Imagine that one of your employees tells you they want to take time off work. And the reason? They’re tired, stressed, and demotivated at work. They just feel burnt out. You’re a good boss, so you’re sympathetic and understanding. But feeling burnt out is just part of life sometimes, isn’t it? It’s not quite that simple.
Business burnout risks
In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added burnout to the International Classification of Diseases, which means that it will become a globally recognised medical condition as of 2020. It’s the first time that burnout has been classified as a medical condition by a health body, so it’s big news. And that’s not all. The WHO states, “Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” Translation? Burnout is a direct effect of stress in the workplace. And nowhere else. So you need to make sure you know how to deal with it, or you could be putting your people and your business at risk.
What is burnout?
First off, don’t get burnout confused with everyday stress. Yes, there will be stressful moments in business, but they should be short-lived. Burnout is different. And much more serious. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress at work. It doesn’t happen overnight. When someone feels overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands, the stress will build up and begin to take its toll on their wellbeing. Eventually, they begin to lose interest and motivation in their job role, and will feel like they can’t continue with work. They’ve reached burnout.
What does this mean for you?
The WHO defines burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This means that the onus is on you, the employer, to manage burnout in your workplace. If you don’t, you could find yourself facing poor productivity, staff shortages, or even a costly tribunal claim… So, what can you do?
1. Watch for warning signs
When it comes to burnout, prevention is better than cure. If you can spot when an employee is struggling, you have a much better chance of reducing burnout altogether. Here are some of the signs that an employee is in danger of burnout:
- Sudden change in mood
- Drop in performance levels
- Uncharacteristic behaviour
- Reduced energy and efficiency
- Decreased motivation
- Lack of concentration
- Irritability and frustration
2. Reduce the stigma
It can feel difficult to discuss mental health matters in the workplace, but making sure staff know it’s not taboo can encourage people to speak up when they need support. Promote open communication. Run a mental health awareness or wellbeing day, if you can. Let staff know about local support groups. And tell your employees about the symptoms of burnout, so they can spot it, too.
3. Manage workloads
Make sure workloads are shared evenly, deadlines are reasonable, and that staff aren’t juggling lots of different tasks at the same time. Business can be busy, fast-paced, and high-pressured, but workloads should still be manageable. Achieving your business’s goals is a team effort, and staff should feel comfortable taking a day off work from time to time without worrying about who will handle their workload while they’re gone.
4. Introduce mental health first aiders
Getting expert mental health first aid training is a great way to help deal with mental health issues in the workplace. Maybe a couple of your employees would like to get the qualification? Let’s be honest, people don’t always want to speak to the boss if they’re struggling with their workload. Being able to turn to a trusted and qualified person can offer employees reassurance that they don’t have to battle with burnout alone.
The cost of employee burnout
While the wellbeing of your employees should always be a top priority, you need to think about the impact that burnout has on your business, too. Burnt out employees might go on extended sick leave, which could leave you short-staffed, and if they remain in work they’ll be less productive in their positions. Low morale and motivation is also contagious—it’s likely that they’ll affect the people around them with their behaviour.
Protect your business with policies
You might also want to review any workplace policies on mental health to make sure they’re fit for purpose, and include burnout where necessary. Because failing to address burnout could lead to claims of disability discrimination… If an employee can show that burnout has affected their ability to carry out day-to-day activities, they could make a claim against you—but hopefully it won’t come to that. Get the appropriate framework in place now and make sure you’re protected against any costly tribunal proceedings. Need help writing a workplace policy for burnout? Our HR experts are on hand 24/7 to answer all of your queries. Call today on 0800 028 2420.