4 Ways Leaders Can Recognize and Combat Stress During the Summer Stretch

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By Mark Debus, Manager, Behavioral Health Services, Sedgwick 

As summer sets in, employees often feel particularly stretched thin as colleagues and partners take more vacation time. Paired with ongoing socioeconomic stressors this year, such as inflation and supply chain disruptions, employees around the globe are pulled in many directions inside and outside of the workplace, leading to chronic stress.

Leaders are advised to be on the lookout for the signs of chronic stress in the workplace and better yet, be prepared to address this workplace phenomenon.

In recent years, chronic stress and the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion commonly referred to as “workplace burnout” has been at the center of work life concerns. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reclassified workplace burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the manual physicians use to assign a diagnosis for treatment and billing. Interestingly, workplace burnout was classified as an occupational phenomenon rather than a medical condition. In 2022, this classification hasn’t changed, even despite a cultural shift towards greater awareness of mental health in the workplace.  

Employees exhibit many complexities in their behavior, so definitive cases may be difficult to ascertain, but the following are common symptoms of potential workplace burnout:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of job-related negativism or cynicism
  • Reduced professional efficacy

While all employees will feel stressed and overworked at some point during the year, an organization that ignores actions and behaviors that foster workplace burnout will face declining performance. Productivity levels will drop, workplace absences will spike, and employee turnover will increase. Similarly, costs will rise due to increased medical visits and the need to hire and train new or temporary workers. Employees are an organization’s frontline; workplace burnout is not a banner that an organization wants on display.

The good news is there are proactive steps an organization can take to combat workplace burnout.

1. Recognize the signs

Make sure managers and supervisors are trained to recognize the signs of potential workplace burnout among employees. Deadlines missed suddenly, increased numbers of mistakes, unexpected absences, or withdrawal from the departmental team can point to a need for possible pre-emptive measures. Job-related cynicism is also a very common symptom. If employees are observed making off-handed negative remarks about their jobs, customers, or even their organization, consider this a potential warning sign of burnout. 

2. Provide frequent and transparent communications 

Be certain employees know how the company is performing during these times and acknowledge their contributions and value to the collective effort. Organizational, departmental, and one-on-one communications are all essential and should be a priority focus as companies continue to contend with long-term pandemic effects. If your team has transitioned to a hybrid or full-time in-office structure, take extra care with communicating to employees and ensuring leadership sets the tone. The abrupt changes from returning to office again after a rapid transition to remote work can unsteady even veteran employees and lead to chronic stress or burnout.

3. Heighten awareness of corporate resources

Whether employees are faced with remote or hybrid workplaces, additional homeschooling, or increased anxiety surrounding news headlines, these are trying times; and employees often bring these worries to the workplace where they can impact performance. This is an excellent time to ensure employees are aware of all benefit offerings available including medical and mental health services as well as any employee assistance programs (EAPs). Some organizations are looking to expand these offerings such as including a 24/7 call line where employees can speak to a mental health professional to combat isolation, depression or loneliness.

4. Strengthen corporate culture

Look for ways to reconnect with employees. An organization’s corporate culture sets the tone for employee performance and interaction. Be sure employees find a sense of purpose in daily work activities. Promote healthy habits and wellness activities. Recognize employee performance and team contributions. Celebrate successes with summer hours or extra paid time off, remote flexibility to help employees maximize their summer holidays or spot bonuses. Positive interactions can foil the onset of workplace burnout in many instances.

Workplace burnout is real – both its existence and its impact. And, just because workplaces are more aware and conscious of chronic stress today versus a few years ago does not mean that employees are any less at risk. Learning to recognize signs early on and taking pre-emptive actions to combat and defuse burnout are essential to organizational performance and sustainability. This is not only a strong business strategy – it is also the right thing to do.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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