In this four-part article series, we will explore the impact of employee burnout on our workplaces and discuss the tools present (or lacking) in New Zealand employment law to address this issue.
Each article will examine the key employment law questions which may arise in a workplace where employees are suffering burnout. We will be focussing on compliance with minimum statutory obligations, mitigation of health and safety risks and role of technology in the workplace.
But first, an overview of what burnout it and why it’s worth talking about.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of mind created by long-term or chronic job stress, leading to a lack of motivation in both the professional and personal spheres of life. While burnout is not always easy to spot, we encourage both employees and employers to recognise key warning signs and be open to starting the conversation around managing it in the workplace. These signs include:
- Chronic exhaustion
- Increased frustration, irritability or cynicism
- Inability to focus on seemingly normal tasks
- Feelings of reduced ability (or the inability to complete tasks)
- Emotional exhaustion, feeling drained and lacking energy
Burnout in the media
As lockdown restrictions around the world begin to lift, and workers make the move back into the office, there is an increasing awareness of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on work patterns. Out of this, it is apparent the line between work and personal life has become more blurred than ever, arguably increasing which increases our susceptibility to burnout.
However, burnout is not a new phenomenon. Although we are just starting to see the impact of COVID-19 on work-life balance, industry leaders such as Theresa Gattung (SheEO, My Food Bag) are starting to open up about their experiences with burnout at various stages of their careers. Organisational leaders such as Theresa Gattung (SheEO, My Food Bag) [insert] and [insert] have all spoken on this topic.
Now the spotlight on burnout is only getting brighter, with the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation publishing their collaborative research paper on the health-impacts of long working hours.
The key takeaway – “working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard.”
Burnout in the workplace
There are many implications of a workforce (whether or not in leadership roles) suffering from burnout. For example, an environment in which staff are constantly stressed could lead to decreased performance and productivity, increased staff turnover or the creation of a toxic workplace culture – all of which impact on stakeholder relationships and result in a higher managerial cost to the organisation.
Aside from this, employee burnout has potentially wide-ranging impacts on day-to-day operations, including an employer’s ability to:
- meet minimum wage obligations;
- manage employees’ availability to work agreed hours;
- require employees to work overtime hours;
- facilitate flexible and remote working;
- meet health and safety obligations; and/or
- introduce new technology into the workplace.