential causes and common signs. Once this has been determined, think about how it can be addressed.
For example, setting up effective training for all employees and offering a clear route of addressing any issues will offer a safe environment for all workers to openly discuss concerns.
Utilise this HR process and follow the necessary steps whenever concerns are raised.
Establish clear boundaries
Ensure clear boundaries are set to separate work and personal life. Set limits on how and when employees can be communicated with – and enforce them.
A simple approach is to switch off work-related communications outside of a person’s normal hours. For French workers, this is a legal right.
Setting boundaries for calls, emails and online contacts is particularly important when working with a global workforce to ensure that multiple timezones are catered for.
Improve the onboarding process
Once you have recruited the right people, make sure that onboarding replicates this.
If you do not invest in adequate starter training this will cause employees to feel overwhelmed and as a result, they will become less productive.
A good onboarding process will ensure workers are ready before taking on responsibilities and understand what is expected of them from the get-go. This sense of security should continue throughout their employment.
For example, if there have been any internal promotions or an employee starts working in a different team – make sure their new job title and responsibilities are clear.
Monitor and manage leave effectively
Make sure that regular leave is taken and monitor when workers are going long periods without any additional time off.
Avoid situations where workers think they can’t take holidays because they have ‘too much to do’ or are worrying about ongoing projects and tasks.
Try to hone in on the positive impacts of taking mandatory annual leave. Think about promoting work benefits accessible to all employees and make sure everyone is up to date with what’s on offer.