According to Nuffield Health’s 2023 Healthier Nation Index, 44 percent of employees said their jobs had negatively impacted their mental health this year.
Unsurprisingly, adverse feelings towards the workplace can ramp up as the festive season becomes a major source of stress and anxiety due to an intense social calendar, end-of-year reviews, and meeting tight deadlines.
I’ll discuss how managers can prevent end-of-year burnout in their teams and encourage employees to protect their physical and mental health.
#1 Get organized, early.
If employees are feeling the weight of burnout due to excessive work demands, it’s time to reassess and reorganize your team’s project priorities.
Consider scheduling one-to-ones or team meetings to review everyone’s current existing workload, to determine which assignments demand immediate attention and which ones can be postponed for a more suitable time.
Additionally, when facing large and intimidating projects, it’s often helpful to spend more time together, working out how to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks.
If an employee’s schedule is overwhelmingly full, managers should support in finding solutions. This could include, for example, helping them to embrace the power of delegation. Whether employees outsource tasks to colleagues or externally, let them know seeking assistance does not mean they are failing or that they will be looked upon negatively.
This is more helpful than risking missed deadlines or an individual becoming so overwhelmed that their productivity suffers.
#2 Set boundaries.
No doubt, there’ll be circumstances when you or team members have reached out to colleagues for additional support, and some of them have come back with ‘no,’ unable to help at that time.
In the same vein, managers must be comfortable doing the same, even though many of us lean towards “people pleaser” behavior. This means it’s tempting to start saying ‘yes’ to additional work if you’ve managed to free your schedule slightly.
Remind yourself that it is fine to say no to taking on extra responsibilities, try to set firm boundaries with yourself and your team, and let them know it’s OK to follow suit.
Don’t just set boundaries for during office hours, either. It’s essential to do this after hours or if working remotely too. One example could be agreeing with everyone that none of you will check work emails in the evenings between certain hours so you can focus on spending time with loved ones and winding down after a busy working day.
Other examples could be urging teams to take their full lunch periods, setting aside regular breaks, and leaving on time at the end of the day. Managers who lead by example make it easier for others to embrace their own wellbeing, too.
#3 Encourage self-care.
Lack of self-care is one of the most significant contributors to end-of-year burnout. In fact, according to our 2023 Healthier Nation Index, only 15 percent of us take time to focus on self-care, when trying to support our mental health.
Workplaces need to communicate ways for employees to prioritize self-care during the working day and when at home, and help build supportive environments that facilitate healthy behaviors.
From inviting experts to help teams learn about the different self-care practices to researching new ideas that could potentially benefit the whole company, building awareness and positive behavior change is key to creating a workforce that makes self-care a focus.
Small changes like five minutes of meditation or deep breathing exercises can be hugely impactful, helping employees maintain a state of calm, even during the busiest working periods. Psychological research has shown that moving and changing your environment and the stimuli around you improves problem-solving skills and mental focus.
Encourage employees to go for a walk when they can and use their garden if they are working remotely. Ideally, actively build these activities into diaries or working practices. More physical activity will release anxiety-reducing endorphins, which help improve mood and reduce stress.
#4 Notice signs of chronic stress.
I’m often asked, ‘How do we know when someone has reached ‘chronic’ stress levels?’
The answer is if you notice stress affecting an employee’s ability to live an everyday life and perform their daily work routine.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, signs of chronic stress include indecisiveness, mood swings, procrastination, an increase in errors, and even increased absenteeism.
According to a report, long-term stress weakens the responses of the immune system, because stress decreases lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection. This means highly stressed individuals are potentially more at risk of colds and sickness than those experiencing minimal or average stress.
You might notice those suffering from chronic stress are working more or regularly staying late to complete tasks. Ironically, people often do this because they believe it helps them avoid these feelings.
This can also lead to leavism – employees using leave days to catch up with work. This is an ineffective coping mechanism. We end up ignoring our relationships, eliminating our social lives, eating, and sleeping poorly.
#5 Make the most of workplace support.
One of the longer-term side effects of staying in a heightened state of stress for too long, is that it can impact our physical and mental wellbeing. This can lead to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so important to let employees know their mental health should always be a priority.
If you think an individual’s mental health is seriously affected by the stresses that come at the end of the year, you should signpost them to your work’s wellbeing offerings.
Many businesses provide support for stress and personal problems through workplace mental health support like cognitive behavioral therapy CBT, or employee assistance programs (EAPs).
These offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with emotional distress, from family issues, work-related problems, addiction, and mental ill-health.
#6 And finally, kindness is key…
Practicing kindness to others and yourself is crucial, especially at this time of year.
Mounting personal and professional pressures in December can cause everyone to hold themselves to an impossible standard and set an insurmountable to-do list.
Remember that no matter what level we have reached at an organization, everyone can only do their best to get everything done without compromising their emotional wellbeing.
By treating ourselves and others with kindness and understanding, we not only reduce the risk of burnout but also enhance our ability to be present, enjoy festive moments, and engage more meaningfully with our work and personal lives, all year round.
By Gosia Bowling, Mental Health National Lead at Nuffield Health.