How to deal with burnout in the workplace

7 min | Sandra Henke | Article | Leadership Managing a team People and culture Retention Staff engagement

Dealing with employee burnout

There are times when work can leave you stressed and exhausted. If you ignore this, or it happens too often, you’re left at risk of burnout. The effects of burnout can vary, but it can impact anything from your mental health to your blood pressure. It can happen to any of us and, while the working world has changed in recent years, the causes of burnout and how to deal with it haven’t.

Many people have returned to their physical workplace in some form, often resulting in less sleep and a less comfortable environment. For those working remotely, setting up offices in our homes has left many struggling to keep both environments separate. This naturally leads to longer working hours and an unhealthy work/life balance. All of this puts you at even greater risk.

Burnout doesn’t need to be permanent, and there are steps you can take to recover. In this blog, I’ll be looking at how to deal with burnout and what to avoid.

You’re not alone

It might seem as though everyone else is able to cope with the stresses of their work life. You’ll receive loads of emails, some outside of working hours, and think that it’s normal. Another common misconception is that only people with high-stress roles, or those with lots of responsibility, can be affected by burnout.

That’s not the case. 88 per cent of UK workers have experienced burnout in the last two years while, in 2021, 50 per cent of Americans claimed to have suffered from it in the previous two weeks. In Australia, 46 per cent of workers said they felt burnt out in early 2022 – up 12% from a year earlier.

What does this mean? Firstly, that you are not alone. Others have experienced the same thing, and they’ll understand when you do too. Secondly, and just as importantly – it isn’t your fault. This affects a lot of people, and you aren’t doing anything wrong.

Avoid presenteeism – working when sick isn’t working

The impact of the pandemic on our mental health, combined with more people working remotely, has led to a new form of presenteeism. Presenteeism is the act of making an intentional effort to show that you’re dedicated and working, even though you’re not fully able to function. A report from CIPD unearthed that 46 per cent of UK employees had worked despite being too unwell to fulfil their duties.

This doesn’t go unnoticed. In 2022, a huge 81 per cent of UK employers saw presenteeism among its remote workforce. This makes sense – working from the comfort of the lounge or bedroom means we’re less likely to call in sick. “Sure, I don’t feel great, but it’s not too bad, is it?”

Working when you’re unwell won’t aid your recovery. To be honest, it’s unlikely to help your employer either, given the loss in productivity. It’s better to take that sick day and focus on your wellbeing.

Don’t fear the consequences of taking a break

If you’re in danger of burnout, you shouldn’t continue to strain yourself just to keep up appearances. It’s not uncommon to become disinterested, cynical or even irritable, which won’t help you in your role or with your workplace relationships.

When that happens, there could well be more to lose if you do carry on. It’s understandable that you’re worried about your achievements going unnoticed, or your employer undervaluing you. However, trying to prove yourself until you burn out isn’t a healthy solution. In the past my colleague, Christine Wright, has offered advice on what to do.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Working remotely, even on a hybrid basis, also means fewer opportunities for water cooler chats or grabbing coffee with a colleague. As a result, not only do you have fewer pauses in your working day, but you’re less likely to get a truthful assessment from your colleagues on themselves. Let’s be honest, if you ask anybody how their day is going, you can already guess the reply. “I’m so busy.” “It’s hectic!” “I’ve got back-to-back meetings!” Of course, this is sometimes true, but in your head, it’s happening to everyone all the time.

This contributes to the idea that you should be working even harder to match their standards, often leading to imposter syndrome. You can find more on how to deal with imposter syndrome here.

Talk to your colleagues – and your manager – about burnout

Find a colleague that you can share your problems with. Talking about your problems honestly and openly can be beneficial. After all, there’s a good chance that you’re not the only one at your company who feels this way. If they are struggling with their workload and in danger of burnout, you’ll know that something needs to change at your workplace.

A recent Hays poll revealed that 51 per cent of respondents could discuss mental health with their manager. It’s understandable that you might be hesitant about speaking to your manager about these issues. However, if you believe that events at work are affecting your wellbeing, it might help.

Book a meeting with your manager so you can discuss the matter privately with their undivided attention. Here’s what to consider when talking to your manager about burnout – it’s ok to make a list of these to discuss:

Phrase your concerns in a way that doesn’t put blame on them. Start the conversation softly. Identify the source of your burnout and explain why it’s affecting you. Try to articulate your current feelings and attitude and how it’s impacting you and your performances. Suggest potential solutions, or at least improvements.

This could be time management or prioritizing certain tasks. A survey from the American Psychological Association uncovered that 71 per cent of US workers believe their organizations are more concerned about their employees’ mental wellbeing than they were prior to the pandemic. That said, if you feel as though your employer doesn’t take your wellbeing seriously, it could be time to consider a change of scenery.

In the same survey, 81% of respondents said that a prospective employer’s attitude to mental health would be an important factor in deciding whether to work for them. Given that 40 per cent of people who left their job in 2021 cited burnout as a factor in their decision, it might be the right option for you too.

Focus on you

It isn’t your fault, but there are steps you can take to deal with burnout.

Take time for you. This means starting at a reasonable time and not staying too late. This won’t always be possible – there’ll be occasions when you won’t be able to finish work on time, but don’t make it the norm. If you’re at home, there’s a chance that your office might even be in the kitchen, depriving you of the chance to stretch your legs and get a drink.

Schedule in regular breaks throughout the day unless it’s simply not possible. Use your annual leave to get away from your work entirely – this could be a vacation, time with friends or family, or just a few days to rest. Spend your spare time on working days doing things you enjoy. Many people find that exercise is beneficial. Find something that suits you. If you have other hobbies, that doesn’t need to be a long-distance run or hours spent in the gym. Try yoga or meditation to help you destress.

Lastly, try to avoid the temptation of keeping your eyes glued to a screen late into the night. I know it’s hard, but a good night’s sleep won’t be helped by another episode on Netflix or scrolling through social media.

What to remember: How to deal with burnout

A healthy routine, lifestyle and attitude to your role will only help you to be productive in the workplace. If you don’t feel as though your m is understanding or supportive, think about what even though it’s easy to look around you and think that everyone is doing fine, you aren’t alone.

Instead of continuing to overwork until you crash (or trying to carry on after you already have), take a break, whether that’s a short one during the day or a week on annual leave. Making time for the things that you enjoy and treating your body well will go a long way to dealing with burnout.

About this author

Sandra Henke
Group Head of People and Culture

Sandra is the Group Head of People and Culture at Hays. She is a member of the Management Board with responsibility for leading People and Culture strategy and best practice. Her key area of focus is to continue to evolve our culture and people practices, with a specific focus on Diversity and Inclusion, Change Management, Leadership and Talent Development, Succession, Management Skills and Employee Engagement.

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