Those who have tragically passed away or suffered from long COVID are inevitably the most publicised casualties of the pandemic. But spare a thought also for employees on whom burnout has taken its toll.
These have often received less sympathy than healthy furloughed colleagues taking pay cuts. But being left in the office and saddled with a massively increased workload can be far worse, especially when you can’t plan for jetting off on a sunshine holiday to compensate.
O.C Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report surveyed 40,000 worldwide employees and leaders –including over 1,600 from the UK. It found that during the first lockdown COVID increased rates of burnout by 15% globally. Furthermore, in more toxic, ‘non-thriving’ cultures the rate of increase was 81%!
Burnout is a state of mind that typically results from physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. In its early stages people tend to feel tired and to get easily frustrated. They can eventually become pessimistic, lose their motivation and become disengaged from their jobs.
This makes them less productive and can even affect their desire to attend work at all. The O.C. Tanner report found that during the first lockdown UK workers took 68% more days off than normal.
Part of the problem has been the way the pandemic has kept dragging on and on. Significant good news has invariably been followed shortly afterwards by further ominous hospital statistics and warnings from experts that we are not out of the woods yet.
There remain nagging fears that the vaccines could prove less effective to new variants of the virus that could yet emerge, and even the announcement of ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19 occurred amidst warnings about the continued need to wear masks in crowded areas and acknowledgements of the possibility that freedoms may have to be curbed again this September.
Another major burnout driver has been the way that the distinction between our home lives and working lives have become increasingly blurred during lockdown.
Many people have found themselves working in their bedrooms or dining rooms and replying to emails and texts from work colleagues during what was supposed to be quality time with their partner. It can feel that there are no longer any boundaries to prevent our employer having 24/7 access to our lives.
Employers should therefore make it a high priority to spot any symptoms of burnout in their workforces. Are employees starting to come across as cynical and negative or more withdrawn? A decline in interpersonal communication or in socialising and having fun with colleagues, friends or family are also tell-tale signs.
Fortunately, many employers will find they already have a wealth of support available via their employee benefit schemes that can be used to help such problem individuals. Private medical insurance (PMI) schemes and the early intervention and rehabilitation facilities available on group income protection schemes can, in particular, provide access to considerable mental health expertise.
So also can employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which are available as added-value features on many group health schemes. In addition to offering employees free and confidential 24/7 stress counselling, many now include invaluable additional options like resilience training for employees and line managers.
Proactive steps also need to be taken to prevent burnout occurring in the first place. Employers should, for example, ask whether the demands they are making are reasonable and whether their company culture helps employees feel valued and respected and gives them a sense of belonging?
Holding regular one-to-one meetings with employees that include discussion of mental wellbeing can help, as can limiting overtime, encouraging employees to take time off and assigning tasks to suit individual strengths.
Enabling those who want to continue to work from home to do so is also likely to be appreciated. Chase de Vere’s offices contain only a skeleton staff, although those who can’t work from home are allowed in. We are finding that many clients are taking similar approaches.
Content correct at the time of writing and is intended for general information only and should not be construed as advice.