The Fear of Burnout

Walters People warn of impact as companies return to the office.

Research from Walters People has found 47 per cent of managers fear their employees are at risk of burnout upon returning to the office. As the UK workforce experienced ‘boomerang’ productivity levels during lockdown – at its peak 35 per cent reported an increase in productivity, and at its lowest 28 per cent reported a decrease in productivity – a third of professionals (30 per cent) stated that their ‘yo-yo’ productivity levels during lockdown led to a decline in their mental health or wellbeing. By definition, a significant proportion of the UK workforce may have suffered from workplace burnout during lockdown – and now almost half of managers (47 per cent) fear there will be a similar boomerang-style impact on productivity levels once offices are able to reopen.

A total of 62 per cent of professionals have suffered from a workplace burnout symptoms at some point in their career, with the World Health Organisation characterising burn-out by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Social isolation (40 per cent), lack of communication with colleagues and co-workers (28 per cent), and working longer hours (22 per cent) have been the primary contributors of causing workplace burnout symptoms during lockdown.

“Pre-lockdown a culture of ‘the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be’ was really beginning to gather momentum,’ says Phill Westcott, director of Walters People. “We’d see successful and high-profile business owners talk about their 4am alarm-clock and how they’d do a day’s work before anyone around them had their first sip of coffee. Over-working became a glamourised notion – yet having a lie-in or taking extra walks during your working day were not being equated to success in the same way.

“Lockdown has highlighted to employers and employees alike that increased flexibility, working less hours, and including more ‘me time’ into your working day can actually increase productivity, creativity, and overall work-ethic,” he continues.

Westcott believes the challenge will now be for managers to maintain that level of autonomy, freedom and flexibility with staff once offices re-open. In order to move away from such high figures of burnout managers need to appreciate that an empty desk does not mean employees aren’t working.

The research also found 32 per cent of employees are expecting an improvement to be made to wellbeing policies upon return to the office – however over a third of companies fear that their leadership team are not equipped to handle new ways of working. Indeed, employers stated that their management team needed to be more empathetic to work/life balance (74 per cent), focus on outcomes rather than time spent (65 per cent), improve their understanding of mental health & wellbeing (52 per cent), and create more time for collaboration rather than adopting a top-down management method (36 per cent).

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