Moving from a burnout culture to a wellbeing culture

A quick summary:

More than ever, employees are feeling the effects of burnout culture, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Topics like wellbeing and mental health need to be openly discussed in the workplace if we are to see positive change; the kind of openness in the workplace that will once and for all eliminate burnout culture.

Burnout culture has become something of a phenomenon over the years. We’ve seen it negatively impact our lives in various ways, and we’ve also seen it praised as a symbol of hard work and success. Whatever your take on the matter happens to be, the truth is, it’s neither sustainable nor healthy. 

2022 poses new challenges in the hope of a better year than the last, and the biggest ‘out with the old, in with the new’ for this year, has to be toxic workplace environments - the total bane to performance, productivity and overall job satisfaction. 

Before we can truly understand how to move from a burnout culture to a wellbeing culture, it’s worth revisiting the past to build a better future.

A short history of burnout

When we think about burnout, we often look to the most recent years and the rate at which technology is creating ‘always-on’ working environments. Yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The term burnout or “Burn-Outs” (as often written in the literature of Herbert Freudenberger, a German psychologist, who first introduced the term in the 1970s) has been around for decades - and despite its longevity, burnout is more prevalent than ever. 

In recent years, millennials have been named the ‘Burnout Generation’ and the term, once reserved for healthcare professionals who put in too many hours in high-stress jobs, is now widespread and applicable to every industry.  

Even closer to the present day, in 2019, the WHO (World Health Organisation) classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon”. With their definition taking the form in the following: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

This doesn’t draw the bigger picture for some, however, and the true impact of burnout culture when analysed in numbers is horrific. According to Octanner.com in their global report, burnout culture comes with a $190 billion spending on healthcare each year; and can also be linked to around 120,000 deaths each year. 

Taking all this into account, there’s a surprising lack of discussion and progress being made in burnout culture. In fact, overworking oneself has become a status of success in the eyes of toxic work environments, unhealthy management teams and social media.

Technology has provided a platform to glorify the culture of overworking, through entrepreneurs, influencers and other successful celebrities. What many fail to recognise, however, is how this glorification fast-tracks burnout even more. 

Before the digital age, we didn’t realise just how hard everyone else appeared to be working, with our laptop and mobile phone screens now offering a glimpse into overnight sensations and the rare cases of multi-millionaire teenagers. 

Although, that is quite literally all we can see, i.e the surface. The rest is left to our imaginations, and because of this, a lot of us begin to believe we’re not working hard enough. Therefore, we burn ourselves out in pursuit of similar levels of popularity and financial success. 

In this Forbes article, it’s claimed that in 2021, workers around the world were putting in an average of 9.2 hours of unpaid overtime, per week! And while this is shocking to say the least, it’s also up from 7.3 hours in just a year before!

Impact of COVID-19 on burnout culture

Looking back to 2020, the COVID-19 projected new challenges, concerns and learnings on burnout culture - and surprisingly, they’re not all bad!

In the beginning, the uncertainty around COVID-19 forced many to take on remote work from the comfort of their homes. However, this proved to be a problem for many. As the line between work and home blurred, employees began working long hours, trying to balance childcare responsibilities, all while looking after themselves mentally and physically. 

According to mentalhealth-uk.org and a YouGov survey from 2021, 1 in 5 felt unable to manage pressure and stress levels at work. That’s not all, however, with 46% of UK workers feeling more prone to stress compared with a year ago (March 2020).

These statistics demonstrate the kind of negative impact COVID-19 has had on burnout culture, and how it shows no sign of slowing down in a post-pandemic world, (or at least for now).

As mentioned above, the pandemic did in fact teach society one thing… that we must start treating wellbeing and mental health with the awareness it truly deserves, and that is both in and outside the workplace. 

With more and more struggling with their personal wellbeing both during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, we’ve started to see a level of openness from leaders. From influencers and celebrities, we’ve seen them endorsing mental health care much more.

While this doesn’t outweigh the devastation the pandemic brought upon the world, it has left its mark with subjects such as wellbeing and mental health continuing to grow to new heights. In fact the term ‘wellbeing’ now receives more than 40,000 monthly Google searches in the UK alone!

In the workplace, we’ve seen more and more leaders embracing employee wellbeing programmes, with new employee benefits in family planning, female health, financial wellbeing and more.

In fact, according to this vantagefit.io article, research by IFEBP found nine out of ten organisations offered at least one wellness initiative.

This of course is all a short introduction to the history of burnout culture, but it’s safe to say that while we’ve made some progress in the past couple of years, more needs to be done to help employees manage their work-life balance.

Embracing a wellbeing culture

As we look from the past to the future, how can employers, employees, and we as individuals embrace a wellbeing culture in every environment we encounter?

Firstly, leaders must recognise the growing demand for wellbeing in the workplace, and with this awareness bring about action. Employees are looking to companies for much more than shorter working weeks, longer breaks and social activities - in fact, the employee wellbeing landscape couldn’t be any further from this today. 

Employees are requesting better fertility and family planning benefits, an eagerness to learn financial education and embracing holistic health such as hypnotherapy and meditation classes. 

What started out as a desire to correct work-life balance has become much more. Especially in workers of younger generations who are conscious about living healthier lifestyles. 

In fact, according to this Sanford Health article, a study on millennials and their attitudes found that 79% said family was important in their lives, health and wellness at 53%, friends at 39%, spirituality at 31%, and career at 27%.

This shifting attitude in the younger workforce demonstrates the kind of direction wellbeing in the workplace is heading. One in which companies across the world will need to support and encourage in the near future.

If anything, we’re seeing this every day at Heka, as more companies join our platform to provide wellbeing experiences to their staff. 

For leaders looking to kickstart their employee wellbeing initiatives, certain things can be put in place now. This includes just some of the following initiatives: 

  • Subsidised gym memberships for employees
  • Paid courses for career progression
  • Helping with fertility treatment
  • Providing financial support for student loans
  • Introducing themed wellbeing days
  • Wellbeing and fitness challenges for the whole team

And that’s not all, we’ve covered more wellbeing ideas to promote wellbeing culture in your workplace.

The fact of the matter is, building a wellbeing culture takes time, and even more so if companies are trying to move away from a burnout culture. Wherever employers begin though, they must go into employee wellbeing wholeheartedly and understand that the benefits for doing so will come in time - and believe it or not, there are benefits for both parties.

That’s because, with a healthier, happier workforce, team collaboration thrives. Engaged employees are productive employees, and businesses see much better balance sheets because of it. 

Ultimately, if these statistics on younger employees tell us anything, it’s that millennials will speak up against poor working conditions and push leaders for better wellbeing in the workplace

You could go as far as to say this is inevitable, and the companies that adopt employee wellbeing efficiently will be those we continue to praise for becoming leaders in their industry. 

For many leaders, this message will either be a wake-up call or reinforce their efforts in building employee wellbeing initiatives with purpose. Whatever the case may be for you, we know you’re more than prepared to take action or build momentum for the future of your team or business.

How Heka helps companies create a wellbeing culture

It’s clear that more needs to be done to move many companies from a burnout culture to a wellbeing culture. Leaders need to invest in employee wellbeing initiatives and really focus on building healthier, happier teams this year.

Not just in the interest of employee wellbeing, but to keep up with future demands as the younger generation dominate the global workforce. 

Heka’s here to help. Our wellbeing platform empowers leaders to take control of employee wellbeing through 1000s of experiences. 

With everything from virtual yoga classes to financial coaching, therapy sessions and more, Heka is the platform for every employees’ wellbeing needs. 

book a demo with one of our wellbeing experts today!