Mental health in the workplace is becoming a focus for progressive organisations that value their employees as people, not costs on a balance sheet.
And smart leaders realise that physically and mentally healthy employees are good - not only for productivity, but also for a positive (work) culture.
Despite the increased awareness, burnout is getting worse, as in tough economic times, greater outputs are needed from employees.
A survey by Oxford University shows that South Africans have among the longest working hours in the world, with the average employee working 40 to 48 hours a week, and 21% of our workforce working 49+ hours a week.
A report by Our World in Data on working hours shows that although South Africans work longer hours, we’re not matching the productivity levels of developed nations who work less.
Working such long hours over a prolonged time without adequate rest increases the chance of burnout and decreases performance.
Burnout is a real crisis among South African businesses of all sizes. It has increased dramatically since the pandemic, even with increased remote and hybrid working.
It does not discriminate based on age and is no longer reserved for people in their 40s or 50s. Our “always-on” culture negatively influences our ability to have downtime, which impacts brain functioning, as our brains cannot adequately replenish.
Occupational burnout can take the form of energy depletion or exhaustion, mental distance from work tasks, negativity or cynicism related to work, and reduced professional efficacy.
The following solutions for HR teams and business leaders can help:
Information is power
Employees can recover from or prevent burnout when they understand their mental health challenges, strengths and weaknesses, and create a satisfying work life. Organisations should provide adequate, relevant information to empower employees to understand and take care of their mental health.
Learning fills you up
It's logical to think that the last thing burnt-out employees need is more training added to their busy schedules. However, research proves that learning new skills can improve your mental well-being by boosting self-confidence and self-esteem.
Learning builds a sense of purpose
When you engage in e-learning within your team or organisation, you will feel connected to your colleagues and your organisation, and become a co-creator of your personal and business success.
Learning connects with others
A well-structured e-learning programme should take learning offline so that learners can discuss and engage with their colleagues about their new skills. Throw gamification strategies into the mix, and you can ignite happy, healthy competition that augments interest and builds culture.
Learning helps you understand yourself
The more you learn about the world outside yourself, the more you’ll get to know yourself. With a clear self-image and understanding of your uniqueness, you can play to your strengths at work and life, and live a fulfilled and satisfying life.
Preventing burnout and staff turnover, and helping your people flourish in the workplace is just as essential as finding the best talent.
Pressure and stress are not going away and we need to empower employees, especially in South Africa where unemployment is rife, with the skills to manage their stress, to use their time wisely, to keep learning and growing, and to better understand how to prevent and recover from burnout.
* Michael Gullan is the chief executive of G&G Advocacy.