Employee burnout: the risks of a 24/7 culture

21 / 09 / 2017

A recent survey by health provider Bupa has reported that younger workers are at risk of “burnout” early in their careers because of the pressure they feel to check emails out of hours.

The survey found that 82% of 18-35 year olds in professional roles check messages first thing in the morning and last thing at night, with 33% checking messages while on holiday, and 40% doing so while they are off sick. The survey also found that a third of workers in this age group felt their career would suffer if they ignore out of hours emails, with 42% stating that they felt stressed if they could not access their email. The survey showed that a far lower percentage in all older age groups felt the same pressure with regard to out-of- hours messages.

The survey follows Bupa’s release in November last year of its survey of 60,000 medical procedures together with 4.7 million online searches. The most striking trend was the number of health issues experienced by the young that, in the past, were associated with older workers. Generally, these were connected with stress, excessive working hours and sedentary lifestyles.

So what does this mean for employers? In the short term, a team of highly-conscientious and readily-available employees may seem attractive. However, the benefits of a long-hours culture are somewhat dubious. France, for example, with its legally mandated 35-hour working week, has 30% higher productivity per working hour than the UK. Such working habits also create numerous employment risks, including days lost to ill-health, decrease in performance, and prospective legal claims for stress, constructive dismissal, and/or breach of the Working Time Regulations.

Employers who are concerned about the possible risks associated with long hours and a failure to “switch off” should consider the following:

  • Discourage a presenteeism culture;
  • Reward the right behaviours – ensure any appraisal system rewards genuine output, not just perceived round-the-clock availability;
  • Realistic expectations – make it clear to staff the circumstances under which they are required to check and respond to messages out of hours: this should be limited to roles where urgent situations may arise, or where clients expect an immediate response;
  • Monitor – keep an eye on employee holiday entitlements and ensure that they are either taking or have the ability to take at least the statutory minimum: this should be addressed part-way through the year where an employee appears to be running out of time to take sufficient holidays;
  • Workstation assessments ensure that workstation checks are carried out to identify postural and other problems;
  • Training – train managers in how to identify signs of stress, ill-health and burnout, and how to address these;
  • Employee Assistance – provide access to a phone or online counselling service: this not only assists employees but is an important defence to personal injury claims.

For further information please contact Fiona Rushforth at frushforth@wedlakebell.com