New research from the Society of Occupational Medicine, shows heavy workloads are having more of an emotional impact than exposure to human suffering and even in most extreme cases, death*.
The report into the mental health and wellbeing of UK doctors, found that our GPs are at greater risk of work-related stress, burnout, depression and anxiety than the general population. The stigma associated with disclosing mental health problems and a ‘failure to cope’ means that many doctors are reluctant to seek help, fearing sanctions and even job loss.
Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, the leading health and wellbeing provider and partner of the SOM (Society of Occupational Medicine), discusses how ‘failure to cope’ is a widespread issue in the UK workforce and stretches further than solely the healthcare industry. Richard provides top tips on how to manage heavy workloads if you’re feeling burnt out.
- Support systems are crucial
"In every industry, it’s crucial employees are provided guidance from line managers and senior management. This structure will support the mental health and wellbeing of employees, with emotional guidance and encouragement. In order to achieve this, line managers must be deemed approachable and easy to talk to by employees. It can be as casual as going for a coffee every week, or having regular, in-formal check-ins. Employees need to feel confident and able to be honest and flag when they are feeling stressed and overworked.
"Line managers should also bear in mind they are often the ones allocating the workloads, so should consider the capacity and resource each individual has. Often being overwhelmed by the number of tasks an employee has is the core problem – which is one that can easily be altered by line managers."
- Mental resilience
"Employees should be trained in how to differentiate between pressure and stress, and develop their own mental coping strategies. Pressure is inevitable in the working environment with targets and deadlines to be met. However, stress occurs when pressure starts to impair performance.
"Levels of pressure and weaknesses are different for everyone, so employees should be encouraged to develop a self-awareness, in order to identify the signs and symptoms when they are stretching beyond these."
- Prevent Exhaustion
"The report by the SOM shows that burnout may be increasing amongst GPs. A Pulse survey of 2,230 UK practitioners found that 74% felt emotionally exhausted. In addition, research** in 2018 by Westfield Health also shows almost half (46%) of UK workers regularly turn up to their jobs feeling too tired to work, and more than a third (37%) tend to be more forgetful and make errors as a result of tiredness.
"Employers should ensure that staff aren’t regularly working beyond their contracted hours, and that shift patterns are manageable. Employees should always be encouraged to take regular breaks, which should never be perceived as ‘not working hard enough’.
"It’s important to remember exhaustion is a result of far more than just lack of sleep. Factors including mental health, physical health and diet also contribute."
- Effectively manage emotional environments
"Often, due to the demands of roles in industries that are customer facing, or patient facing in the healthcare industry, employees are required to be skilled ‘emotional labourers’. This requires providing compassionate care to patients and customers in high pressured and fast paced environments. This involves applying emotional effort and is likely to exacerbate burnout and other mental health problems over the long term.
"One way of managing this is to take steps to improve our ‘emotional intelligence’, which in simple terms means the ability to recognise other people’s emotions. Building upon empathy and emotional intelligence will help to reduce feelings of emotional exhaustion.
"It’s also important to take plenty of breaks and rest time throughout the day, and take time to speak to colleagues and friends about non-work related subjects to allow time to be removed from the working environment."
*Research based on a study by the Society of Occupational Medicine in September 2018 – ‘What could make a difference to the mental health of UK doctors’ report
** Research by Westfield Health in September 2018, by a panel of 1,000 UK employees
Return to the IoD Mental Health hub