The perils of staff burnout: How to protect your workers

Thanks to today’s ‘always on’ work culture, “burnout” is a word that more and more managers are getting used to hearing. Employees around the UK are finding it difficult to cope with the stress or workload that awaits them in the office each morning — and often follows them home.

In fact, employee burnout has reached epidemic proportions over the past few years. There are now half a million people in the UK who suffer exhaustion from work-related stress, and if anything, that figure is growing.

The good news is that as a manager, you have the power to protect your workers from burnout. Gemma Harding from CALLCARE emphasises how important it is for a manager to help mitigate their team’s stress levels: “Though it might feel necessary to keep pushing your team to keep productivity high in the short term, it can be incredibly damaging further down the line. Even the most enthusiastic employees will feel resentment towards their job if they’re overworked and under-rested, which can lead to mistakes, resignations and even long-term effects on their mental health.”

We’ve identified 5 key things you can do to ensure your team are happy, healthy and productive.

1. Make sure they take their annual leave

According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), half of UK employees don’t take all their annual leave. The average employee takes only 77% of their total allocated holidays, and 44% said they worked even while they were on leave.

Why? Many workers said that they didn’t take holidays or worked while on leave because they were scared of falling behind.

Annual leave is important because it helps staff to fully recharge away from the workplace. It’s also an opportunity for workers to rebuild those family relationships to prevent further stress that comes with strained relationships.

Encourage your team to use all of their holidays. Make the effort to find out who fails to take their annual leave and talk about how you can support them before they leave and after they return.

You can even help them plan when might be best to take holiday so they don’t feel it’ll have such a significant impact on their workload.

2. Keep colds out of the office

Employee staying home because they're sick

To many, the news that the number of sick days UK workers take is at a record low might sound encouraging.

However, the sad fact is sick days are down because more of us are coming to work ill. Today, 70% of workers come to work while sick due to social pressure to do so. When surveyed, 40% of people said they came to work rather than take a sick day because, again, they were worried about their workload piling up.

If you want to prevent burnout in your office, be firm on sending people home if they’re ill. Not only does coming to work sick delay the time it takes you to get back to full strength but it also spreads the virus so the rest of the team end up doing the same. That’s a huge impact on staff productivity and it exhausts everyone in the process.

3. Steer clear of out-of-hours emails

In the last decade, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of prescriptions for melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. That’s not good news when you know how much sleep deprivation can drain your energy and lead to burnout.

What’s the cause of our sleeplessness? Well, those out-of-hours emails certainly don’t help. In a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, 40% of respondents said they check email 5 times a day outside of regular office hours, and 17% said that emails make them so anxious that it impacts their sleep.

Keep your staff accountable for their email-checking habits. If a member of your team is regularly sending work emails in the evening or at the weekend, ask them to avoid doing when it isn’t urgent. Let them know that time outside of work is for them to recharge and escape the stress of the workplace, rather than to get ahead.

4. Manage that frightening workload

Woman stressed at work

Taking holidays, avoiding emails and resting up when you’re sick all make sense in an ideal world, but there’s one common reason why so many of us fail to actually put it into practice: a mountainous workload.

When there ‘aren’t enough hours in the week’, your team are more likely to dig into their own time to keep up — or risk falling behind. That’s why it’s your responsibility to manage the incoming workload well.

Start by splitting tasks into four categories:

  • Eliminate — If there are any tasks which don’t provide enough value to warrant the time spent doing them, there’s a simple solution: get rid of them altogether.
  • Automate — Any tasks that are necessary but repetitive can probably be automated. For example, there may be software that can produce those weekly reports for you to give your team a few hours back.
  • Delegate — Maybe there are tasks that need to be done but not necessarily by your team. Create a list of tasks that can be delegated, either to another team or less busy members of your own.
  • Simplify — Some tasks are important and too complex to automate or pass on to someone else. In these cases, simplify the task. Divide it into digestible sub-tasks, and of those sub-tasks, identify which ones could be eliminated, automated or delegated.

5. Set the example from the top

Perhaps the most important thing you need to do as a manager is to start by working on yourself. As a manager, it can feel like you need to take on more than your team do, but that creates a perpetual problem since your team are likely to follow your example.

Instead, be strong enough to implement all of the above in your own life before trying to get your team onboard. For starters, take a holiday. If you’re ill, don’t power through — let your team know you’re taking the day to rest up. Stop sending emails out of hours because your team will feel pressured to respond.

And finally, make sure you’re managing your own workload properly so that you have enough free time to reinvest into your team. That way, you show that you prioritise their wellbeing (and your own) over the work itself. If you’re healthy and happy and your team are too, the work will always be of a higher standard.

Natasa Christofidou
Natasa Christofidou

Writes articles about customer service and business process outsourcing.