Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

Our thoughts are with our members and their organisations impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. Boards have a key role to play in the wake of any crisis. See guidance for chairs and directors

IMHO: Is burnout your blindspot?

By Dr Angela Lim, CEO & Cofounder, Clearhead
27 Sep 2022
read time
5 min to read
looking up at a window in an old dark abandoned building

OPINION: As a director have you been frustrated by the lack of capacity and capability in the organisation you govern to execute on the strategic priorities set out at the beginning of this year?

You’re not alone.

In the work we do at Clearhead around employee wellbeing we are seeing a big rise in employee burnout across all sectors in Aotearoa New Zealand. In fact, health and wellbeing, including mental health, has been identified as a significant people risk across our organisations this year.

It all started with #TheGreatResignation, then #TheGreatReshuffle, and now #QuietQuitting. Whatever the movement, they are all symptoms of workplaces not being able to sufficiently manage their people risks adequately. Employees, already exhausted from multiple lockdowns, and Covid/other seasonal sickness are also feeling overworked (and with inflation on the rise, arguably underpaid). They are increasingly voting with their feet by choosing to leave employers who can’t genuinely demonstrate they care about their wellbeing.

Despite a staggering 81% of employees reporting a risk of burnout, only 33% of HR professionals say they have effective policies, and practices in place to support a culture of wellbeing and psychological safety. This is like flying blind into a storm and just hoping that you will come out the other end unscathed.

Looking overseas, in 2022 one in every two Millennial and GenZ employees have either left their job for mental health reasons or intend moving to an employer that prioritises their mental health and wellbeing. This is the key difference that marks a change in the workforce from the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to the workforce of today. In a labour market that continues to have a global shortage of employees and with Millenials estimated to account for 75% of employees by 2025, this is not a problem that is going away anytime soon.

Further, recent Gallup data shows it's not an industry, role or pay issue. Those that are quitting at the highest rate are those who are not engaged and feel unsupported.

Five trends we are seeing at Clearhead in 2022

  1. Burnout is on the rise across New Zealand organisations.
  2. There is increased complexity in personal and professional triggers of mental health challenges. This has resulted in 50% of employees experiencing either depression or anxiety symptoms for more than a month.
  3. Younger employees increasingly feel undervalued due to a lack of recognition and appreciation.
  4. Employees report an increasing lack of purpose at work. In fact, 41% of employees are re-evaluating their priorities and how they want to spend time at work.
  5. There is blurring of work-life balance in the context of a hybrid workforce with more people working longer hours when they work from home.

Wellbeing has an impact on your bottom line

The financial impact of burnout is captured in the rise of absenteeism and presenteeism and increasingly by the #quiet quitting phenomenon.

A recent international Qualtrics survey reported an average of eight days of sick leave taken due to mental health reasons and employees only performing at 72% their full capacity. This loss is equal to an average of 18% of employees annual salary.

Organisations that truly prioritise employees' mental health and wellbeing will have a competitive advantage in both attracting and retaining talent and will reap the rewards of higher employee participation and productivity.

Our recommendations for improving employee wellbeing

Clearhead, in our work with leading organisations across New Zealand, has the following recommendations for boards and executive teams:

  1. Develop a wellbeing strategy which is proactive and led by, and embodied by, senior leadership.
  2. Make sure your strategy includes measurable targets. Utilise data analytics to clearly identify people risks specific to your organisation and then manage these risks against the organisation’s objectives.
  3. Invest in a modern EAP system and ensure these services and benefits are clearly outlined to staff with measurable engagement targets.
  4. Invest in a training programme for leaders/ managers to support staff mental health, eg compassionate accountability.
  5. Senior leaders need to communicate and role model good wellbeing behaviours and practices. As a board, you should also ensure the wellbeing needs of the CEO and executive are also met.
  6. Celebrate employee success and (re) build social cohesion within your organisation. There’s a feeling of disconnection in many organisations, especially with the current high levels of staff turnover.

Organisations will need to go beyond traditional incentives such as market-rate salary, flexibility and job security and start to do the hard work of developing empathetic leaders who are confident in managing mental health challenges in the workplace and what it takes to transform workplace cultures which meet the needs of  employees.

There is now a higher expectation than ever for managers and people leaders to set realistic work expectations in order for employees to have a sense of work-life balance and manage any potential risks of burnout. Employees are demanding more from their employers in respect to health, safety and wellbeing and that is here to stay. 

Angela Lim profile picture
About the author

Dr. Angela Lim is a medical doctor and CEO & Co-founder of Clearhead. Clearhead is an innovative workplace wellbeing provider that takes a holistic and proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing that is driven by data and delivered through a user-friendly online platform.

Having sat on more than 15 boards, Angela understands the importance of good governance and the importance of managing health and safety risks effectively. That is why Clearhead focuses on supporting businesses to understand their employees better through data analytics and then targeting initiatives to drive systemic culture change.

Clearhead is pleased to offer a special price to IoD members on our wellbeing services. Find out more

The views expressed in this article do not reflect the position of the IoD unless explicitly stated.

Contribute your perspectives and expertise on an area of governance to the IoD membership and governance community. Contact us mail@iod.org.nz