Does career success have to mean burnout – or can companies mitigate the risk?

Alison Bates
HR and Systems Officer
18.08.2022
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40% of employees believe that burnout is an inevitable part of success, according to research published at the end of July

The relationship between lockdowns, isolation, working patterns and burnout are only just beginning to be understood. What is certain is that mental health cases in the UK spiked after lockdowns began.

Inevitably, this has major consequences for companies. Lockdown threw many companies into an entirely new paradigm, as they had to build culture and support staff virtually – often in the face of rising staff needs.

‘Anatomy of Work’ was published by Asana on 26 July, a web and mobile work management platform. It found that 42% of employees say they experience both burnout and imposter syndrome. The company quoted Dr Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley in the US on the rise of burnout.

“Unfortunately, burnout has been steadily rising since May 2020 and we have now hit a critical threshold,” said Dr Yousef. “As it currently stands, people and organisations are being set up for failure, since high burnout leads to lower morale, more mistakes, and a lack of engagement with work.”

What can companies do?

Our own experience

Brunel does not claim to have all the answers in this area by any stretch, but we do have an inbuilt advantage, and we have taken further measures to support staff wellbeing and morale through July, which is our company’s wellbeing month.

Our inbuilt advantage is that, prior to Covid, we were already practicing flexible working – it was part of our culture to enable staff to have flexibility. This means that they come into the office as they are needed and as they desire, and that those staff with other commitments or exceptionally long commutes can better jostle their calendar to suit them. It also prevents a culture of presenteeism, a common problem in the traditional approach. Fortunately, many more companies have adopted a similar approach since Covid.

Secondly, we used the month of July to run a major series of seminars and other sessions to support staff health, wellbeing and cohesion. We already ran fortnightly yoga sessions, but we saw this as an opportunity for a far more wide-ranging season of specific gatherings.

They began with ‘A Little Mindfulness’, at which a mindfulness coach explained what mindfulness can do for us and for those around us. At another session, a six-times cancer survivor spoke about motivation, life priorities and learning what we can and can’t control. At a third, a nutritionist talked through dietary patterns and healthy tricks for boosting energy at work.

We also held a smoothie morning, for no reason other than to see each other and talk about anything but work. We sent a cream tea hamper to all members of staff. Another day we hired someone to offer staff massages in the office.

Taking stock

None of these is a silver bullet, but wellbeing and mental health are multi-faceted, and we believe a company’s approach needs to be long-term and often iterative – we will take advice from staff and from experts along the way, and try things to see if any new approaches help.

We do feel a sense of responsibility on these issues – we can hardly insist our asset managers ask companies about these areas if we fail to do so ourselves.

But we also think building a long-term business means managing all risks – and thinking as much about prevention and mitigation before the event, as we do about remedies once any new challenges materialise.

Covid has had so many different impacts. Let’s hope one of them is making companies think more carefully about employee wellbeing.

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