Rise in staff burnout sees record number of people out of work

There has been a record increase in those who are not working due to long-term sickness, according to official unemployment figures released today.

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Helena Young

The number of people not working in the UK due to illness has risen to a new record, in part triggered by a rise in employee mental health issues.

Labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 438,000 more people were not looking for work from January to March 2023 because they were on long-term sick leave. In total, 2.5m people are not currently working due to health problems.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, blamed the uplift on “conditions related to mental health, particularly in the young”.

In a survey of over 1,000 UK employees and HR managers, Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform, found that four in five workers say workplace burnout has had an impact on their health and wellbeing.

Almost half say that they frequently experience feeling overwhelmed, driven by increasing inflationary pressures.

Gen Z workers most likely to suffer from burnout

The Reward Gateway research reports that Gen Z employees are experiencing burnout in the workplace at the highest rate.

Almost half of 18-24 year olds, many of whom will be in their first roles, are entering the workplace with a higher baseline level of stress than their older colleagues.

In part, this could be due to low employee engagement. Most young workers have entered the workforce during the era of remote and hybrid working. As a result, they are struggling to connect with their coworkers, managers or employers.

For this younger group, who typically live alone, lack of socialising could be worsening the issue. Research from London Heritage Quarter shows that 61% of young people report going for hours without talking to anyone when working from home.

As a result, their mental health is suffering. The same report found that 54% of Gen Z workers admit to feeling lonely and isolated at home, compared to 38% of older colleagues.

Rise in burnout adds fuel to ‘quiet quitting’ fire

Last year, employers were taken aback when workers began ‘quiet quitting’. Quiet quitting refers to staff members who have become disengaged from their job, and put in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary.

If a worker’s productivity dips (they leave work early, or they are no longer contributing to projects) they might be quiet quitting.

Despite a general trend amongst job hunters towards meaningful work, where passions are prioritised over payslips, financial pressures are clearly still causing stress for employees.

The social media trend became popular in light of low staff morale caused by the cost of living crisis, which saw real wages fall significantly as a result. The ONS figures show that the squeeze on pay remains, with wage increases between January and March 2023 failing to keep up with rising prices.

As a result, quiet quitting continues to plague bosses. According to Reward Gateway, 24% of UK employees say that they are no longer going ‘above and beyond’ at work.

Low engagement hits productivity

Quiet quitting undoubtedly has a negative impact on organisational culture. If an employees’ colleagues are forced to pick up the slack from their co-workers, they will likely begin to feel overworked and burned out, exacerbating the problem.

There is also a financial impact. Workers choosing to put in less effort could lead to a significant rise in operational costs as the company misses out on growth projections. Labour costs might also surge as business owners hire more staff to increase productivity.

According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost their company the equivalent of 18% of their annual salary due to lost training and recruitment costs, paid sick leave, and productivity losses.

Employers should reward staff to combat poor mental health

The research demonstrates a marked gap in expectations for improvement when it comes to employee health and wellbeing support.

Of those surveyed, a minority of employees rate the physical (32%), mental (39%) and financial (28%) wellbeing support from their employers as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. However, the majority of HR managers surveyed said they believe they are excelling in this area.

Seemingly, the disparity is due to staff feeling undervalued and unappreciated for their efforts. According to Reward Gateway, 72% of UK staff believe their workplace wellbeing would improve if they were simply thanked for their hard work.

Thankfully, meeting this basic expectation does not require a complete overhaul of your people management strategy. Instead, managers should adopt a transactional leadership style as the best route through this challenging economic period.

Transactional leadership is designed to inspire employees by rewarding high-achievers with bespoke benefits and perks. As an example, a manager in the telesales industry might reward the team member with the highest number of sales with a gift card each month.

By their nature, transactional relationships are self-motivating. Employees will get back what they put in – encouraging people in a way that rewards hard work and ensures fair treatment.

Rob Boland, COO at Reward Gateway, says: “Our new research further suggests that employers and employees need to be connected on all fronts now more than ever.

“Clearly defining the support available to all employees and ensuring that employees feel recognised and valued in the workplace is key for both financial and career wellbeing.”

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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