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Look out for the signs

Managing burnout in innovative, fast paced industries

Karen Meager and John McLachlan
© Shutterstock / FRIEVA

In this article, organisational psychologists, consultants and co-founders of award-winning Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy Karen Meager and John McLachlan discuss burnout mental health in tech. How can burnout be avoided and what are the warning signs?

Organisations working in innovative industries such as Tech have a dilemma. The very people so necessary for competitive advantage are the same ones who are increasingly finding themselves suffering from burnout – with the risk that this talent will leave. Many in these sectors inevitably work long hours often with the stress of project delivery. Not only is this bad for their health and wellbeing, it’s not a sustainable way to run a business.

The risk to productivity caused by burnout is illustrated by a recent survey by mental health wellbeing platform Yerbo. Their State of Burnout in Tech report contacted more than 36,000 IT professionals globally, and found that 40% are at high risk of burnout. What’s more, 42% were considering leaving their roles in the next 6 months and 62% reported being “physically and emotionally drained”.

The pandemic will have added to these pressures due to a blurred work-life balance, lack of support when working remotely and increased workload often caused by a rapid uptake of digital services – all very commonplace in innovative businesses.

So, what can employers in these industries do to better manage burnout so that they create a healthier and more productive work culture?

Look out for the signs of burnout

The most obvious place to start is to look out for the signs – something that line managers in particular need to be aware of. People experiencing burnout are often in denial of the problem, so it takes others to spot the signs to be able to help, or suggest that help is sought. Burnout can be evidenced by a lack of energy, the compulsion to work a lot (even if it’s not urgent or critical), a decline in productivity, displays of impatience and being overly critical of others. Another sign can be indifference shown to work, even when things appear to have gone well.

Take time to check in with employees

People who work in tech and innovative roles are frequently absorbed in their work and more prone to burnout, even if they don’t recognise it themselves. Lone periods of remote working haven’t helped communication so it’s always good line management practice to check in on a regular basis. With greater awareness of burnout, line managers can encourage more openness, helping employees to talk about workload and other related pressures that could be contributory factors. It’s also an opportunity to discuss issues of uncertainty surrounding the business as a result of the pandemic that may be causing anxiety.

Embed wellbeing into your organisation

Despite the growing workplace conversation surrounding mental health, there is still a stigma attached to burnout, and often the larger the noise, the less likely employees are to come forward for help. Therefore, instead of making wellbeing a separate issue or initiative, employers should integrate ways to embed employee wellbeing into core workplace programmes. Almost all development programmes could have a wellbeing aspect, especially line manager and leadership training.

Prioritise planning as a team

Teamwork is an essential aspect to preventing burnout. Before any large project, take time to plan which responsibilities will sit with who. It’s also an opportunity to iron out any potential tensions or miscommunications. Make sure everyone is on the same page, especially on how to respect different people’s perspectives or time boundaries. People in innovative roles often work in different ways that work for them and may reduce the risk of burnout. These differences need to be understood with focus on meeting those various needs.

Commit to hybrid working strategies

The pandemic showed that most organisations have the capacity to accommodate remote workers, and even more irregular working hours. To do this sustainably and safely, businesses must create an adaptable but clear policy on hybrid working. Mixed messages and constant changes won’t help individuals manage their burnout. Therefore, leaders should commit to hybrid working, whether that is a fully flexible or a more standardised structure and be consistent with that policy. They should also recognise that for hybrid and remote working to actually work, managers need to be able to support those people who chose to work this way.

Take a burnout self-test

People in innovative industries may well be at greater risk of burnout if they work more than 50 hours a week, and even more so at 60 hours plus. Anyone reading this article who feels that they, or a colleague, might be at risk of burnout can take the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). It’s the most commonly used tool to self-assess the risk of burnout. It explores three areas: exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal achievement. The free version, developed by Monkey Puzzle, comes with advice on managing burnout based on the level indicated from the test. Take the MBI test here.

In conclusion

The choice for companies in innovative and fast-paced industries is clear – proactively manage the issue of burnout or risk talent either moving elsewhere or burning out at a time when creating new ideas is as important as ever. Successfully addressing the problem now will have a long-lasting positive impact on retention, productivity and competitive advantage.

Author

Karen Meager and John McLachlan

Karen Meager and John McLachlan are organisational psychologists, consultants and co-founders of award-winning Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy. Karen and John offer tailored consultancy to help leaders spot the cause of problems, unravel the issues and identify the solutions. Monkey Puzzle also offers coaching, training and personal development for both leaders and their teams. Together they are the co-authors of Time Mastery; a number one best-selling book, and Real Leaders for the Real World; an IBA finalist and are currently working towards PhDs in Organisational Health and Wellbeing at Lancaster University.


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