Expanding focus on mental health and addressing burnout at work

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in workplace culture and practices as organisations recognise the importance of employees’ overall well-being, with a specific emphasis on mental health. Several ongoing discussions indicate that employees around the globe are grappling with burnout, stress, and challenges related to mental health. In fact, recent surveys and studies point to higher burnout rates among Indian employees compared to employees from other geographies.

Mental Health (representative image)(Unsplash)
Mental Health (representative image)(Unsplash)

This trend of a higher number of professionals experiencing workplace burnout can significantly impact their mental health. This growing concern is prompting progressive employers to adopt comprehensive strategies to address and reduce the negative effects of poor mental health and workplace burnout. Organisations are now recognising that fostering a mentally healthy workplace is not just a moral obligation but is also crucial for employee productivity and retention, all leading to organisational success.

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This article explores the expanding focus on mental health, the impact of burnout, and some of the measures organisations are taking to create healthier, happier, more supportive work environments.

By definition, burnout occurs when an individual undergoes a state of exhaustion, depleted of both physical and emotional strength and motivation, typically due to prolonged exposure to stress or frustration. Factors contributing to burnout include excessive workload, lack of control on the job, insufficient recognition, and limited support. Burnout, characterised by chronic workplace stress, is one of the major concerns that can negatively affect employees’ mental health and job performance.

Burnout can have adverse consequences for employees, impacting their physical health, job satisfaction, and their overall life satisfaction. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are closely linked to burnout at the workplace. Employees experiencing burnout may exhibit decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and a higher likelihood of disengagement from work. The effects can spill over into personal lives, straining relationships and compromising overall well-being.

Workplace burnout may manifest as psychological stress and lead to depression, aggression, and decreased commitment to projects or clients. Clinical research has demonstrated that burnout is linked to an elevated risk of both physical and mental health issues, such as heightened blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, and depression. In short, the consequences of burnout extend beyond an individual’s mental and physical health, affecting team dynamics, company culture, and the organisation’s performance.

Several forward-thinking organisations are already adopting a holistic approach to mental health, recognising that a supportive work environment is essential for employee happiness and business success. Several initiatives are gaining traction.

As a starting point, organisations can refer to the National Mental Health Policy of 2014 and the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 for formulating and implementing mental health policies at their workplace. These policies recommend adopting a more inclusive and non-discriminatory policy towards employees with mental health problems. Establishing a clear mental health policy is a proactive step and is far more effective than assuming employees’ contentment and overlooking the necessity for mental health policies or services.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) provide anonymous and confidential counselling and support services to employees facing personal or work-related challenges. These programmes can be instrumental in preventing and managing workplace burnout.

However, stigma or fear of being judged may prevent employees from accessing such services. Organisations can demonstrate that seeking assistance is a sign of strength and self-care, not a weakness. In fact, organisations can even include information about the EAP during the onboarding process itself, setting the tone early on that the company prioritises employee well-being.

Implementing mental health programmes that include awareness campaigns, workshops, and training sessions is another way of prioritising focus on mental health. These programmes aim to de-stigmatise mental health discussions, provide resources, and offer coping mechanisms.

Besides integrating these mental health services, encouraging employees to access these support mechanisms is also an effective approach to ensure employees’ well-being. This approach serves as a practical strategy to reduce burnout and stress among employees.

The mental health policy and the mental health programmes may become ineffective if the workplace culture is unhealthy. An employee’s performance and job satisfaction are directly correlated to the attitude and morale of the people around them. A boss who micromanages, who has trust issues, or who doesn’t support adequately can demoralise an employee and make the person feel like an outsider. Similarly, toxic colleagues can lead to a negative workplace culture, making the workplace experience unpleasant.

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping workplace culture. Leaders should exemplify the values they promote and demonstrate a commitment to a positive work environment. Leaders can coach other key stakeholders to be approachable, supportive, and actively involved in fostering a positive culture. For instance, managers play a crucial role in creating a positive work environment and recognising signs of burnout in their teams. Hence, the coaching sessions or the leadership training programmes should focus on developing empathetic and supportive managers.

Fostering a positive workplace culture involves recognising and rewarding achievements, promoting open communication, and building a sense of community. Organisations are increasingly emphasising the importance of collaboration, teamwork, and collective well-being.

Flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options and flexible hours, can significantly help employees manage their work-life balance and reduce stress. This flexibility contributes to a more accommodating and supportive workplace culture. Given that people’s attitudes towards employment have changed significantly after the pandemic, several organisations are offering flexible work, allowing employees to take better care of their overall health.

Organisations are re-evaluating workload distribution and implementing measures to prevent excessive demands on employees. Workload management includes setting realistic expectations, providing adequate resources, and encouraging breaks.

Managers should be attentive and recognise when an employee has been consistently working at maximum capacity for too long. Making the job more manageable and engaging is crucial. Also, encouraging employees to feel comfortable to set boundaries and seek support is another important measure that can reduce workplace burnout.

Being mindful refers to having a deeper sense of self-awareness. It is being aware of what’s going on inside oneself and around them without judging or reacting. This practice can help employees deal with what is happening on the job, helping them to reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout.

The expanding focus on mental health and the efforts to address burnout reflects a paradigm shift in how organisations approach employee well-being. By prioritising mental health, organisations not only fulfil their obligation of caring for employees but also promote a positive workplace culture that enhances employee engagement, and productivity.

As the workforce continues to evolve, placing mental health as part of the organisational framework is a strategic approach for building a more inclusive and thriving organisation.

This article is authored by Murali Santhanam, CHRO, AscentHR.


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