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All work and no play? Here’s how to Combat Workplace Burnout, the Second Pandemic.

October 2021 is Mental Health Awareness Month, and according to the SA Society of Psychiatrists, “Mental health is the biggest threat in 2021.” When the global pandemic Covid-19 hit, it brought along the physical illness, coupled with increased mental health problems which naturally spilled over to the workplace. The truth is that we are all affected by this virus, whether it is by losing a loved one, catching the highly contagious life-threatening illness yourself, or whether it is to live with the daily fear that you or someone you love will succumb due to the virus. This pandemic has caused another one that impacts both personal and professional aspects of our lives.

Covid-19 does not only make you sick, but it also messes with your mind and increases anxiety levels. Various restrictions in SA and abroad brought on lockdown blues, Zoom fatigue, sudden changes no one was ready for, and challenges people never learned to overcome. Strange new stressors became part of everyday life. And honestly, we, as well as our employers, were not prepared for the mental health crisis it would create which now impacts the workplace drastically. 

Therefore, this issue needs to be tackled by both the employer as well as the employee themselves. Here’s how to combat potential workplace burnout due to an increase in mental health problems brought on by Covid-19.

Tips for Employees to combat workplace burnout:

  • Become self-aware. Stress can be a strange thing that affects not only your physical health but also your emotional and mental state. Evaluate your mental health and make sure you familiarise yourself with the early warning signs like negativity, not being able to see a better future etc. Know yourself well enough to realise when you need help with things like depression and anxiety. Then, seek medical advice. 
  • Allow yourself “me-time”. You deserve time to relax and ‘regroup’ yourself. Understand that “all work and no play” is an out-of-balance way to live. You need to spend time with yourself. Practice self-care and become mindful of your surroundings. Take a personal day and try to zone out totally to refresh your mind, emotions, and body.
  • Self-motivation. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Become emotionally fit and constantly motivate yourself by focussing on continuous improvement techniques. This will help you increase your positivity one step at a time. 
  • Equip yourself with skills and techniques. If you feel stressed or anxious, make sure you equip yourself with the correct skills, tools, and techniques to manage this. By investing in your soft skills development and improving yourself, you will become much more confident in handling difficult scenarios. 

Tips for the Employer to combat workplace burnout:

  • Promote good mental health among employees. Give them training and upskill them on how to manage stress and anxiety in the workplace as well as in their personal lives. 
  • Introduce more flexibility. Encourage flexible work hours, home offices and taking personal days. Learn to trust your employees. Focus on the outcome and not on the input. 
  • Manage your teams through emotional intelligence. Show empathy and understanding. Discuss challenges and try finding proper solutions together like decreasing workplace stressors, for example, unnecessary meetings, as much as possible. 
  • Help them connect on a social level. Companies and management teams should realise that the productivity of an employee is connected to their social interactions and activities. It will help a lot if you as the manager or team leader check in on your employees on a social level as well as endorse team building activities or social gatherings. It helps with increasing motivation and socialising which will assist with relaxation and increase happiness. 
  • Provide workplace counselling. Being able to have an objective person to talk to, and not having to worry about accessibility or costs, enables your employees to use a workplace platform that will provide expert help with their problems. 
  • Foster workplace wellness programmes. Show your employees you care about their wellbeing. Employers who show they care, retain their employees. Healthy employees decrease absenteeism which increases productivity. 
  • Communicate effectively. If you listen to your employees and uphold an open-door policy so that they are comfortable enough to talk to you, you will see the warning signs of workplace burnout well in advance for you to take corrective action.  

In a report by the World Health Organisation called “Mental health and work: Impact, issues and good practices”, they state that “There is growing evidence of the global impact of mental illness. Mental health problems are among the most important contributors to the burden of disease and disability worldwide. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide are mental health problems.” This report goes on to say that “The impact of mental health problems in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individual but also for the productivity of the enterprise. Employee performance, rates of illness, absenteeism, accidents and staff turnover are all affected by employees’ mental health status.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken so many things from us. It has changed so many things not only in our personal lives but also at work. Let’s focus this month of October on working on both your and your employees’ mental health.