How to support employees with ‘nothing left in the tank’
Following the announcement New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern is to step down from her role in early February as she ‘no longer had enough in the tank’ to do the job, Emma Capper, UK Wellbeing Leader at Howden Employee Wellbeing and Benefits, offers advice on how employers can tackle ‘burnout’.
The Health and Safety Executive reported that 17.0 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2021/22. Stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of working days were lost due to work-related ill health in 2021/22.
Emma Capper said: “Jacinda Ardern’s resignation is a reflection of our times, but you don’t need to be in a high profile role to have been affected by the challenges of the job. The pandemic years raised stress levels for many people and now the cost of living crisis is adding additional pressure.
“Employee burnout is a real concern for organisations, but with many organisations also struggling because of the economic environment, it can be a fine balance between keeping productivity high whilst avoiding employee burnout. However, having a workforce that is physically and mentally well is essential for a company’s performance. It is widely recognised that your people are your most important asset so if employees are struggling with burnout this could lead to extended sick leave and low morale which may affect their colleagues and will most certainly affect productivity.
“Being able to spot employees suffering from poor mental health and putting the right interventions in place early is essential to prevent issues from escalating.”
Signs of burnout include increased frustration or indifference towards work, irritability; anger, sarcasm, or being argumentative and being withdrawn and tearful. Also higher levels of absence, a reduction in the desire to learn and develop, and/or an uncharacteristic increase in errors with a general drop in overall performance.
Most jobs involve some levels of stress, but when the impacts are compounded by lack of support and resources, tight deadlines and long hours, burnout can be the result.
Emma said: “Burnout is a part of a wider issue of mental wellbeing in the workplace, so having a robust mental health policy in place is vital. Also ensure that you have regular conversations about mental health and highlight what support is available. Taking a proactive approach can help to remove the stigma.”
Emma offers the following top tips to help employers tackle burnout:
Invest in line manager training – managers are the first line of defence and training them to spot the early signs is imperative.
Speak to the affected employee – find out more about the reasons behind the burnout. It could be related to the workplace (volumes, pressures, prioritisation), home life (having young children or caring for an elderly relative) or something else. A good understanding of the issues, means that line managers, HR or employers can help.
Train mental health first aiders – dedicated people within the organisation who employees can go to for practical support and advice.
Introduce Wellbeing Action Plans – when a mental health condition is identified set up a plan. This tool allows line managers to help employees – and employees to help themselves.
Offer flexible working – Making reasonable adjustments at work for an employee suffering with their mental health is important and employees have a legal right to ask for changes to be made to their job or workplace. Hybrid, part-time, flexi-time or condensed hours may support a better work-life balance.
Use free resources – there is a wealth of information readily available. For example, the mental health charity, Mind has free resources which can be shared with managers and employees, including guidance for managers on how to support staff experiencing a mental health problem.
Mind and body sessions – introduce sessions on mindfulness, massages or stress management techniques, plus encourage exercise which is a great stress reliever. Discounted gym membership or suggesting activities such as lunchtime walks or company-wide fitness challenges to support team work and collaboration are a great idea. Line Managers could also adopt walking 1-2-1s as a way of supporting physical activity whilst checking in with employees.
Check and promote what’s already available – Critical Illness, Private Medical and Group Income Protection policies often offer a range of services that provide mental health support for employees when they need it most. Most also offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) which are designed to support the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of employees, that include telephone and often face-to-face counselling.
Howden have created a free guide, ‘Spotting the signs of employee burnout and what to do about it’.