It’s no secret that UK workers are vulnerable to burnout, a form of exhaustion and stress that causes mental and physical health problems resulting in an inability to work. Everyone has a different level of pressure that they can cope with, so it can be difficult to identify when things are going wrong for any one individual.
Burnout will continue to grow in industrialised countries until corporations decide to recognise this as a workplace issue, as much as a personal one, and commit to finding sustainable solutions. In many cases, the numbers affected will be disguised as resignation for personal reasons, extended sabbatical, early retirement or even premature heart attack. However, the fact remains that in the UK 1 in 3 workers are at risk of burnout (Willis Towers Watson), and we spend billions each year in sick pay alone, so what is stopping more UK corporations taking this seriously?
The problem is that in industry, generally, we are not willing to change a system that has worked well in the past. This is great until the status quo shifts direction and suddenly the old systems are no longer effective or sustainable. It’s time to get our collective heads together as a business community, and find workable, actionable solutions and committing to pro-actively building Resilience is a key step towards improving the system.
How do we prevent getting to the point of burnout? Pressure at work, home or in education is never going to stop, so the answer lies in learning how to deal with it. The term ‘Resilience’ is a hot topic at the moment. Resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks. It’s the ability to ‘Bounce-Back’, no matter how difficult the challenge.
Some people are more naturally resilient than others, but Resilience is a skill that can, and should, be learnt by everyone to prevent burnout and create more engaged, productive and happier people. In our fast-paced lives change is the new norm and Resilience is the new skill!
Signs and Symptoms
The signs of burnout are many and may differ from person to person. However, if you or someone in your workforce, family or team is suffering any of the symptoms below, now is the time to act.
- Maintaining a fast pace at work and at home with little or no downtime
- Disrupted sleep and/or a reduced ability to relax
- Loss of clear thinking and ability to focus
- Depleted confidence in social situations
- Expressing negative emotions such as anger and frustration
- More prone to distractions and mistakes
- Contracting more colds and infections (reduced immunity)
- Making lifestyle choices that are unhelpful in the long run in order to feel better in the short term
- Believing there is little time in your schedule for enjoyable activities
- Feeling tired and a lack of energy
- Difficulty in remaining calm or focused under pressure
- Diminished capacity to Bounce-Back after a pressurised or challenging situation
- Knowing that if nothing changes 2 years from now that would not be good
The Costs if we Don’t Stop
If we don’t stop burnout, the human and business costs are high. Not only do we put people’s health at risk, damaging family life, the cost to UK business is reportedly £26 billion per year, rising further when dealing with high-achieving and senior staff!
There is also the matter of ‘presenteeism’ to factor in, the practice of being at work when sick and unproductive. Many workers fear admitting to having mental health problems and therefore turn up to work as usual, even if they struggle to cope with basic day-to-day tasks. This can affect wider team morale.
The £26 billion annual cost to UK industry equates to an average of £1,000 per working employee. I believe on Mental Health Awareness Week – UK business Leaders – should be asking themselves; ‘ do we need to be braver as Leaders – to recognise and accept that employee wellbeing is a topic that needs urgent and sustained action – and be open and honest?
Considering Resilience and Wellbeing Audits
Stress and burnout is a leading cause of ill health, work absence and spiralling healthcare costs in both the NHS and private sector. Research conducted by The Health and Safety Executive showed 11 million work days were lost in 2018 due to stress. The real figure could be even higher as many people won’t attribute absence to stress for fear of being stigmatised or jeopardising job security.
All employers want fully engaged staff performing at their peak and ready to face challenges when the going gets tough. But do you know the scale of stress in your own workforce? How would you feel about asking in your employees via opinion surveys? Would you introduce a specific measure such as a stress audit?
A degree of pressure can be described as enjoyable or motivational for some, but stress is bad news for all of us when it is not properly managed. Anyone who has suffered chronic stress and the resulting physical conditions will be aware how debilitating it can be. It affects our ability to think clearly, our memory, and or course our lifestyle. For business it reduces the aspect of performance where we can think creatively, problem solve effectively and punch above our weight. Lowering workforce Resilience prevents high performance and innovative solutions.
We asked a previous HR Director if there was a growing awareness within large corporations of the importance of personal Resilience among the workforce and they replied:
“Trying to tackle personal Resilience on its own is new. People focus on giving Managers skills and techniques for performing well, but it’s all about how we do our jobs better rather than focusing on the individual. So, the idea about personal Resilience is not new but it doesn’t fit one of the traditional interventions. When we’ve got a problem, we reach out for a solution. But trying to prevent a problem or just enhance performance is not common.’
Despite the direct costs to business, not enough companies have a budget to support stress prevention programs for staff. Work related stress is often only measured retrospectively once the damage is felt on the bottom line. However, we are seeing that the return on investment for preventative Resilience programs, although hard to measure, is becoming more apparent with each report published.
Patrick Watt, previously Executive Director and Head of Wellness at Goldman Sachs, now Director Corporate, Health & Wellbeing at BUPA, has said that4: “rather than getting caught up on the metrics, happier, healthier, more engaged employees make good business sense.”
Any organisation that recognises workforce Resilience affects productivity and the attraction and retention of key talent, should consider an organisational Resilience audit specific to their working environment. A Resilience audit presents a real opportunity to take a comprehensive view of your organisation’s culture, how it impacts your people’s ability to perform within it, and its ability to respond to market pressures.
When we asked a Senior Director in Financial Services about this experience – “What has the Resilience program helped you do differently?” He said he felt more relaxed in situations that may have previously been a trigger and created some pressure. When asked, “what are some of the results you have achieved?” The response was that he had learnt tools that allowed him to feel more in control, deal with ambiguity and develop a different approach to problems. Energy levels have been higher than normal despite travel and lots of change, which has been particularly useful to provide focus and perform.
In sum, an audit will help dynamic, smart businesses who know there’s more they can do to be their best and are ready to step up and take a deeper look at what will make their environment a better place – in basic terms take action where it is needed. Creating a high-performance mind-set while maintaining health and wellbeing will help to avoid burnout. I hope we can all start to ask these questions of the workplace culture we have, and where we would like it to be to help reduce burnout.
If you would like further information on reducing Burnout and Resilience Audits please do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.