How to tackle HR and employee burnout

April 13, 2023

We all think of April as the start of Spring, but did you know that April is also “Stress Awareness Month”? For employers, this is an important annual reminder of the modern-day stress epidemic – its causes and cures. Now is the time to check in on your own well-being, as well as your employees, by facilitating open conversations about employee stress and burnout.

Stress, and the associated mental health conditions that come with it, is a huge public health challenge that often goes unnoticed and untreated. Feeling continually stressed is known as burnout, and can even be linked to physical ailments that, in turn, can cause further stress and fatigue. There’s a very real link between stress, increased absenteeism and reduced productivity in the workplace.

What is burnout? 

Burnout is a type of stress most often associated with the workplace. The World Health Organisation phrases it as a condition resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Crucially, this wording suggests how avoidable burnout could be if only employers had the right tools in place. 

Of course, stress is understandable when employees are navigating high-pressure situations, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable in the long term. In general, employees today are experiencing higher, more frequent levels of stress. Some of the main contributing factors include not receiving the right workplace support, being overworked, poorly-maintained communication channels, and the breakdown of colleague relationships. All of these factors can be managed effectively, if not completely avoided.

Employees who are experiencing burnout may feel helpless, trapped, isolated and defeated. As their mental health and resilience suffers, this in turn can impact both their performance and productivity at work and in their personal life. Previous studies have shown burnout to cause a 21% increase in absenteeism, as people take more and more sick days to try to improve their mental health.  And, as the symptoms of burnout start to affect life outside of work, staff may face increased healthcare costs.

It is within employers’ responsibility, as well as interest, to understand and mitigate the causes of HR burnout and stress. 

Identifying burnout

True employee burnout is more than needing temporary time off to recover from an intense project or rough day. Burnout is a diagnosable state of chronic stress that actively disrupts someone’s life and that of the people around them.

Some key symptoms to look out for among your workforce include:

  1. Are they more tired than usual or acting out of character?
  2. Do they seem disengaged from tasks and colleagues? 
  3. Have they taken more sick days than usual, or been arriving late to work?
  4. Do they seem more sensitive or defensive when faced with criticism or problems?
  5. Has their productivity declined? Are they struggling to meet deadlines?

So, how can you avoid burnout?

With the right defence systems in place, workplaces should easily be able to prevent staff from reaching a point of exhaustion. Take a look at your current work practices and ensure: 

  1. Employees are not continually working overtime, and are actively encouraged to switch off after a work day has finished. Working around the clock is not sustainable and will quickly lead to serious mental fatigue. Far from showing that an employee is proving themselves, it’s a warning sign that they are either working inefficiently or have far too high a workload. 
  2. Employees are taking time off. Holidays are there for a reason and employers should be encouraging their use. Not only can it break up long periods of routine working and offer much-needed days of rest, but it can give them something to look forward to as a form of motivation. 
  3. Workplace communication is prioritised. Open, honest conversations about health and wellbeing should be happening, especially when it comes to more ‘taboo’ areas of health such as menopause, periods etc. Without an easy channel of conversation, expectations can become unclear and employees may be forced to take a lot more pressure onto their own shoulders. Schedule regular team check-ins (either in person or over video call) to better understand the needs of employees.
  4. Impactful training is in place. Managers should balance their roles as both teachers and bosses by setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and fostering open communication to avoid creating a toxic environment.
  5. Employees have access to health experts. Ideally, this should be through confidential, personalised and expert support. It’s important that employees have someone impartial to talk to about possible causes of stress.
  6. Employee well-being initiatives are inclusive of all employees especially those who are generally more marginalised by healthcare systems such as men and LGBTQIA+ people.

The easiest step to a more stress-free workplace is to encourage open communication and a supportive environment. If you and those around you speak more openly and freely about how you are feeling or any challenges you are facing, the stigma is automatically reduced. Ensure there are resources that are accessible to everyone within your business, with a dedicated HR team leading by example for all colleagues. 

Offer all this information directly, with practical self-care information and encouragement going straight into their inboxes or onto the office walls. Apps like Peppy give your employees personalised and confidential support from a healthcare professional, at the same time showing employees that you are putting their needs and well-being first. 

Stress and burnout can be contagious in the workplace, as both can affect the way we treat our peers and contribute to the overall atmosphere within a workplace. By viewing stress and burnout as a workplace epidemic, employers can equip themselves with tools that help prevent it from taking hold and combat it when the signs begin to show. If your organisation is suffering from HR burnout, now is the time to invest in a company-wide cure. A happier workplace, with compassionate and educated managers, will ultimately lead to better staff retention and will reap higher rewards.

Download and share with your colleagues this valuable resource on ‘Top tips for managing stress’ by Peppy experts.

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