What Is Burnout & How Is It Affecting Your Workplace?

In mid-January of this year, the New Zealand prime minister at the time, Jacinda Ardern, made the surprise announcement that she would step down as leader of the country.

The reason she gave was that she had given the role her all and knew how much time and energy the demands of the coming months would take. She told the people of New Zealand – and the world – that she “no longer had enough in the tank” to do the job. 

Political commentators, supporters and opposers all had their opinions, of course, as to why she chose to stand down when she did. 

But it did bring a particular topic of conversation to the forefront: Burnout. Burnout in the workplace. How we acknowledge it and how we deal with it.  

Burnout in the workplace is affecting people of all ages and that means it could be happening to your young recruits who are new to your workplace.

So, what is burnout? How do we recognise that employees might be experiencing burnout – or heading down a path that could take them there. And when you do recognise that an employee might be experiencing burnout, how do you deal with that? 

What Is Burnout?

First of all, we need to know what burnout is. 

Burnout is a specific type of stress that is related to the workplace and 2023 is the year where the World Health Organisation’s handbook, International Classification of Diseases will recognise it as an official diagnosis.

We all feel tired or stressed about matters relating to work at different times but burnout goes beyond this. Indeed, some people can thrive from occasionally feeling stressed about deadlines or other workplace challenges. It can boost their productivity levels and draw ideas.

But when that stress becomes a constant and tiredness grows into physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, then burnout occurs.

Obviously, as an employer, burnout can pose many problems for the future success of your company. Staff members who are experiencing burnout will not be able to perform at their best in the workplace, thus reducing productivity. 

Some staff members may need to take time off sick, both short term and long term. And for some of your team, they may become so disillusioned and exhausted that they might even leave the workplace altogether. 

This leaves you with a staff shortage and the need to set aside time and finances for new staff recruitment.

Especially since the pandemic, burnout is a very real problem for the UK and UK workplaces. According to this People Management article, reports of burnout among UK workers have almost doubled in the last two years, taking us to record levels. 

This poses a problem for workplace leaders as to how to deal with the problem.

Existing staff are feeling stressed and disillusioned with workload and lack of help to handle the workload. But, especially for some industries, workplace leaders are struggling to attract new staff to their industry and become a key part of the existing team. 

So, what are some of the clues for workplace leaders that show them whether members of the team might be beginning to experience burnout? 

Because workplace burnout is not just an issue for members of your team who have been part of the workforce for many years. 

If you are recruiting graduates, Apprentices and even students to part time evening and weekend jobs, this young talent is also at risk of experiencing burnout. 

In fact stress levels are reported to be highest amongst 18-24 year olds. And levels of burnout are higher in some areas of the UK than they are in others. 

Some of the factors that display burnout in these most affected areas are the number of people looking for new job opportunities. Salary growth levels – wages not increasing enough to cover the current cost of living – and the number of average hours a person is expected to work each week are also factors.

Lots of workers in these areas feel they are either expected to work longer hours – or they feel they must wqırk longer hours to keep up with workload and what others are doing in the workplace. 

This could be something that employers need to look for in perhaps less experienced younger members of staff if burnout is to be avoided. 

Make sure your younger staff are not feeling that they need to work extra hours to keep up with more experienced people on your team. Some may be starting to feel overwhelmed which can lead to burnout. 

Along with workload and dealing with a new workplace, if you are recruiting graduates, some of these people may have relocated to take the role. This means they are also dealing with living in a different property – dealing with rental payments or mortgage. There could also be a stressful commute involved. And, of course, the need to make new friends. 

Workplace leaders can create a culture where young recruits and other staff feel they can approach management or mentors to discuss signs of burnout.

Quiet Quitting

One of the issues facing workplaces around the UK is ‘quiet quitting.’ 

Quiet quitting is a notion where people limit their work to strictly working hours and this could be a sign of burnout. If a younger person on your team suddenly seems to be doing the bare minimum, then this could be a sign of burnout.

If they have gone from being enthusiastic and suggesting ideas and willing to try out new ways of working to simply going through the motions and not engaging with others then it might be time to have a talk.

There could be anxiety and exhaustion and a feeling of being overwhelmed. A lot of young recruits have completed the final years at school, college or university in the strained circumstances of the pandemic and might need some extra support. 

Burnout While Working From Home

One of the other reasons cited for an increase in cases of burnout among workers is the prevalence of staff working from home.

This is a situation that can proıve tricky to deal with for leaders and management. Since the pandemic, there has obviously been an increase in the nıumbers of people working from home. 

And this way of working is often touted as a positive. More and more people are looking for work situations where there is at least a hybrid situation where they can divide their time between working remotely and being in the workplace. 

If you have young staff who have the opportunity to work from home and they are inexperienced in this way of working, they could easily blur – or completely ignore – the boundaries between work time and home time. 

They could be working much longer hours than they ought to be and not taking the time to switch off and take a break. This can eventually lead to burnout. 

What Steps Can Employers Take To Help Prevent Burnout Among Staff

Burnout doesn’t necessarily only happen in an environment where staff are unhappy and not getting along with leaders or others in the workplace.

Staff can start to feel the effects of burnout even if they really enjoy their work and have a good relationship with coworkers and management. 

We have written in the past about the importance of taking breaks and the benefits to employers when staff take allocated breaks and holidays

Whilst surveys show that employees cite taking breaks and holidays as an important aspect of burnout prevention, in 2022, only 60% of those surveyed actually used their full allocation.

A company culture where staff are reminded of the importance of taking their holidays and work breaks is essential. As is ensuring those breaks are taken. This can help to reduce burnout levels amongst staff. 

Other measures that can be taken are: 

  • Making sure you give staff a manageable workload. If you have recruited young staff who are new to the workplace, make sure the balance is right between pushing and challenging them and overwhelming them with a workload that is too big to manage. As mentioned above, a bit of stress can be a good thing. Too much stress can lead to burnout. 
  • Effective communication with staff. Depending on the nature of your company, there might be a bigger workload than staff would normally deal with due to the aftermath of the pandemic and dealing with Brexit. Effective communication between yourself and staff can help to reduce unnecessary stress in an already stressful situation.
  • Create a culture in your company where staff are not afraid to come to you if they feel they are at risk of burnout. If they know you are on their side and understand how they feel (you might have felt burnout yourself in the past) this can start to reduce their stress and you can also take measures to help them.
  • Communicate with your staff to ask them what they think could be done to reduce the risk of burnout amongst workers in the workplace. If you are all on board with the sitıation, it can be an open conversation rather than something staff feel they need to hide.

There are lots of strategies that employers and leaders can take on board to help avoid the problem of burnout amongst staff. Mindfulness in the workplace could help your team, especially once that culture is embedded. 

For some staff, job sharing might be a good option so that the workload and work life balance aren’t affecting mental health. And of course, there are benefits for both you and staff if flexible working hours are able to be embraced. 

And if you are lookişng to attract young people to your future vacancies, take a look at these tips for attracting Gen Z to those openings.