Prevention Is Better than Cure When It Comes to Burnouts

The working population’s mental health has recently been in the headlines in Finland. Big national media outlets such as Yle News and Helsingin Sanomat (sorry, news articles in Finnish) have reported on increased burnouts among the Finns and the most recent statistics by Kela (the Finnish Social Insurance Institution) show that mental health issues have become the most common reason for sick leaves.

Why Do People Burnout?

You often hear people say that burnout happens because of working too much. While long hours and neglecting other parts of you life might be part of the reason, I dare to say that simply working a lot will NOT burn you out. Think about it, have you ever been working on something so interesting (whether it was your job or for example a hobby), that several hours might pass and you don’t even notice it? Or maybe you didn’t mind working a lot because you were motivated by the goals or you had fun with the people that you were working with? If you have experienced that, you know that the feeling is quite different from anxiety and stress.

One might also think that maybe the burnout is somehow the individual employee’s fault. If other people can keep up with the pace and the requirements, then surely the people who burnout must be somehow “weaker”. Actually, the case is quite the opposite. Usually, the person burning out is someone who is motivated and commited, cares about their job, and wants to achieve great results. In fact, they are usually someone who you could not afford losing from your team.

Then why do these otherwise healthy and hard-working employees burn out? Many times, the reasons can be found at the workplace, in the organization’s processes and leadership. According to the WHO, such issues as unclear goals, insufficient resources, bullying or otherwise poor environment, and low control over one’s work can lead to mental health issues. These issues will not allow the motivated employee to reach their goals, which will cause them stress. The employee might try to cope with the stress the best they can but at the end of the day, these issues are often not something that an individual employee can change alone. Therefore, organizations have a key role in making the workplace healthy for everyone.

The Cost of a Burnout to the Organization

Organizations should be concerned about their employees’ mental health also because of the costs that poor mental wellbeing at workplaces leads to. According to the financial group OP, the cost of one sick day in Finland is approximately 350 euros. In one week, that adds up to 1,750 euros.

In addition to sick leave costs, poor employee mental wellbeing has other impacts, such as:

  • Loss of productivity. According to the WHO, lost productivity due to mental health issues costs US$ 1 trillion per year on a global scale. The employee who is struggling with stress and mental strain will not be working as efficiently as they used to.
  • Issues in customer experience. If the anxious and overly stressed employee works in a customer-facing role, also the customer experience may suffer.
  • Increased employee turnover. Employee turnover can increase if there are issues with the organizational processes and leadership practices which then leads to higher turnover costs.

What Can You Do to Reduce the Risk of Burnouts in Your Company?

In the recent news articles and the public conversation around the topic, there has been a clear shift from focusing on treating the symptoms of each employee separately to preventing employees from burning out in the first place.

Organizations should review their practices and build their processes and cultures by putting their employees at the center. Every workplace is different so it is important that you find the right solutions to your team. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health also provides online resources to help leaders promote better mental health in their organizations.

My purpose is to help organizations build happier and healthier workplaces. My workshops focus on maximizing the potential of your team. Get in touch with me, I will be happy to embark on this jouney with you. 🙂

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

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