Is burnout a factor in high UK resignation rates? Five ways organisations can prevent stress from progressing to burnout

Dr Sarah Bateup

Is workplace burnout a factor in mass resignation rates in the UK? Dr Sarah Bateup examines why organisations need to integrate stress and burnout prevention policies as key pillars in workplace wellbeing. She also highlights five ways leaders can prevent stress from progressing to burnout.

UK Job resignations are up significantly above pre-pandemic levels. There are currently one million open job vacancies – the highest on record, and turnover amongst young people is almost three times the national average (11.1%, compared to an unemployment rate of 3.9% for the whole population).

46% of UK workers also report feeling more prone to extreme levels of stress, with young people in particular reporting that they feel increasingly overwhelmed at work. Burnout which was classified by WHO in 2020 as a medical condition and other mental health issues have also soared during the pandemic. In 2020/21 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 50% of all work-related ill health cases.

Dr Sarah Bateup, Chief Clinical Officer at Oliva, says: “I am often asked by senior business leaders ‘How can I help my team to get a good work-life balance? When we explore issues and potential solutions, I find out that they do none of the things they want others to do. One senior leader comes to mind, he worked long hours for many years despite experiencing burnout twice. He looked shocked when I asked him what sort of role model he was to the rest of the company.”

Burnout is a psychological syndrome resulting from prolonged exposure to stressors at work. The three key dimensions of this response are overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism/detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness.

“The workplace has changed fundamentally in the last two years and along with it, growing levels of mental health problems including burnout. Burnout is a widespread reality in many businesses across the UK that demands urgent action. Left untreated burnout can lead to more serious mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.”

Despite growing awareness of this problem, access to science-backed mental health support continues to lag in many companies. For meaningful change, organisations need to:

  1. Build a top-down bottom-up culture of ‘openness’ about mental health to shift stigma and empower individuals to say how they really feel to enable action and support.
  2. Implement stress and burnout prevention policies to reflect a commitment to workplace mental health and ensure that leaders actively model these values.
  3. Educate – implement ongoing stress and burnout awareness campaigns to address stress before it becomes problematic.
  4. Embrace a person-centred approach to tackling and treating stress and burnout. Implement company-wide strategies to support resilience building and adaptability.
  5. Be vigilant, flexible, and accountable. Monitor workloads regularly to ensure they are sustainable and manageable. Ensure flexible work arrangements. Clearly communicate priorities. Ensure that managers who defy policies are held accountable.
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