Burnout is a huge risk to our collective mental health wellbeing in the UK. This in turn puts unnecessary burden on our already stretched NHS. Around half of Doctors themselves suffer from a degree of burnout, and the lasting affects it can have on workers obviously puts the health service under more strain. In a study conducted by Virgin in 2015 a reported 51% of full-time employees have suffered anxiety or burnout in their current job, and that number leaps to 73% for social workers according to Pulse.
It is not just taking its toll on the employees. In the last financial year, absences due to work-related stress grew, and the cost to the economy was £18 billion. If the number of annual absences continues at the same rate, that number will grow to £26 billion by 2030. The worst thing about these figures is that they are totally avoidable. Nicknamed Overachiever Syndrome, it is a symptom of the employer trying to do more with less, and the culture of normalising long hours and exhaustion, which is often perpetuated by the employees themselves.
This has led to a sharp increase in mental health issues. Personnel Today reports that problems with mental health have risen by 71.9% since 2011. This is partly due to the declining stigma surrounding such problems, and there will obviously be other factors at play to cause these issues, but burnout is a huge benefactor, and it is leading to a huge increase in absences, as well as being a startlingly bleak indictment on the culture of the workplace today.
There are more concerning statistics regarding the health and wellbeing of employees. 89% admit dragging themselves to work when they should be staying home sick, which not only puts the individual employee at risk, but their colleagues as well. By coming in before they are healthy, they will make more workers sick, and 9 times out of 10 these workers won’t take any time off and the viscous cycle continues through the whole office.
This is called ‘presenteeism’ and it is predicted to be more costly than absences. HMRC estimates that it costs businesses £605 per person each year, and an ITIJ study predicts the cost of both absences and presenteeism to the UK economy to be around £73 billion per year. The behaviour is understandable. If one person is sick but makes it in, then if someone else gets sick a precedent has been set to tough it out. Whether this is expected or not by the employers is a little irrelevant, the problem is that no one wants to be the one to ‘let the team down’.
There are measures both employers and employees can take to stop the rot. We have previously written about how much more productive a happy workforce can be, but it’s worth reiterating. It seems counterintuitive for businesses to tell their employees to stay home, and a certain amount of vigilance is needed to make sure nobody takes advantage of the change in culture, but if an employee is sick they should not be stigmatised for trying to get better. If you take away the stigma, the culture will change, and people will no longer be working at half pace for large stretches of time. It is better for everyone.
And, of course, flexible working hours can help prevent burnout and other mental stress. On a very base, practical level, this is effective in relieving any external pressures an employee may feel. It also encourages the person to take charge of their workload without it ever feeling insurmountable. It will also help them get enough rest, and this is crucial to preventing burnout.
Creating an environment where burnout is rife is not only detrimental to the business and the wellbeing of employees, it can be downright dangerous, especially in sectors where manual labour is necessary, and in the care and medical professions. Culture changes can be difficult, but for the good of the health of the nation, and the nations economy, it is imperative that burnout isn’t ignored.