Running on empty: Are you ready for the burnout crisis?
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Running on empty: Are you ready for the burnout crisis?

Running on empty: Are you ready for the burnout crisis?

As organisations confront the existential challenge of burnout amidst the perma-crisis of 2024, it is imperative for businesses to prioritise employee well-being

Marisha Singh

In the wake of ongoing global upheavals, from extreme weather events to geopolitical instability which are exacerbating the strain on organisations worldwide, the spectre of burnout looms large over the workforce.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It has three dimensions – exhaustion, negativity toward one’s job and reduced efficacy/productivity at work.

A grim statistic that underscores this developing crises for businesses worldwide is upto 80 per cent of surveyed senior risk professionals anticipate significant burnout impacting businesses in the coming year. Alarmingly, only 41 per cent feel adequately equipped to confront this escalating crisis.

The finding was released by risk advisory firm International SOS in its Risk Outlook Report 2024.

Image credit: International SOS/Supplied

Businesses at risk

The businesses at risk are those also with a critical role to play in our economies. A 2023 survey in the US revealed nearly three in four workers have suffered from burnout in their current role.

The survey by Ringover revealed that a stunning 81.67 per cent of workers in the finance industry considered walking away from their jobs. Telecommunications was close behind with 77.24 per cent of employees feeling burnt out and construction workers reported at 75.86 per cent.

Failing resilience

In recent years, the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, though gradually waning, has been succeeded by fresh disruptions stemming from conflicts like the Ukraine-Russia standoff. These crises have created a ‘butterfly effect’ through supply chains and services, acerbating stressors.

Notably, stress-induced absences have surged, reflecting a burgeoning crisis management fatigue.

Image credit: International SOS/Supplied

A staggering 65 per cent of respondents foresee an uptick in global risks, underscoring the profound impact on organisational resilience, now surpassing pre-pandemic levels. “Two or three years ago we used to see levels of burnout between 11 per cent, and 18 per cent, now we are seeing levels between 20 per cent and 30 per cent and many reporting levels of burnout of 50 per cent”, notes Dr Rachel Lewis, managing partner, Affinity Health at Work.

Image credit: International SOS/Supplied

Addressing the burnout crisis proactively

To deal with this looming crisis, Dr Nosa Aihie, regional medical director for Offshore and Medical Services in the Middle East at International SOS, offers suggestions on mitigating burnout risks amid global turmoil. Dr Aihie underscores the role of proactive risk management, stressing that organisations ill-prepared for crises, risk succumbing to burnout.

He adds that employee burnout can have direct and indirect costs on an organisation’s finances. Direct costs include increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and high turnover rates, leading to project delays, missed deadlines, and recruitment expenses. Indirect costs involve the loss of institutional knowledge, resources spent on training new employees, and damage to company culture and reputation, making it harder to attract top talent.

Furthermore, he emphasises the imperative of integrating risk management into organisational processes to navigate crises effectively. He explains, “Mitigating burnout requires a proactive approach centered around robust risk management strategies. Organisations must prioritise the well-being of their workforce by implementing measures to address burnout risks head-on. This entails fostering a culture of resilience and providing support mechanisms to help employees navigate challenging circumstances effectively.”

However, the risk of burnout has grown even as economies demand more from workers, and businesses need to grow and expand. The US, Germany, Japan are seeing high burnout rates even as their economies need workers to increase productivity. Japan for instance slipped into a recession at the end of last year, losing its title as the world’s third-biggest economy, according to a Reuters report.

Acknowledging the delicate balance between economic imperatives and employee well-being, Dr Aihie affirms the need for workplaces to evolve their work culture. “It’s indeed a delicate balance. Organisations must recognise the importance of prioritising employee well-being alongside economic imperatives. This involves fostering a supportive work environment that promotes work-life balance, offers flexible working arrangements, and implements initiatives to prevent burnout. By investing in the well-being of their workforce, organizations can ultimately enhance productivity and drive sustainable growth.

The shift towards flexible working arrangements during the pandemic underscored changing expectations among the workforce, necessitating a reevaluation of organisational structures to foster resilience.

He advocates for empowering employees through resilient work environments, averting phenomena like “quiet quitting,” where disengagement becomes endemic.

Dr Aihie says, “Addressing mental health stigma requires a multifaceted approach. Education plays a pivotal role in raising awareness and destigmatising mental health issues. Organisations can and must implement training programmes, such as mental health first aid, to equip employees with the knowledge and skills to identify and support colleagues experiencing mental health challenges.”

“Creating a culture of openness and acceptance where employees feel comfortable discussing mental health is also essential in fostering a supportive work environment.”

What does it mean for businesses?

Amid growing recognition of climate change and employee well-being, Dr Aihie notes a shift in organisational priorities. He explains that survey data underscored a proactive approach among businesses globally, with nearly half prioritising issues like climate change and employee well-being in strategic planning.

Addressing the cultural nuances surrounding mental health, particularly in diverse settings like the UAE, Dr Aihie advocates for education as the cornerstone of destigmatisation efforts.

By fostering open dialogue and championing initiatives such as mental health first aid training, businesses can cultivate environments wherein mental health concerns are addressed with empathy and understanding.

Call to action

As organisations confront the existential challenge of burnout amidst the perma-crisis of 2024, the imperative to prioritise employee well-being assumes unprecedented urgency.

By embracing proactive risk management, fostering resilient work cultures, and championing mental health education, businesses can navigate the turbulent terrain ahead, emerging stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity.

Read:World Mental Health Day: How LVL Wellbeing is prioritising mental health

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