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Mental Health Awareness Week: Beware of burnout

14-05-2024|true

Employees’ mental health is a key priority for businesses across the UK right now and if it isn’t, it should be! Here at Ultimate Finance, a main part of our People Promise is the continued support of the health and wellbeing of our teams. That’s wellbeing in all its forms; physical, financial and (arguably, most importantly) mental.

During April we had Stress Awareness Week and this month, May sees Mental Health Awareness Week – two key entries on our wellbeing calendar where it’s vitally important to show our employees that their mental health is one of our top priorities. This year there’s a big focus on movement and the positive impact it can have on people’s mental health – find out more from the Metal Health Foundation here: Mental Health Awareness Week | Mental Health Foundation.

To help our teams get involved this week we are encouraging them to move more and find moments for movement in their daily routine such as turning a one to one meeting into a walking opportunity, getting some fresh air on their lunch break take part into our regular step counting competition (which also helps the planet through tree planting) and have organised an all company away day on Friday 17th May for all our teams across the country to get together and spend the day enjoying the great outdoors.

Something else that’s really important to us when it comes to looking after our mental health is the threat of burning out. There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to dealing with burnout, but as we enter the fifth month of the year, there’s the distinctly real possibility that many employees will not have taken a prolonged break from work for the best part of four months. With no real breaks from the day-to-day routine for a while, the first signs of burning out start rising to the surface – we’ll get to those in a minute.

At the recent 2024 Employee Engagement Summit in London (Europe’s largest industry event of its kind), we were fortunate enough to hear from notable mental health campaigner Ruby Wax OBE, who shared fascinating insights on a wide range of mental health topics. On burnout, the key takeaway was the fact that there is very much a “tipping point”. It’s likely to come about as a culmination of factors – an ever increasing upward curve or responsibilities and obligations – that eventually becomes unsustainable and leads to the aforementioned tipping point.

Strangely, there is an ideal balance between pressure and performance which creates healthy tension (good stress), this comes as that pressure and performance curve reaches its peak. The most common issue is the assumption that people will ease back down from this peak, but the reality is that most fall off the ‘burnout cliff’. So what are the signs of burnout and what measures can we take to keep it at bay?

The signs of burning out

Reduced productivity

Taking longer to respond to emails, a to-do list that never shrinks, ignoring calls and messages for as long as possible. Burnout can often lead to a loss of motivation and makes performing harder than it used to be. In the age of “always on” when the expectation is to be able to be contacted via multiple means at any given time, the mere sound of a notification can trigger stress signals and exacerbate the feeling of burning out.

Fatigue

Whether you are finding it harder to go to sleep at night or your rhythm hasn’t changed and yet you find yourself more and more exhausted, burnout can lead to physical and mental signs of feeling tired, drained or running on empty which will further impact your ability to function, even when it comes to the smallest of tasks.

Self-doubt

When little things get to you everything can feel bigger than it is and warp your sense of self. Suddenly you feel like you’re not good enough at most things, you find yourself thinking that others are doing better than you at simply copping and your self-confidence and self-esteem get eroded as time goes on.

Feeling defeated

You may end up feeling helpless, trapped in your own life or as if nothing is going how you expect it to – even if you are aware that it is only due to feeling stressed. Burnout can lead to treating yourself – and others – negatively, which can lead to a cynical outlook and affect your interactions with others.

Detachment

Burnout can lead to an exacerbated feeling of loneliness or detachment, making you feel withdrawn from social groups or as if you’ve lost interest in activities that should bring you joy.

Physical symptoms

Burnout can also present itself via a range of physical symptoms as well as the mental affects I have described. Stress and anxiety can trigger reactions throughout our bodies such as headaches, stomach pains and nausea, which can often be wrongly attributed to physical health as we often miss to correctly diagnose mental health issues.

Dealing with stress to keep away from burning out

Recognising the signs of stress and preventing yourself from burning out by taking measures to look after your mental health is important to maintain your personal well-being. Here are a few things you could start with.

Maintain healthy boundaries between life and work

It is easier than it ever was to let work infiltrate our non-working hours. Our working habits were shaken to their core when working from home became an important part of the week for many of us, and the lines between work life and personal life have been blurred ever since. However, it is important to maintain a healthy balance between the two: stick to office hours at home, silent notifications on breaks and turn devices off at the end of the day to make a clear cut between the two.

Employers have a big role to play in helping to set up these boundaries too, as they can reinforce their usefulness through official communications, adopt a no messages outside of working hours policy or ask that no meetings be organised over lunch hours.

Physical exercise helps you feel good

Physical exercise isn’t all about keeping physically fit, it also does wonders for our mental health. There are the endorphins your body create that can improve how you feel, there is the sense of accomplishment that can help you build up your motivation, there is the outdoors that can fight the feeling of being detached – the positives almost never end.

A flexible working environment can allow for more physical exercise where people may find it hard to carve out time in their busy day to prioritise even a short half hour break dedicated to moving around.

Take time off

The best way to feel like you’re taking a break? It’s to take a break. Sometimes it just gets too much, and a few hours of rest simply aren’t enough time to make up for weeks and weeks of juggling work and our personal life. Taking regular longer breaks is essential to maintain a good rhythm throughout the whole year. You could go abroad and really break your routine, or you could organise a great staycation and pretend you are a tourist in your own hometown. Or you even could spend some of your off time catching up on your reading pile or streaming list – whatever makes you feel happiest and can help bring you back to your happier, more relaxed self.

It is important that line managers be trained to recognise the signs of burn out in their teams and encourage them to take time off, be it through holiday allowance or mental health sick pay if that is available. HR departments should also regularly encourage all employees to book time off to recuperate and spend time away from work and remind them of why it is important to do so.

Talk to someone

Finally, it is important to remember we aren’t alone, and that mental health isn’t a taboo anymore. Many workplaces have taken steps to help employees look after their mental health and there may be resources that can help you take charge right now: a helpline, Mental Health First Aiders, HR or a manager or mentor. Or you could even just arrange for a quick informal catch up with a colleague over a nice cup of tea, and you may find that you’re not the only one feeling burned out.

Ignoring the signs of burning out won’t make them go away, and it could lead to adverse effects on your health, relationships, and performance. Make sure you identify them and try to understand what helps you cope most. Seek support, set boundaries, and prioritise looking after yourself to prevent burning out.

Find out more about stress and mental health on the Mental Health Foundation website.

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