A systemic approach to improving the health and mental well-being of employees necessary for long-term business growth

ABSL's analysis shows that the strongest factor in preventing burnout is a systemic organizational balance in terms of work demands and resources. A high burnout rate is a warning sign for employers that it is the organization - not the individuals in the team - that needs systemic change.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the responsibility for managing burnout lies with the organization. A growing body of research suggests that the use of temporary solutions may not be sufficient to address the phenomenon of burnout in the workplace. Such measures provide important preventative steps, stress management and rest support, but do not address the problem of burnout.

Investing in employee health

The consequences of job burnout affect workplace effectiveness. According to the Gallup Institute[1]

76 per cent of employees experience burnout at least occasionally, and 28 per cent say they feel burnt out very often or always. As a result, organizations face real problems: sick leave is up by 63 per cent and more frequent emergency room visits by 23 per cent. Professional burnout is costly in terms of increased turnover, reduced productivity, and the retention of top talent within the organization.

- In the current geopolitical, economic, and demographic situation, preventing job burnout is directly in the interest of employers and should be included in talent and business strategies - says Anna Berczynska, Vice President, Talent, ABSL. Organizations should take responsibility for creating preventive measures to consciously counteract job burnout, including developing healthy work habits, and awareness of stressors and coping methods. Investing in holistic programs for the well-being of employees, a company's most valuable resource is as important as investing in technological change. Maintaining a strategic balance between the two is essential to achieving long-term business resilience and continuity of competence and continued growth - adds Berczyńska.

Prevention is better than cure

According to an analysis carried out by ABSL, an organization representing the modern business services sector, the vast majority of companies are carrying out a series of activities related to the prevention of burnout as well as the well-being of the sector's employees, who already number more than 400,000. The majority of the sector’s leaders are looking to proactively implement systemic solutions to ensure the development of well-being, creating a work environment that allows for satisfaction.

As part of the proactive management of burnout risk, companies are taking a number of steps to diagnose the factors affecting employees’ wellbeing in order to implement tailored solutions. They offer flexible working to allow for rest, job rotation and unpaid leave, private healthcare, psychological support, mentoring programs, and internal transfers. In addition, many companies have bespoke leadership development programs, in which specialists teach managers how to recognize the first signs of overwork, burnout or depression in employees, how to deal with people who have experienced psychotic episodes, and how to look after the well-being of their teams on a day-to-day basis.

When demands are greater than resources

According to experts at SWPS University, occupational burnout is correlated with the characteristics of the job, not the industry. Researchers of the phenomenon stress that although certain personality traits can increase the risk of occupational burnout, such as perfectionism or difficulty in setting boundaries, organizational factors are also catalysts for occupational burnout. The state of exhaustion is also exacerbated when an employee experiences a prolonged excess of demands overwork resources, incurring psycho-physical costs without being able to draw strength to cope.

A situation in which employees perform routine tasks, do not know the purpose of their tasks, and do not receive feedback on their work from their manager is an easy way to burnout. - explains Professor Katarzyna Januszkiewicz, psychologist, organization and management specialist and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Warsaw's SWPS University.

To function optimally, employees need adequate resources to accomplish tasks and overcome difficulties. Important resources include a supportive manager, a close-knit team and autonomy, understood as the ability to make decisions about how work is done.

- Even the most exclusive benefits cannot protect employees from the negative effects of demands - adds Dr Malwina Puchalska-Kaminska, a psychologist and lecturer at the Department of Organizational and Marketing Psychology at SWPS University in Sopot. Fruit Fridays, trips abroad or even stress management training do not reduce the risk of burnout if an employee is confronted on a daily basis with, for example, chaotic communication or a lack of clarity in his or her role.

Is occupational burnout a disease

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, occupational burnout is considered a factor affecting health and healthcare contact. It is not included in the Group F disease category for mental disorders. According to experts, occupational burnout consists of many factors that lead to feelings of physical and mental exhaustion.

The difficulty for professionals to accurately diagnose occupational burnout is related to the fact that, according to the International Classification of Diseases, it is not in the group of mental disorders. This means that occupational burnout sits alongside various mental and physical illness diagnoses, such as, for example, falls that can result in injury and subsequent sick leave. Sick leave cannot be issued with the code, "occupational burnout." Sick leave can only be issued if occupational burnout, a factor affecting health, causes health problems, in this case, mental disorders - explains Marek Solecki, Head of Health Education Office, Medical Division, LUX MED.

According to a survey conducted by a team of LUX MED experts, more than 81 percent of respondents had at least average levels of professional burnout. 53 percent of respondents described the level of their mental health as average, with nearly 40 percent stating low or very low. There is a clear link between occupational burnout and job satisfaction, with 30 percent of respondents reporting low or very low levels of job satisfaction.

- There are many best practices and tools that employers can use to prevent burnout in their teams. To use them effectively, one must first learn about them and understand what affects the mental condition. Providing psychoeducation and training for leaders is key. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, managers should recognize the signals that indicate a weaker mental condition of employees and know how to react. These specific competencies have not been on the agenda of HR departments so far. Therefore, it is worth choosing a proven substantive partner who will holistically take care of the well-being of employees, because job burnout is one of the many problems affecting individuals today - adds Aleksandra Tokarewicz, Board Member of Helping Hand.

The study Occupational burnout - a sign of the times? by ABSL, SWPS University, Helping Hand and Lux Med is available here. Examples of practices from business were provided by the following companies: BAT, GSK, KMD and Olympus.

[1] Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures, 2020, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/282659/employee-burnouperspective-paper.aspx