How to manage and prevent burnout in your business
Here at Perkbox, we’re big on wellbeing - for our customers, their employees and our own Perkboxers.
Recently we ran an exclusive webinar for our customers on managing stress and preventing burnout, with guest speaker Katie Maycock, founder of Get Your Sh*t Together and the co-founder of OMNIA.
We know that you can never have too much information on this topic though, so we’ve teamed up with Katie again for this article. Read on to learn about the impact of stress and burnout, and what you can do to support both your employees and yourself.
Burnout is one of the most important business topics of 2021 (maybe even the last few decades). It’s running rampant right now and it's impacting people more than ever. However, it's not a new issue.
The term was coined in the 1970's by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified it as an "occupational phenomenon".
Now that we've finished our small history lesson for the day, it’s time to ask the important question:
What is burnout?
Burnout is physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from prolonged stress. Stress doesn’t come from one place. It can actually come from an array of sources. However, the most common cause is workplace stress.
When we're looking at workplace mental health issues, particularly those associated with stress, the WHO have three key areas they look at in order to diagnose it:
- Increased depletion of energy or exhaustion
- Increased distance from one's job, or negative feelings or cynicism towards one's job
- Reduced professional efficacy
However, there are so many other symptoms to pay attention to as well. These generally fall into three major categories - physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Here are some of the symptoms that fall into each of those categories.
- Sleep disturbances
- Extreme fatigue
- Stomach issues (Irritable Bowel Syndrome/allergies/intolerances)
- Reduced immunity (frequent illnesses and a struggle to overcome them)
- Increased aches and pains
- Feeling unable to cope and overwhelmed
- Feelings of hopelessness and negativity
- Feelings of apathy
- Increased frustration
- Increased escapism
- Increased anxiety and depression
- Lack of focus
- Inability to concentrate
- Reduced creativity
- Difficulty making decisions (i.e. an inability to make them or simply making rash ones)
As you can see, burnout can be crippling for people on almost every level.
The business impact
Did you know that stress costs businesses £45 billion a year in the UK alone?
And now, with many people returning to work, burnout could be a major issue with the potential to snowball into several new directions.
Burnout and stress lead to absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity and reduced retention rates. It’s important to remember that these were already significant issues before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has essentially added fuel to a well-established fire.
How businesses can support their staff
As a result, businesses need to take immediate action to help manage stress levels, prevent burnout, and support staff who are feeling burnt out. Here’s a few tips that’ll hopefully help.
Meet your staff where they're at
It's easy to say: “Get staff to take time off, increase flexible working, and extend everyone’s holiday leave.”
However, if that's not the issue, then that's not going to resolve burnout in your business. Find out what your staff want, what their pain points are, and what you can do right now to support them. Do a wellbeing survey to find out where your team is and start implementing the relevant changes.
Simply listening to your staff and understanding their needs is the first step to preventing burnout.
Set realistic expectations
It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking: "Great, the pandemic is over so everything can go back to normal".
But setting realistic and sustainable expectations for your team wellbeing, as well as individual wellness, is more important than ever.
People have spent 18 months living with a lot of uncertainty and that can breed anxiety - which can lead to issues with workplace performance. Understanding this and communicating well is necessary to help you address potential dips in performance.
Remember, everyone is different. Some people will love being back in the office. Others won’t. Managing individuals is important.
Many people have worked harder than ever before during the last 18 months, so they might already be burnt out, especially if your organisation had to furlough staff or make redundancies. Therefore, managing workloads and setting new expectations that are reasonable for where each employee now is, can be a health deal breaker.
This might sound really simplistic - but how many times have you seen someone at their desk eating their lunch?
How often have you heard someone say: “I don't have time for a break?”
Encouraging breaks throughout the day is really important to ensure that people are able to refuel, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.
In addition, make sure your people are taking enough annual leave. Right now people are restricted with regards to international travel, so they may be storing their leave days up. But annual leave isn’t just for when you’re going on holiday - it’s essential to have some time away from work to recharge your batteries and prevent burnout.
Talk to staff about their impact
This is all about letting your staff know how much you value their hard work. It's been a long 18 months and many people have been working remotely. This can result in a situation where staff no longer realise how much impact the work they’re doing is having on the organisation.
People want to feel valued and reminded that their work matters. You can use messages from the leadership, as well as individual 1-2-1 meetings for this. Either way, let them know just how valuable they are!
But what about you?
It's great to take care of your team's needs, but don’t forget to look after yourself. In order to support the people around you, you have to be able to support yourself.
Here are a few ways to help manage your own stress and burnout levels.
Make sure you get enough sleep
It might sound obvious, but a lot of people sacrifice their sleep to fit in their workload. Make sure you're getting 7-9 hours of good quality sleep. If you do struggle to sleep, here are a few little tips to help:
- Don't drink caffeine 10-12 hours before you go to sleep.
“Crazy!” we hear you say. However, caffeine can stay in our systems for 10-12 hours after we've had our first drink and can impact the quality of sleep even if we are able to fall asleep (Katie explains a little more in this video here).
- Have a schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every evening and wake up at the same time every morning. Our body has a natural rhythm, and we need to support that.
- Reduce your screen time before bed. The lights in computers and on our phones can stimulate hormones that tell us we need to be awake. Removing those lights can stimulate melatonin which lets us know it's time for sleep.
Create strict boundaries separating work from home
Home time and work time belong well away from one another. You deserve downtime and this is down to you to enforce. Ensure you have adequate time to rest and get away from anything work-related. Not only will this prevent burnout, but it’ll also have a positive impact on the work you do, as you’ll be in a better state of mind to attack each day.
Understand your stressors
This is really important. Becoming more aware of your stressors allows you to either eliminate them or manage them better. Here’s a few tips for managing a high stress job:
- Spend the first 30 minutes of your day checking in with yourself before you do anything else. That includes checking your phone for emails, messages, social media, etc.
- Spend 5-10 minutes before you start work doing meditation. There’s plenty of apps you can use for inspiration and motivation, while we also offer a range of meditation guides on our Wellness hub.
- Do 10 minutes of freewriting. Don’t overthink it. All you have to do is simply sit in front of a piece of paper, pen in hand, and write whatever pops into your head.
- If you're feeling overwhelmed, go for a quick 10-minute walk.
Burnout isn’t going away
If anything, we’re now coming into a period where we’ll see more and more people suffering from prolonged stress and burnout.
We have to make sure that we’re all working together to support our teams and ourselves, even if it's a weekly conversation to check in with your team, set boundaries, or even re-establish expectations. The time has never been better to launch an employee assistance program.