The Burnout is Real!

Finding A Path to Mental Wellness In The Workplace

It’s been called a second pandemic. Mental health issues have created a parallel crisis to THE Pandemic but there is no vaccine and no booster.  May is mental health awareness month and a time to examine how COVID has aggravated burnout, stress and our overall sense of well being.

Let’s Set The Stage: What is Burnout?

The World Health Organization describes burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. The word “workplace” indicates that burnout is an occupational syndrome, not a medical condition that requires an organizational solution. Specifying that it is a stress that has not been successfully managed implies that it is a stress that could be prevented. Left unaddressed burnout can easily lead to medical conditions such as anxiety and depression. The unprecedented challenges of the pandemic brought high levels of productivity but as time wore on the costs became clear. High productivity masked extreme exhaustion and stress leading to burnout.

What Are The Stats?

Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report found that prevalence of mental health challenges among employees increased from 2019 to 2021 and that younger and historically underrepresented workers struggle the most.  Millennials and Gen Zers, as well as LGBTQ+, women, Black, and Latinx workers were all significantly more likely to experience mental health symptoms. They are also as much as 30% more likely to consider leaving their jobs for mental health issues. In this study, 76% of full-time U.S. employees reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year—a 29% increase from 2019 (59%). The top three most commonly reported symptoms were burnout (56%), depression (46%) and anxiety (40%).

What Are The Sources and the Impacts of Burnout?

It’s important to note that workplace burnout is not new. In the years leading up to the pandemic, workers in sectors such as technology and consulting notoriously carried burdensome workloads. In 2020, stress levels increased as we learned to live and work within the confines of mandates and precautions. By 2021, employees characterized work as emotionally draining. Managing long hours and increased work loads had taken a toll. Work-life balance for many became a struggle. Now in 2022, returning to work and associated employer requirements are an additional source of stress as employees work to preserve a level of flexibility that represents the higher value now placed on work-life balance. Lastly, non-supportiveI work cultures are a particular source of stress, especially for Black, LatinX, LGBTQ+ or other underrepresented workers. In our Fall 2021 Return-to-Work Blog Series, The HR Source discussed how employees reprioritized work/life goals which manifested as The Great Resignation.  Mental health issues are surfacing as key in this new value equation.  

Recognizing the impact of mental health on the workforce is as important as understanding the sources. Burnout can manifest as absenteeism, attrition or reduced productivity. According to the Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, in 2021, 50% of respondents reported having left a previous role due at least in part to mental health concerns.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Employers must move from treating mental health as an individual challenge to a collective priority. Supporting people and their mental health by redesigning workplace culture is a win for individuals and the organization. Workers who felt supported with their mental health were 26% less likely to experience mental health symptoms, underperform and miss work.  They also reported higher job satisfaction, intentions to stay at their company and had more positive views of their company and its leaders. 

What can organizations do? Among other things, consideration should be taken to:

Re-evaluate your benefits.  Expanding coverage for mental health resources and treatment and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can offer mental health services while maintaining confidentiality.  Employees are looking for increased or unlimited Paid time off, child or elder-care benefits and additional support to help balance their life outside work. The best mental health benefits can go unused unless a stigma-free culture exists. Leaders must over communicate the availability of resources and model mentally healthy behaviors for employees to truly feel like they can do the same and even discuss such issues.
Decrease virtual meetings. The amount of time spent in meetings have increased since the pandemic began and they require more mental and physical energy. Utilize all forms of communication and make conscious choices. Designating no meetings times can give employees time for uninterrupted work and deeper concentration.
Carefully consider the pros and cons of technology that links home and work and the policies surrounding their use. Increased mobility can make it harder to detach from work.  
Provide company wide shutdowns. This  can allow employees to fully unplug without expectations to check in and can decrease the pileup that often awaits our return. Many other organizations are creating Wellness Days and even “Wellness Weeks”
Encourage less frequent but deeper conversations. Doing so can be more effective than over-using “How are you doing?” which can often prompt an automatic “I’m fine” response. Consider using tools that provide data and insight into your workforce and their experiences.  The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) And Pandemic Experiences and Perceptions Survey are both validated tools which can be used to get data that goes beyond verbal check ins. A survey can be a great starting point if you are prepared to share results and follow up.

Employees today are not the same as those that went home from their organizations two years ago.  Employers seeking to attract and retain top talent must recognize that the majority of job candidates look for companies with cultures that support mental health. When organizations address burnout by establishing countermeasures, they create new healthier workplaces where people thrive.

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