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How to Stop Burnout Being the Next Pandemic in Your Organisation

Kelly Swingler | 1st October 2020

Can you believe another Mental Health Awareness Week is upon us?  I still find myself saying ‘a few weeks ago’ when what I mean is post-lockdown… which has been much more than a few weeks! 2020 seems to be flying by for some of us, whilst sadly, others are struggling.

Lockdown has meant many of the usual Mental Awareness Week activities are on hold or needing to be run virtually, and yet this year, Mental Health is more important than ever.  Even though I’m starting to sound like a broken record, this year has proven why Mental Health needs to be something we consider all year round. Not just when it’s an event in the social calendar.

The pandemic’s impact on mental health & burnout

This pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another, and yet for many of us we’ve managed to keep working despite the many challenges and restrictions.  The video calls that have included piles of washing, children, partners and housemates have made a nice change to the four walls of meeting rooms… and I know many pets have been welcome guests to team meetings and client meetings alike!

The last seven months have started to take their toll.  Holidays have been non-existent, the face to face contact with loved ones and colleagues, the endless video meetings and the worry about whether ‘at the end of this’ we still have jobs! Many have had longer working hours and shorter breaks… but for the most part in the UK, we had sunshine at least.

We’re now being encouraged to work from home for another six months if we can.  This coincides with the change in weather, the shorter days and the longer night – which can be the catalyst for Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression. If we’re not careful, the existing challenge of already decreasing mental health will, unfortunately, lead to burnout!  I don’t want that to happen and I know you don’t either.

What can we do to prevent burnout?

In short, lots! But here a few pointers that don’t need to cost a lot in terms of time, money or energy:

Recognise that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic:

Say this openly to your people.  Thank them for their efforts.  Thank them for keeping the business going and continuing to deliver great service to your customers.  Thank them for allowing work to enter their homes full-time and tell them how much you appreciate their efforts.

Encourage your people to take breaks throughout the day. Real breaks:

We’re filling up too many of our days with video calls and continuing to do so during times that would allow for lunch and a quick cuppa.  Back to back video calls can be more stressful than back to back meetings.  We need to allow our people time to breathe, think, recharge and refresh. And ensure they are switching off in plenty of time for a great night’s sleep. Sleep deficit is the number one contributor to stress, anxiety, depression and burnout – we all need sweet dreams.

Communicate, clearly, openly and honestly:

I don’t just mean one-way messages and updates.  Find ways to engage in active tow way conversations.  Speak to your people about how they are feeling and listen to them.  Ask them for ideas and suggestions, and listen to them.  Offer support, and mean it.  And, even when you have nothing to say to them by way of corporate messaging, speak to them anyway. Remember, not everything has to be a video call where we’re all staring at the same screen all day.  Phones still do exist, as do messages and emails.  And not every conversation needs to take an hour.  We can speak to each other for two minutes and come to a solution.

Allow your people more flexibility in their work:

I’m a huge advocate for four-day working weeks and outputs rather than hours worked and when combined with other flexi-working patterns can actually increase productivity and be better for our wellbeing. So it’s win-win.  

As a lot of your work is now in the homes of your people, flexibility is key. Increasingly so as the days get darker and shorter.  Encourage your people to go for a mid-morning walk or do some exercise at lunch.  Encourage them to work their hours around their home so that stress levels don’t mount.  Ask them to share their successes by shaping their working week in a different way so that others feel able to do the same.

Help your people set up a dedicated workspace:

I’m still seeing people working with ironing boards as desks in their spare rooms and juggling laptops on laps. I know that we don’t all have the luxury of excess space in our homes to allow for full office set ups… but you can help to ensure that they have the equipment that they need to help them feel more comfortable.  If working in the office isn’t appropriate, encourage them to use co-working spaces, that you’ll pay for.  Perhaps provide a coffee allowance to work from coffee shops, bars or restaurants.  Most importantly, don’t assume one-size-fits-all! Every one of your people will have different home circumstances and it’s vital that you do what’s right for them.

If you want to gift your people anything this winter, let the light in:

If you want to give your people one of the greatest gifts of all this winter whilst lockdown continues, SAD lamps and Lumie lights (other brands are available) can make the most amazing impact on our wellbeing during the darker months, especially if our Christmas parties and team get-togethers are out of the window.

People first approach

Putting the wellbeing of your people first doesn’t just happen once a year, it’s a constant way of working and something that this year, more than ever, we need to get right.  There are hundreds of things I could suggest to help tackle mental health issues and burnout and no doubt several more hundreds of recommendations that would come from your people if you asked them. But I hope these simple suggestions will give you the foundation from which to build on.  And if you’re already doing these and more, share them far and wide, you never know who you may inspire.

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