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Six signs of burnout as survey shows millions unhappy at work

A third of UK employees find work stressful, according to a survey. Photo: JESHOOTS.COM/Unsplash

The UK workforce is being increasingly held back by mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety, according to new research.

A survey of more than 2,000 employees by recruitment firm Robert Half UK suggests more than one in 10 (13%) Brits are unhappy at work – accounting for more than 4.3 million people.

In fact, the UK has the highest rate of unhappiness in the workplace of all eight countries surveyed, including Canada, Australia and Germany. British discontent is 4% higher than in the USA.

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Almost a third (31%) of British employees admitted to finding work stressful, while one in 10 (12%) said they were unhappy with their work–life balance.

This is having a significant impact on the UK’s labour force. The latest Labour Force Survey shows over 15 million days were lost over a year due to reported mental health problems caused or worsened by work – including, but not limited to, stress, depression and anxiety.

This accounts for over half (57%) of all missed work days due to self-reported illness. Additionally, burnout due to stress and anxiety is responsible for over two-fifths (44%) of all reported illnesses in the workplace.

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Matt Weston, managing director of Robert Half, which has announced Mind as its official 2019 charity partner, said: “It is crucial that businesses look at the ways they can help their employees and spot signs of burnout early.

“Building a positive work environment and recognising the connection between employee happiness and mental health, as well as nurturing good working relations within the company, are vital to successfully reducing stress and burnout in the workplace.”

The company also offered this advice on spotting the signs employees are struggling.

How to spot signs of employee burnout:

  1. Working patterns – Alternative working patterns are often the first sign your employee is feeling under pressure. An employee could be late to work, or increasingly leaving the office earlier than usual.

  2. Decreased productivity – An unhappy employee is more often than not a less productive one. If you employee is making more mistakes than usual, or working relationships are becoming strained, this may be a sign they are suffering from stress.

  3. Interactions with managers or colleagues – While expressing different opinions to colleagues or managers is not in itself a bad sign, an increased frequency could be a result of dissatisfaction on the employee’s part. Alternatively, an employee who isn’t contributing to discussions with managers or colleagues and is remaining quiet might feel equally dissatisfied.

  4. Increased amount of sick leave – as Robert Half’s study has shown, work-induced burnout can result in an increased number of sick days taken.

  5. Presenteeism – The rise in the number of employees coming into work when ill is a sign of burnout. Meanwhile, employees not taking annual leave could also be interpreted as a sign of burnout.

  6. Negativity and emotional outburst – It is important to look out for any signs your employees are expressing unhappiness with their role and how they fit in the company.


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