CHIEF OF STAFF FIVE: Everyone experiences stress. In the case of employees, if left unchecked, it could lead to burnout, harming both their careers and the organisation that depends on them to do their jobs.
The World Health Organisation has listed three main symptoms to identify burnout. They are: exhaustion, reduced productivity at work, and increased mental disengagement from the job, if not outright negative feelings towards work.
A 2021 study by Ceridian found that 92% of Singaporean employees are now experiencing burnout, and this has reduced productivity in both work and personal contexts. Today, many organisations operate on the belief that employees are responsible for managing their own stress, but the numbers show that individual coping mechanisms aren’t enough.
So it is fast becoming up to HR (and often HR alone) to take a more proactive approach to preventing employee burnout. Here are five best practices that can help to organisations to get started.
1. Build employee resilience
Constant stress leads to anxiety, which leads to higher burnout rates and even greater stress. However, individuals with higher resilience aren’t as prone to burnout from increased stress levels. Resilience training programs have been found to enhance wellbeing and performance.
It should be noted that the effects of resilience training often diminish over time, but there are also other practices that can boost resilience. One method, for example, is to teach employees to foresee problems ahead of time, and prompt them to create countermeasures. This should be followed up with a a review at the end to determine what worked, what didn’t and why.
Communication can reduce burnout rates in multiple ways. Making sure that employees are informed about changes well before they happen allows employees to accept and adapt to them.
This may mean that organisations have to open up about issues they wouldn’t usually involve employees in directly, but employees can often feel the telltale signs of such issues anyway. Communicating these issues may at least reduce employee stress from the presence of uncertainty.
Another facet to communication is ensuring that employees understand that their work has value, both within the company, for consumers, and the wider community. If there are community benefits to their work, then that is something worth highlighting, as it can do wonders for mental health.
3. The human touch
Work-life balance should be more than a slogan. There is often a need to shift the drivers of company culture — from HR managers and other stakeholders — towards seeing things from an employee’s perspective.
HR professionals can provide mental health help, whether through insurance coverage, telehealth services, counselling and exercise programmes, or meditation support.
Benefits such as childcare, meals, or transportation help to reduce stress in daily life, while allowing employees to be more productive at work. It is also important to give employees time and resources to build relationships in the workplace, as personal connections can help employees weather rough times and boost teamwork.
About 72% of global employees report feeling loneliness, making employees five times more likely to miss work due to stress or illness.
4. Encourage employees to take time off
Time away from work may actually increase overall productivity, as employees are able to unwind from their busy days and process their stress in healthier ways. One way is to add activities during company hours, such as a weekly social hour or mid-day yoga classes, anything that encourages employees to leave their desks. Almost any form of movement is proven to decrease stress.
Leaders play an important role in this. When an organisation’s leader respects its employees' time and does not contact them during their time off, this too can prevent burnout.
Morale often dwindles when the days start getting busier, so managers can encourage employees to take mental health days. When managers prompt employees to take time off during stressful periods, it reduces their hesitation for fear of being seen as “not a team player”.
Despite the best efforts of HR professionals, there will be some employees who aren’t keen on using any coping skills and overwork themselves. HR departments can't force employees to use the tools and resources available to them, but if these resources are at least easy to access and continuously promoted, employees are more likely to try when the going gets tough.