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The Burnout Epidemic - what can HR leaders do?

  • Publish Date: Posted 4 months ago
  • Author: Molly West

Burnt matches on a pink surface

As we approach the 2 year anniversary of the first UK lockdown, burnout is the word on everyone’s lips. 

Last week I polled our People Experience community on the top burnout contributors in 2022. The biggest villains? Unreasonable leaders, and unmanageable workloads. 

Not wanting to just pile more problems on top, I went to find some solutions for these issues from within the community. Charlotte Forsyth, VP People at Streetbees, and Anna Sundt, People and Culture leader and Occupational Psychologist explained their top ‘burnout contributor’ picks, and what they think People teams can do to help.

Charlotte, you voted for unreasonable leaders - what does this mean in 2022?

In 2022, an unreasonable leader doesn’t need to be malicious, they might simply just be unaware. 

Not connecting with people in-person has led leaders to lose sight of the inclusivity piece. Nearly two years have passed and the distinction between home and work has blurred completely. But working from home means very different things to different people; some are navigating bad WiFi in a house share of 6, others are juggling kids, and some are simply isolated. 

How can HR lead on this?

I think it’s a harder thing to change than some other burnout contributors, because it’s personal. For us, it’s about leading from a data perspective. In my experience, leaders are often logical people and we have to show them the cost of employee burnout. Attrition figures, engagement scores, amount spent on lost salary - these are the critical metrics we need to be keeping on top of to make the business case for empathetic leadership.

Anna, you chose unmanageable workload. Why did you pick it, and is it just a symptom of the times?

For me, overwork was the pick for biggest contributor, because it comes from both sides - leaders and employees. I think it has been exacerbated by working from home; because people aren’t visible in the office, they have to be ‘visible’ in other ways - emails, meetings etc. It’s giving them less and less time to do their actual work! 

How can HR lead on this?

I think HR can be a leader from a few angles. Company-wide meeting bans (on specific days, or hours of the day) are a way of giving people their working time back. HR also has the chance to be the high-profile leader who leads by example - booking time out in your calendar, being clear in your own work boundaries. They also can empower and educate employees in setting reasonable boundaries, and being honest when the workload is too much. At the end of the day, people will always ask you for more! But if there’s psychological safety built into the culture of the organisation, people are empowered to know that they can say no.

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Molly West

Molly West

Community Manager, People Experience Division

molly.west@handle.co.uk