The last two years have been turbulent for us all and more uncertainty is on the horizon with new technology reshaping the world of work, whilst we are still battling with the aftermath of the first phases of the pandemic. These challenges have resulted in unprecedented stress levels, pressure and grief. Although 2021 improved circumstances for many, the pandemic still caused issues that will echo through the business world for years to come. The most potent issue for employers is the on-going mental health crisis caused by ‘burnout’. Burnout can affect not only your employees but your business as well. So, what can you do to support your staff’s mental health?
First, let us define what we mean by the term ‘burnout’. The charity Mental Health UK defines burnout as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It occurs when someone experiences long term stress in their job, or has held a physically or emotionally draining job for too long. According to a recent Robert Half survey, 37% of employers felt their teams were on the brink of burnout, due to heavy pandemic-related workloads.
As an employer, it is our responsibility to ensure our staff do not ‘burn out’. A company or organisation is only as good as the people who work within it. If your staff are unable to perform their duties due to stress or mental health issues, it is then an employer’s duty to assist them in getting the help they need.
Over 36% of UK companies already offer access to mental health services as part of their organisation’s benefits package. This is far higher than the worldwide percentage of 21%, making the UK one of the global leaders for mental health. However, despite over half (56%) of UK companies claiming that demand for these services has increased due to the pandemic, 43% of those same companies admitted that mental health was still not seen as a priority.
This is the mindset that needs to change. A proactive approach to mental health is vital for your employees’ wellbeing — and the wellbeing of your business, too. Failing to spot the warning signs can lead to demotivated and under-productive employees, right at the time when your business likely needs them most.
Knowing What To Look For
According to the mental health charity, Mind, 30% of staff wouldn’t talk openly about stress with their line manager. That means it is your responsibility to start the dialogue and look out for signs that might lead to burnout. These four ‘red flags’ are a great place to start:
- A negative attitude: relating to your employee’s outlook on life, their interactions with colleagues or their approach to tasks.
- Decline in performance: performance reviews and weekly catch-up sessions help spot this sign.
- Missed deadlines: the fatigue and low motivation associated with burnout could cause even simple tasks to take far longer than normal.
- Frequent illness or fatigue: this might manifest as an employee taking frequent sick days, complaining about their health, or simply looking tired.
Burnout is a slow-burning issue so you will need to pay attention in the long-term.
Work / Life balance and working from home
Thanks to the pandemic, many employees are now working from home. However, the issue of burnout is not solved by this. It is, according to multiple surveys, making it worse. Since last March, UK households have been subjected to prolonged pressure as they juggled work, childcare, and even home-schooling, whilst dealing with the mental pressure of being in a global emergency situation. A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of adults in the UK felt unable to cope with the stress of 2020.
It is important to set clear boundaries if your business offers a working from home option. Work time is for work. Home time is home time. These boundaries can’t be blurred: there should be no employee working past their contracted hours; they should not feel the pressure to appear hyper-productive to reassure their employers that their output can remain high.
Burnout can be much harder to spot if staff work from home. If you are observant, you can notice the four red flags mentioned above. However, you can also look out for these additional indicators:
- Certain employees regularly sending emails outside of work hours
- Employees regularly accessing documents when they should be ‘at home’
There are many benefits to working from home, for both you and your employees. However, the answer seems to lie in providing flexible working from home options, to take the pressure off employees who are handling co-current responsibilities.
Covid-19 and compassionate leave
Burnout isn’t the only mental health issue that employers need to consider. Another common and familiar mental health issue is on the rise in the UK: grief.
According to recent data, over 169,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the UK alone. Many died young and unexpectedly; some families suffered multiple bereavements very close together.
It is incredibly likely that one, if not more, of your employees has requested compassionate leave due to the death of an immediate family member. This may have been COVID-19-related, or it may not. The result is the same: these employees need support.
There are currently no laws in the UK that mandate compassionate leave, yet many businesses offer three to five days for their employee to process bereavement. Sometimes this absence is paid; sometimes it is unpaid. However, compassionate leave is often the pinnacle of company support: it should be the beginning. Anyone who has lost a loved one, parent, partner or child will know that three to five days is not long enough to process that loss. As an employer, what else can you do to support your grieving employee?
Grief Cafes and other resources
Awareness is the first step. As an employer, your role is to spot issues and offer support, but there is a limit to that. It is not feasible to suggest that every employer personally supports grieving staff, and most employers are not qualified to do so anyway. A more realistic approach is knowing where you can direct your employee so that they receive the correct, on-going support that they will need as they return to work.
Many charities deal with grief of varying types, and it is useful for employers (or at least their HR department) to know of these. A good place to start is The Good Grief Trust, which helps people find accessible grief support where and when they need it. The website now lists more than 500 charities, professionals, organisations, forums and communities. It has also launched its first pop-up Grief Café: an informal space where people can openly express their feelings, share their sadness and feel supported by others who genuinely understand.
Providing the correct support as an employer
Supporting your staff in the correct way can take a lot of effort. Many employers might be tempted to dismiss mental health as something your employee needs to solve themselves. This is not the case. Supportive employers often reap the benefits of their compassion. Employees are more productive and loyal when they feel appreciated, so the investment you make in your people is always worth the effort.
Here are some easy ways to provide the correct support for your employees.
- Having a realistic approach to workloads. Preventing burnout means being honest about ambitious workloads. Be realistic. How much work can your employee complete without staying late or missing their lunchbreaks?
- Offering flexible hours. The option to shift the workday by several hours can take the pressure off employees who are juggling care duties or household logistics. Being flexible with hours means that your employee can be focused solely on their work when they ‘clock in’.
- Being approachable and accessible. Promote healthy discussions around wellbeing and mental health. Reluctant employees will be encouraged to come forward before burnout becomes a serious issue. This applies to employees that are working from home. Ensure you are accessible to staff if they need a quick call or video chat.
- Supporting through resources. Whether it is burnout, grief, or another mental health issue, your employees need support. Does your company make mental health resources available to staff? Do they know what is available to them? Make sure your company’s resources are accessible to all.
- Understanding your staff are people first. Everyone knows that business is important. The people who work for you are important too. Treating them well and with compassion can guide them through a difficult time, and see your company’s output become more productive when they return to work at full strength.
Kirkwood Training and Skills
Adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and managing people in the wake of a pandemic is not easy. Training can be invaluable for new and existing staff as we get used to the new business landscape. If you would like to invest in your people, Kirkwood Training and Skills can help. We offer Management and Leadership Courses, High Impact Masterclasses and more, which can set your business on the path to post-pandemic success.