What is burnout?

We're all familiar with workplace stress and its impact on our overall well-being and quality of life. Job burnout occurs when stress becomes chronic and overwhelming to the extent that an employee can't function effectively at work or in their personal life.

Burnout goes beyond normal stress levels and results in an employee becoming completely exhausted. It can impact an employee's emotional, physical and mental health to the extent that they lose interest in their work and other activities they used to enjoy. It has many features similar to depression.

Burnout can start when stress becomes chronic.

Chronic stress

Some stressful times are a normal part of life. We can all experience stressful events without experiencing burnout. Chronic stress begins when excessive stress becomes part of an employee's everyday working life.

The sustained effort required to build a start-up can easily lead to burnout. For example, in an established business, individual projects may demand increased productivity and some overtime to meet a deadline. However, an employee's workload should return to normal levels afterwards. (If it doesn't, they may also be at risk of burnout.) In a start-up, long hours and demanding work are often the norm, increasing the risk of chronic stress.

Positive stress

Stress can sometimes be a good thing, and harnessing the power of positive stress can be a great way to achieve your goals. You may have a particular project you must complete or a financial goal to bring crucial income into your business or ensure your investors' continued support. A realistic deadline with increased effort to meet targets can be great for employee engagement and team building.

However, you must ensure that this doesn't become the norm. A short-term push can be valuable, but unrealistic goals can result in long-term burnout.

How can burnout impact your business?

Burnout research found that start-up culture includes long hours and an expectation that businesses can achieve excellent results while understaffed and under-resourced. A lack of job security and extended hours increases anxiety among staff and increases the risk of experiencing burnout.

In 2023, Gallup's State of the Global Workplace report found that employee stress levels are at record highs, with 44% of employees reporting experiencing stress compared to 36% in 2012.

A startup founder can also experience burnout. They may have started a business because they love what they do and spend every waking hour at work. They may start experiencing burnout symptoms but be reluctant to admit it for fear of letting down their team members, business partners or investors. Burnout doesn't resolve by itself, so they end up closing or leaving the business because they can't lead effectively and need a complete break to recover.

How to recognise the signs of burnout

To avoid burnout, you must first recognise the symptoms. Burnout symptoms can be physical, emotional, mental, or a combination of these. Employees may feel overwhelmed, irritable, and anxious. They may also begin to enjoy their job less or feel that their performance has dropped. Physical symptoms can include exhaustion, headaches, stomach aches, or insomnia.

You may also notice that your team members procrastinate or take longer to complete tasks.

Ways to prevent burnout

Startup founders may believe they must operate within a hustle culture to succeed. However, creating a positive company culture from the start can build the foundations of long-term success and protect employees' physical and mental health.

Creating a framework to support employees through company policies and employee benefits can help prevent burnout.

Create a positive work-life balance

A healthy work-life balance with a clear separation between employees' work and personal lives is an excellent way to manage stress. It allows staff to rest and recharge or spend time on activities they enjoy.

If your team works in an office, flexible working hours let them balance work with other commitments. Working at home can similarly benefit staff and also means they can skip a potentially stressful commute.

Start-up culture sometimes celebrates working excessive hours, but this negatively impacts work-life balance. Instead, normalise finishing work at a reasonable time so staff can enjoy their evenings and weekends.

Effective time management

Good time management can help manage stress in various ways, and the culture a startup founder creates is crucial in achieving this. Here are a few ways to enable staff to manage their time effectively.

  • Encourage staff to recognise what they can realistically accomplish during their working day.
  • Normalise speaking up and asking for support when staff can't take on new work.
  • Give your team autonomy to plan their work; some prefer to get monotonous jobs out of the way first thing, while others want to work on complex tasks while they're fresh.
  • Communicate effectively to ensure your team knows which work is a high priority or has a deadline attached.
  • Provide resources to allow staff to delegate.
  • Track interruptions and find ways to minimise them. Could a meeting be an email instead?

Provide support and training for employees

Stress management training helps staff at every level of the business identify the symptoms of burnout and poor mental health. Workplace training can help in various ways, such as increasing awareness of stress reduction or time management techniques.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are third-party services that provide confidential telephone support for staff experiencing mental health issues. They can effectively prevent burnout, particularly if staff are reluctant to raise problems with their manager for fear of judgment.

Investing in health insurance can provide an EAP and other tools to support employee well-being.

Take proper breaks

Taking breaks throughout the day improves concentration, reduces job stress, and prevents burnout. Some evidence suggests that even a short break can help, although it depends on what you do with it. Research indicates that stretching, walking around, talking to a colleague, or watching a funny video can improve productivity, while snack breaks may not.

Longer breaks are also necessary. A balanced diet can help employees manage stress, and a proper lunch break makes this easier.

Build activity into the working day

We've already mentioned that physical activity can reduce stress and improve productivity. Consider ways to build activity into the working day, for example, by holding walking meetings.

Lunchtime activity sessions encourage your team to take a break and can also help them forge supportive relationships at work by letting them get to know people in different areas of the business. If you have a small team where everyone works together, informal gatherings encourage staff to learn more about each others' lives outside work.

Paid sessions such as yoga classes provide social and well-being benefits. However, if you can't invest in paid activities yet, consider low-cost alternatives like a lunchtime walking group. Some business health insurance policies include support for creating workplace well-being initiatives.

Communicate effectively with your team

Growing a start-up is demanding, and there will likely be times when your team needs to pull together and work hard to meet your business goals. Chronic stress and burnout can occur when employees feel that heavy workloads and long work hours will never end. Effective communication is vital.

Ensure your team understands your business vision and what the goals you set for them will achieve so they feel part of something bigger than themselves. This approach can help increase job satisfaction and reduce stress around job security. Understanding what the company's priorities are can also help employees plan their time effectively.

Celebrate goals

Your employees can experience burnout when they feel they're working without respite. You may accomplish one goal or complete a project, only to move straight on to the next target. Celebrating your achievements can help prevent burnout by providing a break and a chance for employees to let off steam together. Having your efforts recognised is also a basic human need that can improve employee engagement.

You can recognise individual effort with thank you cards, shout-outs during meetings, or gifts such as flowers, chocolates or a voucher. Creating a system where your entire team can nominate a colleague for exceptional work increases fairness.

Celebrating team effort at the end of a project or after winning a new client can take the form of a team lunch, pizza, and drinks after work, if appropriate for your team. If most employees work at home, you can send reward packages to host a virtual celebration.

Create an open company culture

While even well-established companies can fail, start-ups are at particular risk, with approximately 50% of new companies closing in their first three years. Employees may decide to take a chance on a new start-up, but this can bring anxiety around job security. Staff may take on too much work to ensure business success and prove themselves as a valuable employee in case cutbacks are needed.

A high-pressure environment can cause burnout if employees cannot discuss their feelings or ask for support when struggling. Ensure they know who to talk to and that you and your managers are trained to offer suitable support, such as reducing workloads and encouraging employees to see their doctor if necessary.

Get to know your team

It's been said that employees don't leave their jobs; they leave managers. Management style influences employee retention and can help staff avoid burnout.

Getting to know your team lets you spot burnout symptoms and intervene early. Supportive workplace relationships and team-building activities let staff recognise potential burnout in their colleagues. This approach also ensures you're aware of any stresses employees face outside work, such as bereavement, issues with family members or a house move, and allocate work appropriately.

Get in touch

At Globacare, we help our clients find the right insurance coverage for their team. If you'd like to learn more about how health insurance can benefit your start-up, contact us for tailored advice.

Sam Zainal
Senior Broker

Sam Zainal

Sam has been in the industry for over 11 years and has extensive experience in customer service and protection insurance.

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