The average British adult feels stressed for eight days each month, CIPHR research shows. That amounts to around three months each year. Reports of work burnout among UK employees have hit a record high in 2022, almost doubling since 2021.
Keep reading to learn:
- Why work burnout is a bigger problem for most UK organisations today than it’s ever been
- Why burnout has such devastating consequences both for the employees involved and the organisation
- How to manage employee burnout with 60 practical tools and strategies
The UK's work burnout epidemic
The World Health Organisation classifies burnout as an occupational syndrome ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’.
It has three major characteristics:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance at work, or feelings of negativity or cynicism
- Reduced professional efficacy
Employee burnout isn’t a new phenomenon – but it’s becoming an increasingly common one. COVID-19 hurt UK workers’ mental health more than other European countries – and our 2021 employee burnout report found 67% of employees are more burned out now than before the pandemic.
Increasing workloads are a major culprit. The UK already stacked up poorly compared to the rest of Europe, with full-time employees in Britain working more than the EU average by two hours a week – the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks’ a year. (And despite these longer hours, UK workers remain less productive than most European counterparts).
But since the pandemic, these figures have increased further. Now, one in ten employees work at least 20 hours a week overtime.
Remote working also plays an important role. A recent study conducted by Westfield Health found that 50% of employees working from home feel at-risk from burnout, compared to 41% of employees working from the office. That’s a difference of 22%. (A positive tipping point in the return to the office debate, perhaps?)
Then there’s the impact of declining financial wellbeing, as UK inflation hits record heights. People Management report that more than two-thirds of workers have felt stressed, anxious, or depressed as a result of their financial situation, piling more pressure onto employees.
Why action to reduce burnout is critical
Employee burnout is a major problem that needs urgent support from leaders. Mental Health UK report that only 23% of UK workers say their workplace have a plan to manage burnout.
That’s a problem for a host of reasons:
- Absenteeism. Employee burnout is a major driver of absenteeism, with 29% of employees having taken sick leave because they were tired (17%) or stressed (12%).
- Turnover. Burnout feeds into the Great Resignation. People analytics leader Visier report that 79% of UK workers are considering leaving their job due to burnout.
- Employee engagement. Burnout is a major factor impacting employee engagement, which is already lower in the UK than the rest of the world.
- Motivation. Many theories of employee motivation outline the importance of meeting fundamental needs like protecting employees from stress and exhaustion.
- Productivity. Employees who feel burned out are often less productive, costing the business big in concrete performance terms. £56 billion each year big, in the UK. Mental Health UK say addressing wellbeing at work increases productivity by as much as 12%.
Helping employees foster positive mental health at work has a tangible impact, not only on HR outcomes, but on businesses. How to better burnout support, then, is a major question and challenge for today’s business leaders. Let’s talk about how to do so.
How to spot burnout in employees
Aviva’s Dr Doug Wright shares seven signs of burnout you can look for across your workforce:
- Working longer hours
- Too many priorities
- Lack of participation
- Negative attitude
- Making mistakes
- Difficulty concentrating
Burnout can sometimes be difficult to put your finger on, but spotting the signs means being alert to changes in employee attitude and behaviour. That means the people best placed to spot burnout are typically colleagues and managers – the people on the frontlines, working alongside one another every day.
An important part of preventing burnout is upskilling managers with better awareness and sensitivity around employee wellbeing, and better support to have sometimes-difficult conversations.
How to manage employee burnout: 60 ideas
Prioritise mental health:
- Offer counselling and confidential support services
- Facilitate forums and employee support groups
- Support employees to take mental health days if needed
- Encourage leaders to set an example by discussing mental health openly
- Provide mental health awareness training for everyone
- Appoint mental health representatives or champions
- Invest in employee listening tools to surface issues
- Consider people analytics to better understand your workforce
- Host talks around nutrition, mindfulness, and so on
- Provide healthy meals and snacks
- Offer kitchen facilities from the office
- Offer self-care vouchers as part of your rewards programme
- Consider walking meetings
- Subsidise gym and fitness subscriptions
- Help employees embrace your Cycle to Work scheme
- Discourage employees from eating lunch at their desk
- Provide meditation and mindfulness platforms
- Support employees experiencing health challenges and life changes
Create a positive office environment:
- Offer workplace massages
- Create a dedicated quiet space
- Populate your office with plenty of plants
- Create a break area with books and games
- Play employee-chosen music
- Assess your lighting
- Promote natural light wherever possible
- Encourage employees to declutter
- Invest in ergonomics in the office
- Provide ergonomic home-office equipment
- Think about temperature
Support positive time management:
- Encourage work flexibility
- Consider a four-day working week
- Encourage employees to take micro-breaks
- Encourage employees to use their holiday allowance
- Introduce a meeting-free day
- Reduce the number of meetings
- Encourage employees to leave on time
- Encourage leaders to set a positive example of working hours
- Discourage employees from being available out of hours
- Coach employees to audit their time
- Prompt managers to evaluate goal-setting processes
Facilitate strong workplace relationships:
- Create and support employee groups
- Support employee-led internal communications channels
- Set aside budget for team building
- Build a mentoring programme
- Build a strong roster of inclusive company social activities
- Encourage peer-to-peer recognition
- Ensure meetings give everyone a chance to share
- Encourage cross-functional projects
- Support remote networking and remote workers
- Offer great onboarding and remote onboarding
- Nurture your managers’ people leadership skills
Provide financial support:
- Provide a financial wellness programme
- Give employees access to a trusted financial advisor
- Provide a financial health check for employees
- Integrate cashback and financial incentives into your rewards programme
- Subsidise energy-efficient choices
- Evaluate your pay equity and pay structures
- Consider increasing wages
- Increase pension contributions and incentives to save
- Evaluate your pension scheme to ensure it's competitive
As is so often the case, prevention is the best cure for employee burnout. Integrating some of these ideas into your workplace wellness programme can help build resilience, manage stress, and go some way towards preventing work burnout before it spirals.