Burnout - what’s driving it?

Dec 21, 2022
Burnout - what’s driving it?

While burnout was widespread before the pandemic, the new pressure to return to the office, and the new business landscape has exacerbated the problem  to serious levels.

Burnout is also killing people. Last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation reported that working extensive hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016 . This was a 29% increase from 2000. It’s assumed it’s only going to increase as the pandemic blurred the lines between work and home, which for many, means more hours, and higher risk of premature death.

It’s dramatic, sure, but it’s real, and the growing problem has serious implications for workers and businesses. It will also stress our already stretched healthcare system, adversely affect our economy, and at ground level, impact the lives of many families.

Long work hours aren’t the only contributors; increased workloads, lack of job satisfaction, unrealistic and unclear expectations, insufficient resources, lack of inclusion and recognition, and toxic work environment are all drivers of the problem.

Exhaustion, disharmony, and poor performance are some of the results.

We have all witnessed the decline of the Australian economy; the healthcare system is unable to cope, there are either long waiting times or limited access to mental health support, a backlog in the legal system for those taking that direction, and there’s an urgent, universal need to make substantial changes for the better.

It’s not just in Australia, people across the world are experiencing the same. The Great Resignation experience is just one example of people voicing that enough is ENOUGH.

What’s alarming moreover, is that in a recent survey, 75% of Australian workers indicated they are avoiding taking annual leave due to the cost-of-living pressures and demanding workloads. However, that's just what they need.

Consider too that almost 25% of employees have accrued more than their annual leave entitlement, which means businesses are not only risking millions in leave liability, but increasing their risk of psychological workplace injuries, and poor performance due to exhausted staff. People’s coping mechanisms and resilience reserves are tanked.

The ELMO Employee Sentiment Index also reports that   , and confirms that figure is expected to rise.

Employers need to proactively address employee mental and physical well-being , and provide employees with a work environment that fosters positive mental health, where tangible support is put in place to prevent and reduce the impact of burnout.

It’s too late when a crisis occurs. Taking accountability, and offering structured support and a healthy and robust, inclusive culture is critical. Businesses that fail to act risk the business , and more critically, their people.

Some examples of ways businesses can take a proactive approach to reduce and manage burnout include:

  • Regular check-ins with employees. Human-to-human is what people need, not the hierarchical or mandatory approach.
  • Implement flexible work hours. Consider the individual and their situation, be respectful, and have boundaries in place for the work schedule, to clarify that professional/personal line and to create understanding from both sides that it’s adhered to.
  • Consideration of that healthy work/life balance. Is there room for a well-being program to promote mindfulness, and time out etc? Can excessive hours be avoided, even in times of crisis?
  • Providing resources for mental health support, and tangible tools that employees can access at work and at home.
  • Promoting an open culture, to enable discussions around burnout and mental health. Emotional intelligence is a critical part of leadership today, to enable employees to be vulnerable and share their concerns and feelings. Safety to enable that without repercussions is vital for an open and healthy workplace culture.
  • Enablement of  a collaborative workplace, where employees can be heard, where everyone has a part to play in the success of the business. You would be pleasantly surprised by the number of innovative ideas that come from employees who  are facing the challenges directly.

The time for change is now.

Employers need to commit to tackling workplace burnout, which starts by creating an environment of trust and respect. It is only through taking proactive steps that we can help reduce the risk of psychological injuries in the workplace and create a better future for employees who are no longer overwhelmed and exhausted.