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The Dangers of Workplace Burnout

September can be a difficult month for some employees. Sending kids back to school can be stressful for families as kids adjust to their new surroundings and parents juggle new schedules.  Couple that with increasing demands in the workplace. Summer can be a quieter season for many businesses, but September can quickly ramp back up to full steam. Employees are pushing hard to meet Q4 targets while many businesses are also planning aggressively for the coming year. 

These stressors, along with shorter days and cooling temperatures, can create a perfect storm for burnout. Burnout may be at its core a mental health issue, but it can seriously impact the workplace. Every week at least 500,000 Canadians miss work due to mental health, and the impacts of poor mental health cost the Canadian economy over $50 billion each year.

So, what can you as an employer do to help prevent employee burnout?

Support Vacation

Two weeks’ vacation seems to be a relic of the past in most roles, with most companies offering three- or four-weeks’ vacation per year, especially in senior-level roles. Other companies are seeing success by offering ‘unlimited vacation,’ with the caveat that vacation does not interrupt the necessary workforce of one’s role or put the company into peril.

The trouble, however, is when the role becomes simply ‘too busy’ for an employee to get away, or where employees are made to feel that the company would collapse without their continuous presence.  Companies that don’t encourage vacation throughout the year are often then requiring employees to take the time at the end of the calendar year so that it’s not wasted and does not roll over.  However, that time of year is not always a restful holiday. Instead, support employees taking vacation throughout the year, and make room for them to do so. 

Normalize Seeking Help

Advertising campaigns on television and radio have helped to normalize conversations about mental health in the workplace, but many workplace cultures still have a long way to go.

To assist in providing support, ensure that your employees are aware of any Employee Assistance Program (EAP), for example, if it’s included with their benefits package.  Most EAPs offer confidential counseling sessions with a licensed therapist or social worker, and the initial sessions are usually covered by the benefits plan. 

Beyond the EAP, or if you do not have a benefits plan, you can still work to normalize the conversation regarding burnout and stressors. Remember that mental health is subject to confidentiality and human rights protections just like any other diagnosis, and an employee does not need to disclose their struggles or their diagnosis.  However, taking a compassionate approach, such as offering broad reminders to the whole team that assistance or accommodation is available, may help to avoid worsening an employee’s already challenging situation and preventing a leave of absence. 

Lighten The Mood

In a busy season it can be easy to want everyone’s head down and working around the clock.  However, people are innately social and thrive on connections with others.  To foster these connections, consider getting the team together for some non-work activities, such as a social event at a local restaurant, or taking groups to a local sporting event.  

People also like to be recognized for their efforts.  Consider what measures you are taking to show employee appreciation. Studies have shown that employees respond well to even the smallest acknowledgement of their efforts, and larger companies have found innovative ways of doing this. You don’t need to break the bank – a small catered lunch, personalized thank you cards, or some other token of appreciation can go a long way towards supporting mental health.

Build Great Policies

It sounds cliche that so much of workplace management is supported by great policies, but it’s true. Written policies offer employers the opportunity to guide their employees as they see fit, provided those policies align with all legal standards. The absence of policies can not only put your company in financial jeopardy on a legal front, but they leave your day-to-day management up to a combination of patchwork and guesswork. 

Write your policies down and ensure that employees are educated about them. This includes a vacation policy, where employees should be readily encouraged to partake. It can also include a thorough explanation of the benefits offered, which may include a health spending account where funds are provided towards gym memberships or other qualifying activities that support overall wellbeing.  

Finally, Act Quickly

Lastly, if you see an employee struggling, time is of the essence. A mental health struggle left untreated can spiral into a worsening situation such as depression or addiction, both of which can have a serious impact both on the employee and on their productivity. Simply put, it’s in your best interests to care about your employees’ wellbeing and support wherever possible. 

You might also have a responsibility to do so. If you notice an employee struggling, or showing potential signs of substance abuse, employers have a duty to inquire discreetly as to whether the employee is okay. Employers cannot discriminate against an employee based on their health issues, and that includes mental health. Good monitoring and quick intervention can stop a bad situation from getting much worse.

These situations can be difficult to navigate, and we’re happy to provide guidance. Our employment lawyers routinely counsel employers throughout the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo regions on some of the most difficult and sensitive issues, and we’re not afraid to think outside the box. Contact us today to set up a consultation.