By Lisa MacLaren, Senior Vice President – Client Services

Burnout isn’t a new thing – it’s always troubled the workplace. A more open dialogue about the impact of workplace-induced stress and mental health has brought it to the forefront of discussion.

Burnout leads to increased absenteeism, resignations and poor productivity. All ages of employees, from graduate trainees to the C-suite to retirees, have been more visible and vocal about the causes, triggers and impact of burnout – so it’s time business leaders and HR departments start taking action to combat it.

Change is the new constant

It might be an overused phrase, but it accurately describes today’s world of work. The problem is that some people, companies and sectors are less able to deal with change than others. This is especially true if their work involves highly structured and embedded processes.

Don’t get me wrong; the modern workplace can be a positive and highly inclusive world as a result of more open-source approaches, tools and greater visibility and transparency through digitalization and modern technology. It’s a great place for people who easily adjust their mental outlook and physical presence. But it can also be restrictive and threatening. Some don’t want to be in the spotlight, sat in virtual meetings all day. And the greater visibility provided by digitalization has caused new waves of micromanagement and internal competition.

Connection and communication are vital for building effective and long-lasting work relationships. Remote working has either reduced or completely removed these opportunities for a lot of people. Conversely, some have been forced back into the office, having been hired on the promise of remote work.

What can we do about it?

We need to listen, train and support. It’s important to provide employees with a platform, vehicle and time to share their feelings in a non-threatening, non-judgmental, safe space, and ensure all people managers have some level of mental health awareness training. Employers could give employees access to flexible time off when needed, and ensure they know how to access assistance programs without feeling self-conscious. And they need to encourage all leaders and managers to ask how their employees are – being mindful of any changes in their behaviors or work output and engagement that may indicate they are struggling.

We can also combat employee burnout at the source – by implementing and promoting flexible working. This has proved to reduce burnout and improve retention levels by providing employees with greater control to balance their lives. Promoting flexible working also attracts candidates; a flexible work environment is now the main criterion people look for in a new job.

This may seem counterintuitive with the drive to encourage people back to the office, which does aid culture and collaboration, but there are solutions to help achieve balance for all. For example, anchor days – where teams commit to being in the office one or more days a week on the same days – deliver maximum collaborative working time and connection with each other in person. Anchor days work best if people are encouraged to have free time in their day, rather than just be plugged into virtual meetings for the whole day (or they may as well be at home!). Team meetings, roundtables, brainstorms and development sessions all incentivize people to return to the office. The savings from introducing regular remote work can then be reinvested into making anchor days more meaningful.

Managing burnout

One of the key triggers of burnout is a lack of balance. For example, you need to ensure you always have spare time to spend with family and friends, exercise and relax.

It’s all about creating boundaries. A dedicated home working space is great if you can find a way to set one up. Don’t cross those lines once they’re set – don’t take your work laptop out of that room. Similarly, having separate home and work mobile phones helps. I recommend not having any work email or apps on your home phone and vice versa; that physical boundary helps solidify the mental one.

Jacinda Ardern was an extreme case because of the heavy weight of the job, but it still proves how difficult it is to balance work with family. We all have to work long hours some days but try not to work around the family. If you’re working, whatever the time, stick to your dedicated workspace. When spending time with family members, set boundaries not to engage with emails or your laptop. It will benefit you all.

Originally featured in People Management.