Are you feeling over-tired and uninspired? Irritable, unhappy, and finding it harder and harder to concentrate at work? If so, you may be suffering from employee burnout, and you’re not alone.
A new survey suggests that the average age of career burnout is 32, and that’s likely to go down as almost 60% of younger, Gen-Z employees report feeling worn down already by an ‘always on’ work culture.
What is burnout?
Burnout is ‘a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity’. It is not a medical diagnosis, but it can closely resemble other mental health issues such as depression.
The term was first coined in 1974 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, but has become an increasingly recognised and serious issue over the last few years.
According to a report by Gallup in 2018, the five most common causes of burnout at work are:
- Unfair treatment (such as bias, favouritism, or unfair corporate policies)
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from a manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
How has working from home affected employee burnout?
The stresses of a global pandemic and the pressure of working from home with a blurred work-home divide have exacerbated the problem of employee burnout.
Regardless of stress levels, some basic mental wellbeing tips for homeworkers include:
- Keep to your pre-lockdown morning routine
- Create a dedicated workspace (and NEVER working from your bed, as tempting as it is!)
- Make time for personal connection, especially if you live alone
- Get moving – even a short walk or five minutes of stretching will help get your blood flowing and lift your mood
How to tell if you or a teammate might be suffering from burnout?
It can be easy to miss the signs of burnout, or to attribute them to something else, but there are a few giveaways to look out for.
- Difficulty concentrating or a feeling of brain fog
- Tiredness and headaches, or exhaustion
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling irritable or impatient with colleagues or clients
- A lack of satisfaction in your achievements
Spotting the signs in a friend or a co-worker can be even trickier. These are some warning signs:
- Reduced performance and productivity
- Becoming detached
- Expressing negative attitudes
- Reduced commitment to their role
- Becoming cynical about their role and the company
- Increased frustration
- Mentioning tiredness and headaches
How can you support your team to avoid burnout?
If you’re responsible for leading a team of people, it’s important to be alert to the signs of employee burnout and take action to prevent it. Here are some simple ways to protect your employees’ mental wellbeing:
Flexibility, trust, and policy (mental health days)
Working from home is far from business as usual for many people, but it looks like it’s here to stay. With that in mind, it pays to be a little flexible with your employees, and to trust them to get their work done around the stresses and commitment of home life.
There has been a lot of press around the rising popularity of employee monitoring software, apparently due to employers’ concerns that employees are slacking while working from home. However, if you are fair with your team and considerate of their needs, you shouldn’t need to worry about their commitment to the company.
You could even take a radically different approach and let your team manage their own schedules. Encourage team members to be open about times they won’t be in the office, to avoid confusion, and check in with them about their progress on a regular, scheduled basis rather than expecting them to be ‘on’ at all times.
Consider writing a Mental Health Day policy into your sickness policy, allowing employees to take a day for self-care before they reach the point of burnout. This may seem unusual, but with 62% of employees reporting that work was a contributing factor to their poor mental health, and 50% of employees stating that they would not discuss a mental health issue with a line manager, providing mental health support as a policy could help your team more than you realise.
Encourage your team to set boundaries between their work life and personal life. You may have previously imagined that working from home meant late mornings, long coffee breaks, and Netflix on in the background. But the reality is that most people are actually working longer hours as the lines between work and home become ever more blurred.
Avoid sending work-related emails or Slack messages that your team may feel obliged to answer out of office hours. Likewise, encourage employees to turn off notifications or log out of their work emails when they finish work for the day, and to set out-of-office messages at times when they will be unavailable.
Setting clear boundaries between your working day and your personal life helps maintain a sense of normality in your day and reduces the likelihood of exhaustion from overwork.
Studies of loneliness have shown that ‘losing a sense of connection and community changes a person’s perception of the world’. People experiencing loneliness are more likely to feel threatened and mistrustful of other people.
As we lose out on the everyday social interactions that are part of office life – the stopping by a colleagues desk to ‘pick their brains’, the five minutes of personal chat while the kettle boils, the ‘how was your weekend’ on a Monday morning – your team may be feeling more isolated, stressed, and defensive than ever.
Encourage social interaction, but don’t make it compulsory. Create a Slack channel with a fun name where people can post personal interactions and updates. Get creative with gifs and give everyone a bit of a laugh. Get the conversation going yourself and let people know that if they don’t want to share personal updates to the whole office, then your inbox is always open, and you’re always happy to hear from them.
Your team are probably fed up with virtual quizzes by now, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on regular social interactions. Try to organise one social call a month, even if it is just for a quick catch-up and a drink on a Friday night. Working from home is even an opportunity for teammates who wouldn’t normally interact to get to know each other better. Donut.com have a series of virtual connection programs to introduce team members for virtual coffees and conversation!
Defining Goals and Priorities
Studies show that there is a significant correlation between role ambiguity and depression. In a time of global uncertainty, don’t add to your employees’ anxiety with unclear priorities and deadlines. The Harvard Business Review suggest that, in their desire to appear productive while working from home, employees may focus their attention on ‘immediate’ tasks rather than ‘important’ ones.
Help your team avoid this by clearly laying out the company’s goals for the next few months and highlighting priority areas. Encourage your team to let you know if they are needing extra support and ensure that they are never met with criticism or judgment if they do reach out.
Encouraging Personal Development
For many people, learning a new skill can be a highly motivating task and can spark new creativity and enthusiasm for their role. While your company may not have the budget for expensive courses or team development programs at the moment, there are many free and affordable online resources for learning.
Encourage your team to take some team each week purely for learning, whether that’s an online course, a webinar, a workshop, or even a volunteering activity! (Volunteering is a great tool for personal development – read more about it here)
This recent article from Forbes discusses the link between prosocial behaviour and positive mental health. Simply put, people who help others are generally happier than those who don’t.
There are also numerous studies showing a link between volunteering and mental and physical health benefits. It has even been said to help you live longer! Over the course of this year, tens of thousands of people have volunteered to support their neighbours and communities through the thick of the crisis, and this shouldn’t stop as we begin to return to work and try to build a sense of normality around us.
With over 71% of employee volunteers reporting improvements to their mental health and wellbeing, employers should not underestimate the impact that employer-supported volunteering could have on their team.
Be flexible with how you approach your volunteering policy. Giving your employees even a couple of hours a month to take part in virtual volunteering or get involved with a charity of their choice can, and will, make a difference to team morale and motivation.
What next to avoid employee burnout?
Burnout is a real and serious problem, but it can be managed, and, most importantly, prevented. Being extra mindful of your team’s workloads, boundaries, and personal development, and encouraging open and honest conversation are simple and straightforward ways to support your team while working from home or in the office and how to avoid employee burnout.
If you want to know more about how Social Good Connect can help you support your team’s mental and emotional wellbeing through employee volunteering, please get in touch with us, or join our mailing list for updates!