The past 18 months have been some of the toughest comms teams have ever known, with remote working, limited news flow and redundancies among the challenges faced.
One survey showed 80 per cent of comms professionals described a marked decline in their mental wellbeing.
In 2019, the World Health Organisation defined burnout caused by unmanaged chronic workplace stress as a recognised occupational phenomenon.
But businesses now face a new challenge called ‘hybrid burnout’: exhaustion caused by the increased psychological load of moving between working from home and an office or site-based location.
Caused by perceived unsustainable workload and lack of control, or a sense of insufficient reward for effort and a lack of a supportive community, burnout is more likely in a hybrid or blended working environment.
Burnout isn’t just “stress” or “being a bit tired”. It can create a deep sense of negativity and cynicism, with chronic exhaustion as an employee tries to manage their work environments.
Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating are common; other symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and head-aches. This may make people worried, leading to more difficulty concentrating, more fatigue and more worry. The longer it’s left, the more likely symptoms are to become so severe that they affect the ability to work productively – or at all.
Tackle hybrid burnout
Step one in tackling this is to ensure managers regularly check in with team members about workloads. Managers should encourage their team to log off each day, maintaining a clear boundary between work and home life. Managers should be role models of this practice.
Simple actions can help, such as actively encouraging employees to take holidays, having ‘no-meeting’ buffer zones in diaries, supporting company-wide agreements that emails are only sent during set hours and are not sent to those on leave.
Ensure staff know when they are expected to be online. Encourage those remote working to not just use the time they would be commuting to do extra work, but spend it on self-care.
Step two: cultivate a culture where employees are supported and encouraged to speak freely, and early, about feeling burned out and managers are traine to notice the early signs and worsening mental health.
Training can be helpful. Emotional literacy training ensures we have a common language to discuss mental health. Whole workforce training like this helps to develop a culture in which conversations about mental health are welcomed and expected. This also enhances the perceived approachability of managers.
Additional support can be provided by training people as Mental Health First Aiders or champions. Regularly communicate that support is available, including the possibility of extra resources to take on the workload.
Remember, not everyone will feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Research shows two in five PR pros would feel embarrassed if colleagues learned they had mental health difficulties.
Confidential employee assistance programmes and timely access to effective therapy can help, reducing distress and increasing productivity. Make access to these resources as simple as possible; self-referral is best.
With the right support and policies in place employees can thrive, even while the future world of work remains uncertain.
Brendan Street is professional head of emotional wellbeing at Nuffield Health