5 simple ways to help manage mid-year burnout

26 June 2024 NMG Benefits
Gary Feldman

Gary Feldman

Burnout is real.

And it’s not only costing us our mental health and wellbeing, it’s also costing our businesses and economy billions of Rands in lost productivity every year: R235 billion, or 4.2% of GDP, to be precise.

One in three South African employees are struggling with burnout, which often results in ‘presenteeism’ – being physically present at work but mentally absent and unproductive. The annual economic cost of mental health-related presenteeism is estimated at R96,500 per employee; more than absenteeism; and almost seven times less productivity than absenteeism due to depression.

Most aptly described as chronic physical and emotional exhaustion, burnout most often results from prolonged stress, with excessive work demands being one of the main culprits. It manifests as fatigue, decreased productivity, detachment and negative emotions. Signs to look out for include mood swings, feeling overwhelmed, headaches, muscle soreness and frequent illnesses.

At work, burnout manifests as reduced productivity, declining performance, lack of concentration and motivation and procrastination. Gary Feldman, Head of Healthcare Consulting at financial advisory firm, NMG Benefits, says that South African employers play an important role in ensuring the wellbeing of their employees.

“It’s critical, both for the health of their employees and companies, that businesses address the current raised levels of burnout. We have got to do more to foster a culture of openness around mental wellbeing, and we can do this by implementing policies and support structures that will help people through stressful times,” said Feldman.

What can you do if you suspect that you are burning out? Feldman has the following tips:

Talk about it
When we are taking strain or feeling overwhelmed, we tend to be embarrassed about not being able to function at our peak, but this only makes things worse. “Talk openly about what you are going through. Get in touch with your company’s employee assistance program (EAP) for counselling that can help you to manage and overcome your burnout,” says Feldman.

Prioritise your tasks
Take deliberate steps to keep track of your work. Use a spreadsheet, to-do list, or calendar to structure your days around achieving outcomes. This will help you to feel more in control, and less anxious.

Break your day up
Step away from your computer from time to time. Getting a glass of water, or taking a walk outside will help to re-set your stress. Our bodies were designed to be active, and sitting at a desk all day is not good for your mood, energy, or overall health.

Change your lifestyle
Apart from burnout, stress can also trigger depression and anxiety, which often leads to self-destructive behaviour. Making changes to your lifestyle, like getting enough sleep, improving nutrition, exercising regularly, connecting with others, and laughing more, can help to counter the effects of stress.

Switch off
Feldman emphasises that employers set the tone when it comes to mental health in the workplace. “It is important to set an example by not answering emails and taking business calls after hours. Remote employees, especially, should be encouraged to close their laptops at the end of every work day. Managers must shatter the myth that employees have to be ‘always on’ and should also insist that their employees take their annual leave.”

On average, we will all spend one-third of our lives at work, so understanding employee wellness is crucial. “Employees who are happy and healthy are more resilient and better equipped to handle change. If there is one human capital strategy that your company is considering tackling, it should be employee burnout, because it is costing businesses big – and we are not just talking about money,” says Feldman.

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