Mental Health Burnout — Report calls for a national summit led by Government.
“Burnout” is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “An Occupational Phenomenon”.
In its annual benchmark report (‘The Burnout Report’), published on 22 January 2024, Mental Health UK has called upon the Government to lead a national summit on employment and mental health to determine how to create healthy workplaces and provide the best support for people to remain in, or return to, work.
The call for action comes amidst findings from their own survey of over 2,000 people, revealing significant levels of burnout, anxiety, stress and depression.
“The Burnout Report”
“Burnout” is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “An Occupational Phenomenon”. It has
three characteristics; a feeling of energy depletion/exhaustion, increased mental distancing from job, or feelings or negativism/cynicism alongside reduced professional efficacy.
The survey sampled 2,060 people, of whom 1,132 were of working age. Its main findings were:
- One in five (20%) had needed to take time off work at some point over the last year due to “stress/pressure”. This was most common amongst those aged 18 to 24 years and least prevalent amongst workers aged 55 years and above.
- Nine in ten people surveyed said they had experienced “high or extreme” levels of stress over the last year, with this being most prevalent amongst those aged 35 to 44 years.
- Thirty five percent of those surveyed said they did not feel comfortable raising their own mental health concerns with either their line manager or a senior manager, though younger workers were most comfortable in acknowledging stress.
Causes of stress
The survey further revealed:
- The main cause of stress/burnout in the workplace (54 %), was due to actual or perceived high or increased workloads, with 45 % blaming unpaid overtime.
- Forty-two percent of working age participants felt isolated at work, though this was seemingly less common amongst those who adopted a hybrid working pattern.
Other, non-work-related causes included “poor sleep” (64%), “financial uncertainty” (53%) and “poor physical health” (40%). Women were found to be marginally more likely to experience “stress/burnout” than men, by a margin of 5%. Geographically, the East of England and Scotland had the highest rates, though the differences around the UK were not statistically significant.
Of greater concern was the survey’s findings that less than one third of working adults were aware of any plans put in place by their employer to prevent stress/burnout, though 22 % of respondents professed they simply “did not know”. The majority felt that supportive friends and family outside work was the single most factor to help prevent stress/burnout.
The report makes a number of sensible and pragmatic recommendations for employers to reduce levels of anxiety, stress and burnout amongst their workforce. These include:
- Utilising the HSE “Mental Health Stress Bucket Tool”.
- Completing Mental Health UK’s “Wellness Action Plans”.
- Providing an employee assistance counselling service.
- Checking in regularly with employees to discuss workloads, challenges and ensuring that workloads are achievable.
- Fostering a culture of care and collaboration.
Employees are also encouraged by the authors of the report to adopt mindfulness routines, take regular breaks, keep an eye on their physical health, build a network of supportive peers and set boundaries to promote a healthy work life balance.
The report’s findings add to the weight of statistics showing staggeringly high levels of anxiety, stress, depression and burnout linked in whole, or in part, to the workplace in the UK. Separate HSE Summary Statistics, published in November 2023 revealed a total of 865,000 new or existing cases of anxiety, stress or depression — a figure basically unchanged from 2022, but significantly higher than the pre-Covid baseline in 2019.
The latest figures released separately by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that over 2.5 million people of working age are now ‘economically inactive’ due to long term sickness – a rise of 400,000 from the pre- Covid baseline. Of these, over half (53%), cited depression, anxiety or “bad nerves” as the reason.
The highest prevalence of stress/burnout amongst younger people may be cited by some as evidence that the nation has given birth to a “snowflake generation”, but we suggest that conclusion would be facile and that the true position is more nuanced.
The younger generation is more attuned and capable of recognizing the importance of mental wellbeing to holistic health. Levels of anxiety, stress and burnout are rising amongst all age demographics and not just those born after the millennium.
Whilst increasing ease of diagnosis and labelling may have played a part, we find it significant that both the levels of long-term sickness amongst those of working age and anxiety, stress, depression and burnout linked in whole or in part to the workplace have both increased since the pandemic.
This was a pandemic which caused the overwhelming majority of the working population to suffer from one or several of the following: social/professional isolation, anxiety linked to health concerns or fear of infection,
bereavement/grief, relationship/marital strain or breakdown, in addition to financial worries, exacerbated by a cost of living crisis which followed as the pandemic ended.
In that context, it is perhaps unsurprising both that levels of anxiety and stress have risen and that collectively the nation’s resilience is collectively lower than it was prior to the pandemic.
Fixing this we suggest, will be complex, costly and take time. Mental Health UK’s call for a national summit is both well intentioned and timely, though with an ever burgeoning in-tray of problems, and in an election year, we suspect this will not be a governmental priority in 2024 and will fall to the next Government to resolve.
Employers owe a duty of care to adopt working practices which encourage positive mental health.
At the very least they can, by adopting the report’s recommendations, start to turn round the seemingly endless slew of surveys and statistics pointing to an ever-worsening picture of the nation’s mental health.
For any queries or referrals, please speak to our experts on mental health in the workplace.