Stress and burnout – how employers can support their staff

Employee burnout is a phrase that has been dominating conversation around mental health and wellness and can occur in any workplace at any time. Here, Mark Littlejohns explores the key ways employers can identify employee burnout and support those who may be experiencing it.

Spotting the signs

Burnout is symptomatic of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work and mitigate symptoms before they develop.

Obvious signs that an employee is burnt out include a reduction in the quality of their work, making mistakes, missing deadlines, or becoming distracted and fatigued. According to the World Health Organisation, employee burnout is characterised by three factors: energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from your job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to your job, resulting in reduced professional efficacy.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) March 2020 Health and Well-Being at Work survey found that ill mental health was the most common cause of long-term absence, with nearly three-fifths (59%) of organisations citing this among their top three causes. In the same report, it was confirmed that almost two-fifths of respondents saw an increase in stress-related absence over the last twelve months.

What can you do? 

There are many actions employers can take to support their employees including:

  • Carry out a work related stress risk assessment and act on the outcomes.
  • Train employees as Mental Health First Aiders to act as a point of contact for members of staff struggling with their mental wellbeing.
  • Implement mental health training for all employees to increase their awareness of the importance of mental health and to demonstrate that this is being taken seriously.
  • Draft, update and implement policies and procedures to ensure employees know what to do if they are struggling.
  • Encourage senior managers to act as mental health champions for their teams, to encourage the implementation of appropriate coping mechanisms and combatting stress triggers, particularly if patterns are seen to be emerging.
  • Enable and encourage employees, as appropriate, to access confidential Employee Assistance Programmes and other external sources of support

What does this mean for employers?

An Employers duty to ensure the safety and health of staff has not changed but with new ways of working and an increasing incidence of mental health issues in society, the challenge is becoming bigger than ever before.

Line managers will have an increasing role to play in ensuring the mental wellbeing of their colleagues and need to be trained in how to spot the signs and symptoms of ill health which may be more difficult due to remote working.

Organisations will also need to consider how they can adapt their existing work practices to consider not only the cause of the problem but how they are going to change their current practices to mitigate risk in the first place.

 Need advice?

If you are an employer and have further questions about supporting employees experiencing burnout or any of the above, don’t hesitate to get in touch.