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Office burnout – what is it and how can you prevent it?

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By Mike Davis, Head of SME Direct, AXA PPP healthcare

Most people will have felt a certain level of stress at work at some point during their career. Whether that’s due to a big project or workloads, it’s normal to feel pressure at work. However, when this pressure seems unremitting it can lead to making us feel stressed and start to impact all areas of life.

If you or someone in your team is suffering from workplace stress, it can also have a big impact on your business through productivity loss as a result of presenteeism and absenteeism.  According to the Health and Safety Executive, 15.4 million working days were lost due to stress, depression and anxiety in 2017/18 [1].

Office (or workplace) burnout is a frequently discussed topic when it comes to workplace stress. Described as a type of extreme stress, office or workplace burnout manifests itself as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. 

How to identify burnout

It can be difficult to identify burnout at work, particularly if your industry is very fast-paced when it comes to projects and deadlines. However, being able to identify the symptoms of workplace stress or burnout in your team early on can help you to address the situation and work towards alleviating some of the causes of stress.
According to the Mayo Clinic, work burnout symptoms can include [2]:

• Becoming cynical or critical at work
• Becoming irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients
• Lacking energy in order to be consistently productive
• Finding it hard to concentrate
• Lacking satisfaction from achievements
• A change of sleeping habits

Evidence suggests that equipping line managers within your team with the knowledge to be able to identify symptoms of burnout amongst their workforce can be really beneficial. As they’re more likely to work alongside their team on a daily basis, they may be more attuned to any behavioural changes that might lead them to identify that one of their team members is suffering from stress or burnout.

What can cause burnout amongst employees?

There are a number of different factors that can cause burnout at work. As each member of your team is different, it’s likely that some will find certain situations more stressful than others. However, being able to identify potential causes of burnout can help business owners and managers to formulate an action plan in order to minimise potential stressful situations for employees.

According to a survey by Deloitte, the biggest drivers of employee burnout are [3]:

• Lack of support or recognition from leadership (31%)
• Unrealistic deadlines or results expectations (30%)

• Consistently working long hours or on weekends (29%)

How can you prevent burnout within your team?

In order to prevent burnout within your team, there are a number of steps that you can take to ensure better communication, reduce stressful situations and encourage a more positive work environment for your employees.

• Encourage a culture of open dialogue. Ensure that line managers are regularly checking in with their team to find out how they are coping with their workloads and whether they need any additional support from the wider team. This gives employees a chance to discuss any concerns with their manager while also giving manager’s the opportunity to monitor workloads and identify who may need additional help in order to meet deadlines.

• Ensure a positive work life balance. A lack of work life balance can contribute to feelings of burnout for employees, particularly if they’re regularly working long hours during the week and at the weekend. Where possible, there should be a clear distinction between work time and leisure time. This could be encouraged in a number of ways, including ensuring that your team make full use of their annual leave allowance and not emailing them out of normal working hours. If you do need to email them, it could be caveated with the fact that you don’t expect them to reply until they’re back in the office on the next working day.

• Make use of lunch breaks.  When we’re busy working on a project or have deadlines to meet, it can be tempting to work through the lunch hour without taking a break in order to get more work done. However, taking a break during the working day can help you to refocus your mind so you’re more refreshed when you return to the office for the rest of the afternoon. If you notice that someone in your team is regularly eating lunch at their desk, you could also encourage them to take a break.

• Offer flexible or remote working opportunities. Offering employees with the option to work from home could be a positive step towards preventing burnout. According to one survey, 58% of people believe that working away from the office would help them become more motivated [4]. Some people may also struggle with getting to work on time if they have to drop their children off at school or they have a long commute to the office. If your business allows for it, you could offer the option of flexible working hours to your team in order to encourage a more positive work life balance.

• Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming a widely used method to combat feelings of stress and burnout. There are a number of different ways to practice mindfulness, whether that’s using a mindfulness app, taking part in a yoga class or simply going for a walk outside.

How we can help

At AXA PPP healthcare, all of our small business healthcare cover plans come with our 24/7 health information telephone helpline, Health at Hand. With Health at Hand, you and your team will have access to our expert team of counsellors, midwives, pharmacists and nurses who are on hand to answer any concerns that you or your team may have*. Some of the ways that our team of experts can help include:

• If you’ve received some medical test results that you don’t understand, we can help you work out what they mean.

• If you’re struggling with stress or pressure at work, our team of counsellors is on hand to talk to.

• If it’s in the middle of the night and your child’s temperature is running high, our team of nurses will help you work out whether you need to rush to A&E or not.

Click here for more information about our small business health insurance, including what we do and don’t cover or get a quote today.

* Health at Hand Nurses and Counsellors are available 24/7, Midwives and Pharmacists are available 8am-8pm Monday-Friday, 8am-4pm Saturday and 8am-12pm Sunday.

Sources and references

1 Health and Safety Executive, Work-related stress, depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain, 2018
2 Mayo Clinic, Job burnout: How to spot it and take action
3 Deloitte, Workplace burnout survey 
4 PowWowNow, Flexible working in 2017