In 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised ‘burnout’ as an occupational phenomenon resulting from poorly managed chronic workplace stress (11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)). And their timing couldn’t have been better, given the challenges the next few years would bring (a global pandemic, cross-border political conflicts, domestic economic turmoil to name but a few). A recent study by Glassdoor’s economic researchers, for example, revealed that reports of burnout among British workers increased by 48% to record levels between 2021 and 2022.
So what is burnout? It’s excessive stress that continues unabated without relief or respite until it simply gets too much. Imagine you’re working on a big project. You might feel nervous and anxious in the lead up to its completion. Your sleep might be affected and your appetite might be off. Perfectly normal, right? An issue arises however, if those feelings continue after the project’s completed and are then compounded as you take on more projects and more stress without a break.
So, what happens when someone’s burning out? Often they’ll begin relying more heavily than usual on bad habits (think drinking a little more than we know is good for us or giving into our sugar cravings at will). They might experience extreme fatigue, but lack the motivation to do something about it, like getting out for a walk or participating in their normal exercise regime. Their work performance may begin to deteriorate, leaving them doubting their abilities and they might feel cynical about their work, believing it has no meaning or merit. And this will only get worse the longer a state of burnout persists, often resulting in significant harm to physical and/or and mental health and extended absences from work.
As to what causes burnout, there are plenty of triggers to choose from. For some it’s their perfectionist tendencies or feelings of imposter syndrome which push them to overdo it. For others, it’s a mismatch between their values and those of their organisation. For most however, it comes down to issues within their employer organisation – unmanageable workloads, unrealistic time pressures, lack of management support, etc. The results of Ceridian’s annual 2022 Pulse of Talent report supported this, revealing that the top three catalysts for burnout are increased workloads (49%), mental health challenges (34%) and pressure to meet deadlines (32%).
In response to increasing rates of burnout, we’ve seen the rise of trends such as ‘quiet quitting’ – the Tik Tok resistance movement calling on workers to do only the essentials of their role, declining to take on extra duties or join in with extra-curricular activities. The problem with movements such as quiet quitting however, is that it appears to accept excessive overwork as the norm and encourages participants to give up on some of the most important and fulfilling aspects of work, such as participating in social activities, recognising colleagues’ birthdays and significant life events and contributing to workplace culture.
A better solution is to be found in prioritising mental health and wellbeing, both at the individual and organisational level, as recognised by the theme adopted for Mental Health for this year’s World Mental Health Day – ‘making mental health for all a global priority’.
And there are plenty of practical ways in which we can start to prioritise mental health and wellbeing. As individuals, we can acknowledge the importance of self-care and specifically book it into our weekly calendars, without feeling ‘selfish’ or ‘lazy’. Even when it feels like the last thing we want to do, we can recognise the value of moving our bodies and build some form of exercise or movement it into our daily routines. And when we need to, we can and should turn to the experts, whether through counselling support or another form of external intervention.
But it’s not fair to place the onus solely on individuals, particularly where ‘burnout’ is concerned. In their recent polling, for example, Mental Health UK found that, while a fifth of workers feel unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work, only 23% knew what plans their employers had in place to help spot signs of chronic stress and burnout.
So, on World Mental Health Day 2022, Mental Health UK is calling on employers to take a first step on the road to making mental health a priority by recommending they engage in ‘Power Hour’ activities – lunch and learns, reflection time and team building activities all good suggestions. As a first step, activities such as these help to demonstrate that mental health and wellbeing are on an employer’s agenda, will be taken seriously and won’t be stigmatised and can spark dialogue within the workplace about the wider support that could be established.
The benefits of investing in mental health and wellbeing at an organisational level are many and include enhanced brand reputation, better talent acquisition and retention and a boost to the bottom line. And given the impact burnout has already had on the UK workforce (49% of UK workers feel more prone to extreme levels of stress now than in 2020 – Mental Health UK) and the ongoing challenges employees are likely to face, both in and outside of work, it’s a no-brainer.
Loch Associates Group can work with you to provide mental health and wellbeing services tailored to the needs of your organisation, including Mental Health First Aid training, staff wellbeing workshops, stress and wellbeing policies and health and safety reviews and support. You can contact Loch Associates Group by emailing [email protected].