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February 18th, 2021

Burnout: How Covid-19 has added fuel to an already raging fire

By Dan Whale

  • Professional Burnout
  • Mindfulness and Stress
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Burnout is something that businesses should be wary of at all times, but given the situation we’re in, we need to do more to make sure employees are being protected and supported.

A 2020 UK study suggested that 1 in 5 adults have experienced burnout, with a separate survey stating 74% were ‘overwhelmed by stress’ in that past year.

And then came Covid. If there were any doubts over the pandemic’s impact on burnout, just look at Google. Between August 2019 - August 2020, Google searches for ‘occupational burnout’ rose by 184%.

How do we explain such a steep incline? Several key reasons. Firstly, the big shift towards working from home has been something that some have adapted to more comfortably than others. With no difference in location, it has become impossible to not ‘take your work home with you’ and working from home can easily start to feel more like living at work.

Secondly, many are having to juggle their work with childcare/homeschooling. Their day-to-day workload has remained the same, but now they have essentially a second job to perform simultaneously.

Finally, it has been much harder for managers and HR staff to check in with their staff, reassuring them that they’ve done enough for the day or giving them some assistance when they’re clearly swamped. Even employers who are trying to support the mental health of their employees may struggle to know what to do when they’re not in the same building.

But, just as we’ve adapted our working to the pandemic, so too can we adapt our mental health provisions. First, let’s get a clear explanation as to what burnout is.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a stress condition which has both mental and physical effects. It is usually linked to professional work but can also be experienced in childcare/looking after other family members. It is characterised by:

  • Exhaustion - both mental and physical
  • Alienation from work/home obligations
  • Increased irritability
  • Reduced creativity and overall performance

Put most simply, if you’re finding yourself feeling constantly exhausted, hating your job, becoming cynical and less productive at work and perhaps having some escape fantasies, you could well be experiencing burnout.

This shouldn’t be left unchecked. Burnout can lead to sustained depression which affects not just your work but all areas of your life.

Prevention and treatment advice

So, how can we stop it from occurring and what can we do when it has? As with many aspects of mental health support, prevention has a huge role to play. Below are some proactive steps you can take to limit the possibility of burnout impacting your employees.

Regular check-ins: Burnout can originate from simply having too much to do in too little time. Reassuring employees that they should ask for help if they need it is important, but doesn’t go far enough. Many people, especially those in professional roles, don’t want to ask for help out of fear of looking uncapable, or at least less capable than their colleagues.

HR staff or line managers should hold regular check-ins to see how employees are doing and chat to them in a safe space.

Mandatory breaks: In the modern world of work many companies allow employees to be flexible with the hours in the day in which they work - especially now with the current homeschooling situation.

This is of course a good thing, but it makes it hard to know when employees are wearing themselves thin. An employee appearing online at 9pm may simply mean they are catching up on some work as they spent a couple of hours earlier with their family, or it could be a sign of overworking.

There aren’t any perfect solutions to this, but managers could consider mandatory break periods. They may even organise a video call in which team members have a non-work related chat, just to be sure people are giving their minds a bit of a rest.

Realistic target setting: We need to be responsive to the current situation and acknowledge what is genuinely manageable for employees. Whilst your business may pride itself on its high standards, expecting the same level of output from your staff when they’re also having to act as teachers/babysitters can cause burnout levels to skyrocket.

Being more realistic with target setting during this period will prevent employees from feeling so overwhelmed, reducing both absenteeism and presenteeism.

Treatment

Those currently experiencing burnout should speak to a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. Whilst burnout is very much treatable, it should not be viewed as something that will get better on its own. A doctor may prescribe some time off work or a reduction in certain duties if they feel the employee would benefit from it.

Partnering with a mental health service provider

The most effective way to both prevent and treat burnout is to partner with a mental health service provider. This enables you to put mental health provisions in the hands of professionals.

Using HelloSelf, your employees can book regular short sessions with a highly experienced clinical psychologist, who can offer tips and advice should signs of burnout start to appear. Whilst sessions are completely confidential, our psychologists can also let your business know if burnout is being experienced and specific steps you may want to take to address it.

For those that are already experiencing burnout and would benefit from more regular support, we can refer them to a therapist which specialises in this area of mental health. We can also provide HR teams with additional support should they need it.

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Burnout is something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Luckily, there are proven ways of doing this, and partnering with a mental health service provider is one of the most effective ways of keeping your staff happy and healthy.

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