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Posted by HealthHero

How to curb employee burnout among university staff

How to curb employee burnout among university staff
5 minute read

Burnout is not a new phenomenon yet has only been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2019. It can also be commonly confused with depression or anxiety, which have similar symptoms.

So, what exactly is burnout?

Burnout happens when workers experience chronic stress or work in stressful situations that leave them physically and emotionally exhausted. Burned-out employees can feel overwhelmed and unable to meet their workplace demands.

When we talk about burnout, we're not just talking about the typical stress and anxiety that working in an office can cause. We're talking about a chronic condition that can affect anyone, across all sectors and industries, with 40 percent of the UK workforce experiencing it.

How can you spot the signs of burnout?

Emotional exhaustion in the higher education sector is high, impacting over 60% of employees, but it can be hard to identify. The signs are often less obvious than you might imagine:

  • Cynicism
  • Fatigue
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of creativity
  • Reduced performance and productivity

When your employees aren’t delivering work to the standard they usually do, it could be an indication of burnout. But since over sixty percent of university employees don’t feel comfortable speaking to their manager about work-related stress and wellbeing, you might not realise the full scale of the problem.

That’s why prevention is so important. With that in mind, here are four staff wellbeing ideas to help prevent employee burnout.

1. Make mental health your main subject this year

Mental wellbeing amongst Higher Education employees is considerably lower than population norms.

You might have a section on mental health in your employee handbook. You may offer health benefits that address mental health specifically. But unless you openly discuss mental health at your university, it’s unlikely that your employees will admit they’re burning out.

You could use Mental Health Awareness Week, for instance, to foster a discussion about the mental health challenges people face. Or you could dedicate a channel on your messaging platform to mental health tips and support.

2. Leave the (staffroom) door open

There is a reciprocal relationship between burnout and loneliness as people experiencing burnout are more likely to withdraw, which makes it difficult to combat.

  • Create a virtual wellbeing space - Dedicate a channel on your messaging platform to wellbeing so that staff can provide each other with tips and support.
  • Hold regular get-togethers - Social gatherings (on-site or virtual) will allow your staff to decompress and talk about something other than work. Ensure, your social gatherings work for all your team, including those that don’t drink alcohol.
  • Have an open-door policy - Or an open message policy, depending on how you work. Make your staff feel that they can come to you, or someone within your university, with any problems. A health and wellbeing app like Symbio will go a step further with counselling from accredited HealthHero specialists.

3. Help your staff say 'no' to saying 'yes' all the time

An employee on the verge of burnout might have a habit of saying ‘yes’ too much. They might accept even more responsibilities or take on too much. The reason could be because they feel irreplaceable, or the exact opposite; employees who think their jobs are at risk are more likely to make themselves invaluable.

Holding 1-1s with your staff will give them a forum to express any concerns they have about their roles and workloads. It will also enable you to identify those who say ‘yes’ too often and help them create boundaries.

Something as simple as a shared calendar will allow everyone at your university to see a staff member's meeting schedule. There are also project management tools, so that you can see how much work gets assigned to your staff and if they are able to complete it. As a result, you will be able to monitor their progress and provide support if they are struggling.

Prioritise a good work-life balance

Sixty-one percent of university employees regularly work outside their contracted hours to complete work. There’s also the culture of leavism when people will actually use holiday leave to catch up on tasks. But these issues are often hard to recognise. Here are the signs to look out for:

  • Cancelled time off - Large workloads can make staff feel as if they can’t afford to take time off. And employees with unique skillsets might feel that you can’t do without them.
  • Late-night working - Project work or covering workloads for other team members can cause your employees to occasionally burn the midnight oil. But if someone is consistently working late to finish tasks, it could be a sign there’s too much on their plate.
  • Obvious fatigue - Stress and anxiety can cause insomnia, which in turn can lead to fatigue. This impacts creativity and productivity.

A good work-life balance is crucial in preventing burnout, here are some simple ways you can encourage it:

  • Offer learning and development - Train your staff so that there is always more than one person available with the skills needed to complete a task. This means if one staff member takes time off, they know there’s someone there to pick up the slack.
  • Have frequent check-ins - Regular informal chats will allow you to gauge how your staff are handling their workloads.
  • Encourage self-awareness - A holistic health and wellbeing app like Symbio provides staff with a personalised breakdown of their physical and mental health, lifestyle, and sleep performance. The app also provides employee assistance programs and helplines for those who need support.

Take an honest look at how you deal with stress and burnout

Burnout is a problem that can affect everyone. And even those suffering from it, probably don't realise it.

The good news is that there are ways to help your staff prevent burnout and foster better wellbeing across your organization. These four ideas will help you do just that.

And if you want even more understanding into your efforts, consider Symbio—its wellbeing index helps your team manage their whole health in real-time and the Symbio hub for HR teams mean you gain insights into the wellbeing of your staff so that you can get a handle on how your employees are really feeling.

Speak to us today to discover how we can help 2023 be your staff's most positive year yet.

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