What can businesses do to tackle the burnout epidemic?

What can businesses do to tackle the burnout epidemic?

When it comes to burnout, businesses cannot rely on benefits and perks that put pressure on already-stressed individuals to fix themselves. For lasting change, organisations need to rethink their role in causing the issue and put wellbeing at the heart of their business strategy. Want to hear more? Book a call here.

At the recent Well_Lab Beating Burnout roundtable, Miranda Dixon, Head of Community at Well_Lab, cited an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”

When applied to the issue of workplace burnout, the wisdom is apparent. Burnout is nothing new. But the pandemic has poured fuel on the fire and amplified its impact on all levels: from frontline to C-suite. And just like so many other aspects of the pandemic, to beat it we must work together.

The invite-only roundtable event gathered business leaders from fashion to finance to assess the effect of burnout in their industry and explore how it not only impacts those who are suffering - but how organisations need to rethink their role in both causing and addressing the issue to lead to real change.

The discussion was led by Gita Luz, Well_Lab’s Chief Burnout Officer, Chris Slater, CEO of Sanctus, and Geraldine Cunningham, Associate Director of Culture Change and Wellbeing at Barts Health NHS Trust, with leaders from brands such as Boohoo, Wickes, Tesco Bank, Museum of the UN and TikTok also in attendance.

What has changed?

Chris Slater opened the discussion. “Our relationship with work has changed, and what is expected from work has fundamentally changed.” In the short space of eighteen months, our attitudes to work have evolved. “The pandemic has made us rethink how we work, where we work and when we work. Equally, how employees need - and expect - to be supported has changed too.”

Hybrid working is now considered common practice for ‘office’ workers. Businesses have had to quickly adapt to support these new employee preferences - with 84% of businesses in the UK now stating that they will adopt either hybrid or flexible working conditions.

But businesses are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their workforce and this lack of a one-size-fits-all solution can make it difficult to keep everyone happy. One outcome noted by several businesses has been the gap between ‘front line’ workers and HQ: with drivers, sales assistants, factory workers and more seeing office workers at home or on furlough and becoming frustrated by that gap. The chances of burnout increase simply because people feel hard done by.

Culture is more than a benefits package

The forward-thinking leaders in attendance all agreed that business culture must also evolve to meet these new expectations.

“Employees aren’t pawns on a chessboard,” said Chris. “As a CEO you need to ask: Do my teams have the skills and support they need to do their job effectively? The ultimate objective of a CEO is to create balance - and wellbeing is part of that.”

The panel pointed out that although there was a spike in the number of wellbeing schemes implemented by businesses during the pandemic, these were not always effective. This means only a fraction of the estimated global spend of $66 billion on workplace wellbeing is making an impact. What’s worse is wellbeing is often not part of a long term plan - research has shown that 75% of organisations are opting to cut these support programmes as the world returns to normal.

What’s more, participants pointed out that many leaders are burned out, too - but have to act as role models, and help other employees to reconnect with their work. Here, there is a clear role for the employer to provide concrete programmes and guidance on how to navigate this complicated issue.

Wellbeing is good for business

To bring about change, leaders need to create the conditions for organisational resilience that moves beyond putting pressure on stressed-individuals to fix themselves. The challenge is knowing where to start, how to sustain it, and how leadership can enable it.

Creating this resilience should be a business priority, as the financial impact is clear to see. Gita Luz illustrated the negative impact burnout has on productivity. “A disengaged employee costs employers 34% of their salary so there is a concrete business reason for discussing burnout.”

The panel pointed to ‘The Great Resignation’ as testament to the impact of burnout. Despite not having jobs secured, almost 1 in 4 workers are willing to leave their existing posts to find positions that better reflect their preferences.

Burnout can only be dealt with by diagnosing it properly: from measuring how widespread it is, engaging with those who are suffering, and understanding how the organisation is creating burnout conditions. The roundtable suggested that listening to feedback from marginalised groups can help employers develop the right support strategies for their team.

Beating burnout for good

Gita Luz brought the session to a close. “Burnout is an issue for everyone. It affects 79% of employees in some way, shape or form.” There were furious nods of agreement that burnout is spreading like wildfire - and it is the duty of business leaders to support their teams through this crisis. And while most leaders worried about uptake of existing wellbeing programmes, they acknowledged the real challenge is actually finding out what’s making a tangible impact.

It also seemed clear in this virtual room that we are only at the beginning of the journey: wellbeing initiatives for individuals are the tip of the iceberg. Submerged beneath the surface is the challenge of rethinking the organisation and experimenting with new policies, initiatives and ways of working that put people at the heart and measure what works.

Wellcome, leaders in global health research, and Brink, the behavioural innovation people, have partnered to launch WellLab to bring science-backed wellbeing strategies to the workplace. They are now assembling Five Founding Members from forward-thinking organisations to join the Beating Burnout Programme. The 6-month programme brings together pioneering organisations to find what works as they each target burnout in their own organisation by measuring burnout, trialing evidence-based interventions small-scale to learn quickly what makes an impact, and scaling successes. Learn more about Well_Lab here and how you can apply.

Interested in this topic, want to know more, or have some thoughts? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let's chat!