Recognising employee burnout — and how to help

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For employers only

On one side, working from home has been a bit of a luxury for many – no commute, getting to spend more time with family and being more productive at work. 

The flip-side however, is that some people have experienced the inability to effectively separate work and home life, which has also brought some financial struggles and the feeling of isolation. Subsequently, there can be an increased likelihood of burnout.

 

Recognise when employees are burnt out 

There are various signs you should look out for – some of which can be very subtle1

  • Employees who always seem exhausted.
  • Employees making more mistakes than they normally would and just don’t seem themselves.
  • Or a noticeable loss of professional efficacy.

If you’ve picked up that an employee is showing any of these signs, then you should consider what you can do to help their situation.

In this article, we'll show you some factors that can lead to burnout, as well as providing you with potential solutions to consider.  

 

Prevent employees doing additional work in a bid to overly impress 

We’ve all done it – working more than we should to show our boss that we deserve a pay rise or promotion. This can be driven by two things – we want a fair salary to reflect what we do in our role, or it could be driven by the need to deal with any financial issues we might already have. 

It's good to make sure your employees know you value them, especially if you can’t give them a pay rise. Things like prioritising their work-life balance is particularly important if they work from home, as it’s all too easy to keep working after hours and never switch off.

Other ways you can let employees know they’re valued include offering a good pay package with additional perks, such as private medical insurance and a good workplace pension. It's also important to celebrate any achievements, such as sharing good news with other members across the company or recognising them for their work. 

 

Financial issues could be a factor of employee burnout  

The problem may not be work related at all. It could easily be a financial issue your employee is struggling with, such as a high level of debt, a partner losing their job or their working hours have been reduced. This could result in your employee maybe feeling the need to work extra hours just to make ends meet. Working longer hours and struggling to switch off might lead to them being more stressed and less productive. 

Studies show that after our household incomes hit a certain amount, we start dropping down the happiness scale2. At that level, people tend to focus on activities to further increase their wealth, like working longer hours or travelling more for business3

Our research also found that, 4 in 10 of us have less than £100 left to spend at the of each month. Unsurprisingly, the majority of this group (75%) say they worry about money, especially general costs of living, lack of saving and rent3. To help address this struggle, you can help employees improve their financial wellbeing by sharing hints and tips from our Financial Wellbeing Index. You can also encourage your workplace scheme adviser (or invite a financial adviser or debt charity) to have regular workshops, webinars or meetings with your employees to help educate them about money management.

With these approaches, your employee will likely feel more in control of their finances, and therefore will be less likely to get stressed and feel the pressure to work overtime. Furthermore, creating a safe space for your employee lets them know that they can talk to you about their personal or financial struggles without any form of judgement. It also helps you understand their situation and hopefully enables you to work with them to find a solution. 

Bear in mind: every employee’s situation will be different and it’s unlikely that a one-size approach will be suitable for all your employees. Listening to and addressing each of your employees' concerns can help you to kick-start a plan of action to create some peace of mind and reduce the risk of burnout. 

You should also let employees talk to them in their own time and at their own pace. Any pressure to divulge information could again be counterproductive.

 

The financial costs of working from home

If your employees are still working from home or if you’ve adopted a hybrid model, paying for bills and the right equipment for a home office could be a worry for employees. There are extra costs to consider with buying desks, ergonomic chairs, laptop stands and computer screens. As we head into winter — and with energy prices rising — paying these bills could also cause an added stress for employees. 

If employees are unable to afford the fastest internet service, a poor connection can equally cause difficulties. They may worry about meeting calls getting cut off, or it could slow down their speed of working. This again could lead to employees having to work extra hours to overcompensate for time lost when the internet is playing up.

To help address these issues, as an employer, you could offer support to help employees upgrade their home office equipment and internet service. By doing this, you not only help to reduce their stress, but it will also help employees work more productively. 

Additionally, your employees might not be aware that they may be able to claim tax relief for additional household costs if they work from home on a regular basis (either for all, or part of the week) from the UK Government.  

Tax relief may be claimed for gas and electricity, metered water and business phone calls – but only for the part that relates to their work, and not for personal reasons. This could be useful information for your remote and hybrid employees, so it's good to check in with them to see what they might be able to benefit from.

 

It shouldn't be all work and no play

One thing most of us miss when working from home is the conversations we have with colleagues in the office over a cup of tea or coffee. It’s those conversations that help break up our day. Even banter across the desk can help to create a better bond between your employees and relieve daily stresses about work and finances.

To solve this, encourage your employees to put time in their diary to catch up for 5-10 minutes with colleagues, set-up virtual fitness classes, and encourage group coffee breaks every so often. This can help reduce burnout as your employees find more balance in their daily workload, and are able to have some down time with colleagues. 

 

Check your own working habits

It's all good and well trying to be supportive of your employees, but if you’re sending emails to employees at all hours of the day and night, it doesn't set a good example. Keeping work conversations to work hours as much as possible will result in employees having lower stress levels. It also creates a better work-life balance for yourself, additionally preventing your own burnout too. 

If you do prefer to work flexibly, adding a note at the bottom of your email signature will let employees know that’s the case and that you don’t expect them to have to reply outside of their own working hours. This would help prevent employees feeling any pressure to work unsociable hours.

 

Communication is key

The more support you can give your employees, whether they’re in the office or working from home, the less likely they’re to suffer from burnout. Understanding their workload, working environment and any external factors that might have an impact on their work, as well as when you expect them to take time for themselves is vital. And that’s down to communication.  

Open communication is the ultimate way to avoid employees suffering from burnout. Even if some of these conversations are slightly uncomfortable, they’re necessary to prove your support for your employees. 

 

Sources:

1 Stress and burnout – how to spot the signs. Data source, NHS, November 2021.

2Kahneman, D. and Deaton,A., 2010. High income improves evaluation of life but emotional well-being. Proceedings of the national academy of scenes, 107 (38), pp 16489-16493.

3 Our insight into the nation’s financial wellbeing, page 8 and 9. Data source, Aegon, Financial Wellbeing research carried out in August - September 2020, 10,000 respondents.