HR Magazine – Don’t let burnout become a business problem


As I sit down to write this the sun is shining but sadly I am not out to enjoy it. Like most people, I am between meetings trying to stay focused on the important things while navigating through the emails and messages that come with my role as Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

Despite my best intentions, I will be distracted and have to revisit this piece several times before finishing it.

I love my work. It’s a privilege: busy, often challenging and always rewarding. I often wish there were a few more hours in the day.

And at the same time, I am preparing for the total closure of the entire organization for our Summer Wellbeing Week which takes place from August 19th to 30th.

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It’s been five working days that no one in the core team will be working. For some business leaders, myself included in the past, this would be an unthinkable and perhaps unacceptable waste of time, business, revenue and impact.

But for me and more importantly the employees of MHFA England, our Wellbeing Weeks – we also close for a week in December – are a vital part of our mental health and wellbeing strategy.

Although life is supposedly starting to become more ‘normal’, all around me I see and hear that people are tired, even exhausted. As we navigate 2022 and the worst uncertainty of the pandemic, we face the worst cost of living crisis since records began, chronic staff shortages and a war for talent, heat waves accentuating the climate crisis and disrupted travel.

Poor mental health now costs UK employers up to £56billion a year and a recent Glassdoor survey found that reports of burnout among UK workers have almost doubled in the past year, reaching record levels. So how can organizing wellness weeks where the whole organization shuts down help prevent burnout and improve workplace wellbeing?

First, and most importantly, we know that a job “well done” is good for our well-being and that well-being and productivity feed off each other. Wellness weeks or days should therefore be integrated into an overall organizational approach to wellness and high performance.

They should not be seen as an add-on, but as part of an ongoing goal of creating a success-oriented organizational culture. It means having a mental health and wellness strategy that works for your people and your business.

Now is the time to focus well. If anything good can come out of the pandemic, it’s for organizations to take the time to reconsider their mental health and wellness policies and reevaluate their culture.

In Deloitte’s latest report on mental health and employers, one of the key recommendations was that leaders commit to learning the lessons of the pandemic, particularly regarding the causes and implications of stress and burnout among employees.

The pandemic is a vital opportunity to challenge the stigma associated with poor mental health and stimulate open conversations. The healthier and happier the workforce, the more productive employees will be. From removing avoidable stress from processes and systems, to prioritizing healthy job design, and being flexible so everyone can thrive at work, it all helps create a mentally healthier workplace.

For us at MHFA England, our two wellness weeks are just a small part of our overall wellness strategy. With a vision to improve the mental health of the nation, we aim to lead by example in everything we do. We’ve worked hard to put the right approach in place to support our staff and create something that works for us at MHFA England, but every organization will be different.

As employers, we need to recognize the importance for our teams (and ourselves) of taking annual leave and taking time to relax and recuperate. Surveyed, nearly three-quarters (72%) of workers thought annual leave was an effective way to reduce burnout, but only three in five employees used their full leave entitlement.

Employees experiencing burnout are likely to feel drained and drained from having to deal with increased workload and stress for an extended period of time.

This can lead to reduced productivity and negative feelings or total apathy towards one’s work. Not only does this affect the employee and their delivery, but it can impact an entire team if not handled appropriately.

Rest and recovery are essential for self-care, and providing wellness breaks in addition to annual leave can help combat burnout.

There is a lot of preparation for the closing of the week so that our instructor members and customers are not negatively affected. This means that our central team is assured that projects are not left unattended or that deadlines are not exceeded. As a result, staff tell us – and I know this from my own experience – that the temptation to check tasks and emails is greatly reduced.

We deliberately ensure that all staff are absent at the same time. This means no one dreads returning to an overflowing inbox or to-do list that negates any benefit of a work break.

The complete closure of Wellness Week sends a powerful message from senior leaders that people at all levels of an organization are encouraged to rest and connect with their lives and interests outside of the workplace. It demonstrates that we can all prioritize our mental health and wellbeing and be a successful, high-impact social enterprise.

If you want help implementing a workplace wellness strategy, visit Startwell is our diagnostic service, helping organizations unlock the positive value of employee mental health.

Simon Blake is CEO of Mental Health First Aid England


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