How can HR combat employee burnout?

'Listen to the needs of your people and get to know everyone individually'

How can HR combat employee burnout?

No matter what country or Australia-wide survey you read, burnout is high on the agenda amongst workers due to post-COVID stress, cost-of-living expenses rising and the blur between working and non-working hours, as the hybrid work model becomes a modern workday reality.

With workers slowly returning to the office during the month of January after a much-anticipated summer free of COVID restrictions and school holidays plans, companies are looking for ways to ensure executives and managers return refreshed and stay positive throughout the year.

“The key to keeping employees fresh is that they are doing meaningful roles,” Shannon Bowman, director at Create Balance Psychotherapy and Counselling, said.

“They contribute to a common goal and mission with which their values align.”

Managers must also be clear on expectations, he said, “and regularly discuss whether employees are still getting those things, such as intrinsic satisfaction from their work.”

A LinkedIn survey revealed last year that more than 60% of Australians felt burnt out with the Christmas period of gift buying, family reunions and expectations that their employers will communicate with them during the holidays, not offering any respite.

And a Microsoft Work Trend Index showed that Australian workers suffered a higher level of work burnout than other countries surveyed.

Asking questions

Bowman, who is an integrative psychotherapist, believes employers need to ask employees questions to gauge their mental health.

"Do they feel as though they are getting heard? Are they moving towards their personal goals within the organisation's vision? Are their skills being utilised the way they would hope they would be?" he said.

“These are important questions, as is also finding out what motivates them.”

Harnessing an employee's natural energy and enthusiasm for tasks is key to increased productivity. By discovering how each works best, employers can create work environments that maximise creativity and minimise tedium — resulting in an engaged team of employees who love their job.

“If employees do things they are naturally good at, the work comes out more effortlessly, and burnout is less of a problem,” said Bowman.

“Rather than incentives, employees need daily practices and routines to keep them motivated. Recognise each other's achievements, celebrate those wins together, and have ways and systems to acknowledge and encourage good work frequently. Taking the time to do that will pay dividends and inspire better team performance.”

Human resources has a key role to play in helping employees maintain good mental health, be driven in their work and help work with others in achieving a healthy work-life balance.

“Human resources should learn best practices from mental health and executive coaches in the field and adopt them into their organisations as a primary business priority,” Bowman said. “This will show in the following: increased productivity, retention, lower recruitment costs, and better business performance.”

Australian employers are bracing for a rise in costs due to absenteeism as mental health impacts the workplace. Post-pandemic, the number of days off as a result of poor psychological health is predicted to increase by 20%.

‘Everyone is different’

“Everyone is different, and it’s important to listen to your people in terms of what keeps them fresh and well,” Abbie Williams, founder of Letters of Hope Charity, said.

“Universally, though, it is important to create a culture that is supportive of work-life balance and flexibility. This is an emerging space as we navigate a post-COVID world, with some companies reverting back to more traditional work practices, and others continuing to adapt in line with what people are looking for.”

Employees who thrive in the office will still work in the office, while employees who thrive remotely will opt to work from home, she said.

“Listen to the needs of your people and get to know everyone individually. Ask them, human to human: ‘How can we ensure that you remain fresh and don’t burn out?’”

Williams, a member of the MAHRI with more than five years of human resources experience, has worked with a number of high-risk professions such as the veterinary industry, and founded the charity in 2018 to help others.

Highlight supports available

She believes that it is important to build systems within the company to allow everyone to feel comfortable to speak up.

“As we know, some people are more vocal than others, so it’s also important to build awareness of the different supports available to people both internally and externally when they feel burnt out. Letting people know that they can access support through your EAP, or that they can access their sick leave for mental health reasons, can be enough to ensure someone seeks the support that they need to get through a period of burnout.”

The key is to listen to people, and for managers to get to know their team members on an individual and authentic level, said Williams.

“At times, we can overcomplicate workplace wellbeing, and the key often lies in having those human interactions with your team and ensuring that they are listened to. Be conscious of the signs that indicate a team member isn’t quite themselves. If you spot the signs, check in with them and ask what you should be doing as their leader to alleviate any stress.”

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