By Sophie Stones

As we come back into the office, with fresh plans, high ambitions and an inbox overflowing with requests, it’s important that we don’t burnout before the year has even begun. Often used as a buzzword meaning everything from tired to despondent, burnout hasn’t been taken seriously in the past, however the real implications can be serious, necessitating a lot more than just a day off if it goes too far.

Recognising the problem and attempting to tackle any stigma that comes with it, the WHO (World Health Organisation) have officially classified Burnout, labelling it Occupational Syndrome and stating that it is the result of chronic workplace stress. In their explanation, they label three key traits of Occupational Syndrome which distinguish it from other mental health issues:

Feelings of exhaustion/energy depletion

Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism/cynicism related to job

Reduced professional efficacy

And invite all of us to check in and ask does this sound familiar?

Often burnout can be difficult to recognise, even in ourselves. As ‘side hustles’ and social media bragging become the norm, our obsession with being busy and productive has compounded the problem and it’s often not our Managers pushing us into overtime but our own ambition. In 2018, UK workers completed £32 billion worth of unpaid overtime collectively, something which cost Paula Bellosta Muguerza more than her wages. A Principal at a Strategy Consulting firm in London, Muguerza recently told Stylist she had thought she was having a stroke, when her face started to collapse during a conference call. The result of severe burnout and an 80-hour work week, she was actually suffering from a rare form of migraine, caused by changes in the body’s hormones due to stress and anxiety. Muguerza says that the high of progression and ‘getting things done’ meant that she didn’t even recognise that she was stressed until it was too late and now is living with the long-term effects of what happened.

Stories like Muguerza’s are extreme, however there are other consequences to overwork and burnout, and they prove that this isn’t a problem for ‘other offices’. A recent Mind study found that 48% of people in a study of almost 44,000 employees had struggled with mental health issues in their current role, a shocking number in a country that prioritises events like wellbeing week. However, the numbers prove that even with systems in place, employees can still push themselves too far in order to save face or to avoid ‘looking weak’.

Most employers have become great at handling mental health issues within the workplace, and horror stories of firings after health revelations are now rare. What we do still seem to struggle with however, is prevention. Social Chain recognised this recently and changed their system, to try and avoid the “unfortunate stigma that exists around ‘seeing a therapist’”. CEO and Founder, Steven Bartlett had this to say on LinkedIn,

“For the last 3 years we’ve provided free mental health therapy to all of our team members that wanted it for any reason. To say it’s had a transformative impact on those that have attended therapy is an understatement. However, this model didn’t overcome the unfortunate stigma that exists around “seeing a therapist” (that there’s something “wrong with you”) and it’s typically cause for concern that many want to avoid. I had a series of conversations with team members across our organisation that wanted to see our therapists but didn’t want to “worry” anyone, and that made us think that our solution still wasn’t perfect. With this said, in 2019 we announced that we would make mental health therapy opt-out for all team members across Social Chain, I would go, our senior leaders will go and every team member’s scheduled mental health sessions would be in their calendar by default. So far, from the first cohort that have attended their sessions, the feedback has been superb, and we’ve had 0% opt-out. I really believe this is the correct model for all forward-thinking organisations that believe in the importance of mental health support for their team and I would be more than happy for our team to support yours (at no cost) to implement this!”

Social Chain’s approach is revolutionary, eradicating any worries surrounding looking “weak”, by normalising therapy throughout the team. It’s these ‘group changes’ that will make the most difference and help to combat burnout and its effects. When our hours were changed to 9-5:30, here at Goodman Masson our CEO, Guy Hayward, made a pledge to try to follow the hours as often as possible, knowing that others would follow suit. Small demonstrations of solidarity such as these can make a huge difference, proving that you don’t have to burnout to burn bright.

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