Employers need to tackle burnout – or get their fingers burnt
With burnout on the rise globally1, a holistic approach to staff wellbeing embedded into healthy organisational culture not only supports staff – it unlocks productivity too, writes Vitality’s Jill Pritchard.Occupational burnout is in the headlines again. Many UK employees will no doubt sympathise with the recent admission from ex-New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern that she no longer “had enough in the tank”.
The statement, made during her resignation speech, has helped to shine a spotlight on the issue and has given a renewed focus on the need for businesses to nip burnout in the bud.
“For employers, addressing burnout and the mental wellbeing of their people more broadly has never been more important.”
Burnout on the riseEmployees have faced a perfect storm over the last few years. The pandemic has quickly been followed by soaring inflation, a cost-of-living crisis and unprecedented pressure on healthcare systems.
COVID accelerated a period of big change. Hybrid and home working, whilst undoubtedly bringing positives, have led to a rise in an ‘always on’ work culture and a deteriorating work/life balance for some employees.
These combined challenges have placed a massive strain on the mental health of UK workers, with 1 in 5 employees experiencing burnout according to the latest findings of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, the UK’s largest workplace wellbeing survey. Elsewhere, businesses are losing as much as 80 million hours a year from employee sick leave due to burnout2.
The impact of worsening employee mental and physical wellbeing on wider productivity and growth should also give cause for concern. According to Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, productivity losses are up 39% since the previous survey in 2019 – leading to an overall economic cost of £127.9bn in 20223.
Tackling burnout culturally
Employee burnout may result from multiple contributing factors, but often can be attributed to unhealthy workplace culture and toxic organisational structures.
Whether it’s an expectation that staff should work long hours, poor workload management or an inadequate focus on employee wellbeing, the causes of burnout can be found across many industries and within business of all shapes and sizes.
Addressing cultural issues that can lead to burnout isn’t always easy. Line managers can often be key in understanding how staff are feeling and supporting the right feedback mechanisms, but are themselves often more at risk from suffering burnout4.
Creating cultural change also requires an integrated and considered approach. One that arguably places a commitment to supporting employee health and wellbeing at the fore.
Businesses, at board level, are also rightly placing more focus on their environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities. Mitigating burnout is undoubtedly a corporate social responsibility (the ‘S’ in ESG), as organisations are increasingly expected to look after their people.
An embedded holistic solution
By placing employee health and wellbeing at the heart of an organisation, the benefits are self-perpetuating. Employees feel more supported, because they have access to the right wellbeing services when needed, and this in turn helps drive a healthier workplace culture.
Employees who benefit from wellbeing measures implemented at work are more likely to have a more positive view of their organisation, its leadership and culture.
Key to supporting employee health and wellbeing and tackling burnout is having the right services and support in place – and looking at it holistically.
We know that poor wellbeing can be caused by a range of factors such as lack of physical exercise, poor sleep and nutrition and insufficient time away from work.
And since the pandemic, employee attitudes have shifted. According to a recent report published by CBI and Vitality, a staggering 82% of UK office workers believe companies have a greater responsibility to support the mental health and physical wellbeing of their people following COVID5.
Employers more than ever have a responsibility to not just consider the wellbeing of their staff, but positively impact the lifestyle factors they can influence.
Measures might include ensuring employees are taking adequate annual leave or managers leading by example and not contacting employees outside of usual working hours.
In addition, a turnkey wellbeing solution offering group private medical insurance (PMI) or a wellbeing scheme for an uninsured workforce is an effective way to support staff in this respect. Alongside primary and secondary healthcare services, employer-led schemes are increasingly offering an extensive range of preventative and wellbeing support services too.
Engagement is king
As part of this, employers can spur engagement by offering an array of relevant touchpoints to staff – such as rewards, partner discounts and incentives that help save employees money and encourage heathy lifestyle choices.
Most organisations know they need to signpost benefits and services to their people. But for a wellbeing solution to truly positively influence lifestyle change, engagement is needed on a day-to-day basis. This, in turn, supports employee wellbeing and drives productivity at work, even remotely.
The Vitality Programme, for example, is informed by the laws of behavioural economics to foster engagement through rewards and partners integrated into the programme, the largest of its kind linked to insurance.
Through digitisation, via an app, an employer can embed wellbeing benefits – such as access to mindfulness tools and savings on spa breaks and weekends away - into an employee's everyday life.
Positive feedback loops - created through the gamification of activity points and daily targets - help create tangible reasons to get involved. The more employees engage, the more value they get. They are also more likely to stay healthy6.
All this helps reduce the risk of occupational burnout. Supporting individual employees is not just good for staff. It’s ultimately good for business and benefits wider society too – because a happier, healthier workforce is more productive. More than ever, it’s the right thing to do.
Where to next?
Why Prevention 2.0 is the future of healthcare
With the UK facing rising healthcare demand and growing numbers of people living with long-term health conditions, the prevention of illness has never been more important.
Employees are navigating a perfect storm this winter
As the UK continues to face the fall-out of the pandemic, low productivity levels and a cost of living crisis, employers will play a crucial role in supporting the health and wellbeing of staff over the coming months, writes Vitality at Work Director, Jill Pritchard.
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2 10 Million Brits pull sickie | MetLife
3 Effective initiatives become critical for ailing British workers | Financial Times (ft.com)
4 Executives feel the strain of leading in the ‘new normal’ - Future Forum
5 Healthy Hybrid: A Blueprint for Business, Vitality and CBI Economics, 2022
6 Members engaged with the Vitality Programme are at least 10% more likely to improve their health across seven key lifestyle factors which include physical activity, sleep, healthy eating, alcohol intake, smoking, BMI and mental health, based on Vitality data.