In the fast-paced tech startup world, burnout is a pernicious problem. Demanding hours and workload can have damaging effects on employees’ mental health, making them feel emotionally and physically drained. Often, employees aren’t aware of the early signs that burnout is taking a toll on their mental health.
Burnout was recently recognised by the World Health Organisation as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
A study from Asana found that in the UK, 81% of tech workers said they experience burnout at least once a month.
An unmotivated and drained workforce is a big problem for companies trying to scale up.
It’s also a problem for companies that want to retain their best employees. For some workers, burnout has been a contributing factor in leaving their job as part of the ‘Great Resignation’.
For Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, UKTN spoke to tech leaders to find out what’s causing burnout – and what companies can do to prevent staff from burning out.
Promote a healthy work-life balance
Balancing work and life can be a difficult task in an industry that requires rapid innovation so constantly.
The ability to balance one’s personal and professional life is itself a vital career skill, but it can’t just be the responsibility of employees to work out how to do it.
Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO of cloud-based accounting software firm Aqilla, tells UKTN that even “small actions” such as ensuring employees take breaks throughout the day can make a difference.
Team leaders can also conduct “regular and informal check-ins to give employees an opportunity to address any concerns” before they morph into something more serious.
“All these things can play a part in reducing stress and avoiding burnout,” Scantlebury says.
Managers should monitor their team’s workload, and make it clear they are not expected to work over their allocated hours.
Provide free mental health resources to raise awareness
While small, everyday actions such as check-ins can establish a more motivated and less stressed workforce, sometimes staff will be going through something bigger.
It’s here that having specialised mental health initiatives can make all the difference.
“Therapy can be expensive and inaccessible, meaning many people choose to avoid working on their mental wellbeing,” says Ashley Lourens, head of wellbeing at mental health startup Plumm.
“If you offer support through work, however, employees will be much more likely to engage with the full range of wellbeing services on offer.”
Lourens suggests making the use of an “accredited expert” available to employees who would otherwise either not be able to, or not have the motivation to.
“If an employee does develop burnout or another mental health condition, having a therapist available means they can immediately speak to someone they are comfortable with, working to combat symptoms before they spiral into something more,” Laurens says.
Embrace hybrid working
While the pandemic contributed to the high levels of stress felt by employees, it also gave employees greater flexibility for working arrangements.
The hybrid work from home (WFH) system for most companies was first put in place out of necessity. As the stay-at-home orders started to lift, some firms lifted the work from home policy, while many others kept it as part of a hybrid model.
WFH services have advanced significantly since the pandemic, and while some workers prefer working in an office, plenty prefer the chance to do their job at home. Adopting a flexible hybrid model can allow firms to play to the strengths and preferences of staff.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option that is guaranteed to suit all of a company’s workforce. But by providing a choice and being flexible to employee needs, companies can ensure staff are working in the way that best suits them.
Turn staff into a team
One of the most common contributing factors to mental health problems is loneliness – so much so that it is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Promoting a sense of team and taking steps to make sure everyone feels involved can help prevent this.
Inclusive team-building events and socials can create a sense of belonging. This can be trickier to do among distributed workforces, which is why some companies have regular drop-in days.
“Tech companies now have a duty of care in helping to reduce loneliness and mental ill-health,” said Anna Rasmussen, founder and CEO of management software company OpenBlend.
“Central to success is instilling a team culture whereby the members of that team feel supported by one another. Doing so gives people a much-needed community to bounce ideas off, celebrate highs with, and solve problems with.”