This week I had yet another conversation with a senior female leader who is seriously questioning whether to step aside from her current role.
“Jenny, I can’t keep doing this anymore.” “I’m exhausted and it doesn’t feel worth carrying on.”
Her story, like countless others, is a tale of senior women who have been pushed to the brink of burnout and mental health challenges. The global pandemic appears to have accentuated many of the difficulties women were previously experiencing and at present it’s not getting any better.
When I saw the 2023 Deloitte Women @ Work Global Outlook had been published, I was keen to see what changes had occurred over the last 12 months. The survey examined the responses of 5000 women from 10 countries and indicates a glimpse of improvement in non-inclusive behaviours, burnout and challenges with hybrid working.
But, and it’s a very big but, despite a decline in the percentage of women reporting burnout from 46% in 2022 to 28% this year, 35% continue to rate their mental well-being as poor or very poor and half have indicated their stress levels are higher than 12 months ago.
With exposure to chronic unmitigated stress being a key risk factor for burnout and mental health challenges, are we simply going around in circles hoping things are getting better when the reality is much is staying the same?
The major issues contributing to this have already been identified:
- High mental load
- Difficulty switching off
- Inadequate self-care including downtime for rest and recovery
- Lack of a positive work/life balance
One of the other factors is around having someone to talk to at work about how you’re feeling. Those in higher positions of authority can feel more isolated.
And despite all the talk and good intention, the stigma around mental health challenges and burnout remain firmly entrenched, and those in ethnic minority groups or who feel marginalised in some ways are at greater risk.
The question remains.
How can we get better at moving the dial towards higher wellbeing for everyone at work?
The onus is frequently put onto the individual at work, which is unfair. It’s all well and good to suggest healthy lifestyle choices, but on their own, these can do little to combat the negative impact of a toxic workplace with low psychological safety.
Having said that, failing to adopt self-care practices increases the potential for lower coping mechanisms and wellbeing.
Part of self-care includes building self-awareness, which can assist in defining boundaries.
How much work can reasonably be completed each week?
Are there cultural pressures at work that drive acceptance of overwork?
How much can you manage expectations of others and yourself in terms of how much you can achieve vs. the resources you have available?
The strongest driver to protect against mental health challenges and burnout is the strength of the interpersonal relationships in the team. Operating in a culture of care, where everyone looks out for each other, raises resilience even in the face of the same ongoing stressors and challenges.
This is where having a friend or trusted colleague to speak to can provide the individual with the confidence and courage needed to address some of your challenges.
Making it safe to speak up about how things really are, enables more open and honest conversations. This can elevate the resolution of difficulties that may be being experienced by others in the team who also thought they were alone in how they felt.
Mental health challenges and burnout require specific strategies to effectively reduce the prevalence and severity of these issues. Without leadership buy-in and commitment, change will not occur.
Prevention is key.
If we are serious about making the workplace a place that is inspiring and energising, a place where we feel we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves and are proud to be part of, it’s time to do things differently.
How does your workplace look after your health and wellbeing?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Join me for the next Feeling Good, Doing Great online Masterclass on 24th May, Seven Steps to Better Managing Burnout.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.