Global HR

Burnout Is Still Rampant for Most UK Workers, Especially Managers

August 8, 2023
November 7, 2023
Emma Stenhouse
Lattice Team

Like the smouldering ashes of a fire that hasn’t quite gone out, employee burnout is always just under the surface, ready to reignite. Unfortunately for leaders and managers, it’s also closely intertwined with team members’ abilities to perform at their best, which means it can’t be ignored. 

Managers are also under unprecedented strain, and many — especially middle managers — are burning out as well. And at a time when businesses need their high-performing employees to stay engaged, effective managers have never been more important. 

A recent survey of 1,000 UK employees by Lattice and YouGov revealed the impact burnout is having on UK workers — and how to boost employee support and enablement to combat burnout at every level. 

Burnout Is an Intergenerational Issue

Employee burnout can be caused by a wide range of issues, from unclear expectations to heavy workloads and long hours. But our survey found that young people may be more likely to report feeling burned out. 

he percentage of respondents who said they are experiencing some or significant burnout in their role.   Under 35: 65% 35-44: 57% 45-54: 51% Over 55: 42% All Age Groups: 54%  Source: Lattice x YouGov survey of 1,000 UK employees
Burnout undeniably affects all generations, but our survey found some age groups are more likely to be struggling than others.

Don’t be too quick to attribute the risk of burnout to age though, cautioned Dave Carhart, vice president of Lattice’s People Strategy Group. “Age, tenure, seniority, [and other variables] can all be at play and there's a tendency to easily slip into generational stereotyping,” he said. 

In our survey, “older individuals reported understanding employer performance expectations much more than younger people which is one possible cause,” he added. “On other questions — career growth, support from employers — older people actually reported worse results than younger people.” 

Burnout, and how it affects different individuals (whatever their age) can be difficult to quantify. And many different factors can impact how those effects manifest. Andrew McNeill, leadership consultant, mindfulness teacher, and author of Organisational Mindfulness: A How To Guide, mentioned that external challenges like the COVID pandemic had a huge impact on workplace stress, with the effects still being felt by many employees. 

Even though certain generations may experience burnout more than others, the thread that links all ages together is that burnout should never be ignored. 

The Price of Ignoring Burnout

Left unresolved, burnout can impact many different aspects of an employee’s work experience, leading to disengagement and low productivity — because employees simply stop caring so much about their work. “Not addressing burnout can reinforce that trend,” said Carhart. Employees reporting higher levels of burnout are also less likely to say they clearly understand their employer’s performance expectations.

Without clear expectations, employee engagement and performance can decrease, and the risks of job burnout increase. Pulse surveys can help quickly track employee sentiment and pick up early warning signals that burnout could be imminent. 

Whether leaders like it or not, an employee's opinion of their workplace may be changed if burnout is ignored. “When a leader ignores burnout,” said Carhart, “employees are going to recognise and see that. It can be a clear sign for an employee that shapes whether or not they believe their employer cares for them and has their welfare in mind.” Ignoring the early signs of burnout and expecting employees to keep calm and carry on brings the risk of increased absenteeism, emotional exhaustion, and more work-related stress.

Employee turnover can also be impacted, as staff decide to put their mental and physical health above a work environment where they feel the causes of burnout will never be addressed. Our survey uncovered that employees experiencing burnout were less likely to believe that their employer cares about their wellbeing and that their employer understands the true impact their wellness has on workplace performance.

Employees reporting higher levels of burnout were less likely to say they clearly understand their employer’s performance expectations. Source: Lattice x YouGov survey of 1,000 UK employees
Employees reporting higher levels of burnout were less likely to say they clearly understand their employer’s performance expectations. Note: Respondents who indicated ‘don’t know’ or ‘prefer not to say’ are not represented here.

The price of ignoring burnout extends beyond the individual. “It can also be devastating for the team who are working with the individual suffering — the ripples can be wide-reaching,” explained McNeill.

And following those ripples further out, ignoring burnout comes at a huge economic cost to businesses as well. “Highly skilled individuals leaving work take the cost of their training with them,” said McNeill. “They will need to be replaced, and any loss of skills, experience, and connection with people inevitably causes disruption and is costly in terms of time and money.”

These results show how important it is for businesses to keep a close eye on the wellbeing of their employees. They need to know that not only does their employer care but that they also understand the link between wellness and performance — and will take action to protect their employees from the causes of burnout. The best-placed people to achieve this are managers, but they’re also under huge pressure to perform and, at the same time, are at a high risk of burning out themselves. 

Managers Are Under Increasing Pressure 

Managers are key enablers of employee experiences, engagement, and performance — but if they’re burned out, the impacts can reverberate throughout their entire team. While respondents at every level indicated experiencing burnout, those who manage entire teams, departments, and organisations reported the highest levels.

managers at every level indicated their level of burnout
Employees at every level indicated burnout, but those who manage entire teams, departments, and organisations reported the highest levels of burnout. Note: Respondents who indicated ‘Don’t know’ or ‘prefer not to say’ are not represented here.

Middle managers (who manage a team or entire department) report higher levels of burnout than other respondents. “Once an organisation grows beyond a certain size, managers become essential to achieving organisational goals,” said Carhart. “And with that comes increased demands on managers to drive change, resolve escalations, and mediate interpersonal conflict,” he added. 

Being a good manager isn’t just about being able to clearly communicate expectations, either — managers need significant soft skills, too. “The emotional labour required in leadership roles, such as managing conflicts among team members, can take a toll on their wellbeing,” said Joey Tait, cofounder and managing director at develop recruitment. Additionally, the increased expectations and pressures placed on leaders can make it challenging to keep their work life from infringing on their personal life, further increasing the likelihood of burnout.

But by taking action to mitigate the effects of burnout at this point, businesses can extinguish burnout before it becomes more significant. 

4 Strategies for Addressing Burnout 

Most HR leaders recognise that burnout is a serious workplace syndrome, but knowing what to do about it is equally important. “Just like ‘engagement’ there's not a single simple method [for helping employees avoid burnout],” says Carhart. 

But it’s undeniable that taking action against burnout is essential. That’s why we’ve rounded up four strategies that people teams can use to evaluate and then address employee burnout. Your business might already do some of these, but taking proactive action and embedding as many as possible into your workplace culture means you’re one step ahead of burnout.

1. Create a culture where employees can thrive.

Without the right support in place, employees can’t do their best work. Our survey uncovered the top five factors that employees need to perform. Those factors are:

  1. Flexible work policies
  2. Trust from managers and coworkers
  3. Regular praise and recognition
  4. Clearly defined responsibilities 
  5. A positive and inclusive company culture

By focusing on including the above factors in their company culture, UK businesses can set their employees up for success and provide the kind of environment that helps drive high performance, but not at the cost of employees’ mental health. 

Carhart added that understanding the underlying causes of burnout, like limited autonomy or unclear expectations, is also key. That’s because those stressors, if left unaddressed, can create other detrimental outcomes. “If employees are unable to work independently or have unclear expectations, that can show up in burnout for employees, but it will also show up in other operational issues,” he added. To uncover these root causes, employee check-ins are essential. 

2. Ask employees how they’re feeling.

Our survey uncovered that burned-out workers were less likely to believe their employer cares about their wellbeing or understands the link between wellness and performance. Simply by asking employees how they’re feeling, managers can support their employees and let them know their thoughts are valued. 

This can be achieved through a blend of strategies including engagement surveys, regular one-to-ones, and by managers letting their team know they’re there to listen. 

an overview of the lattice platform showing a one-on-one agenda, which includes talking points such as 'how are you feeling?' and sentiment scores from previous weeks
Lattice one-on-ones help you facilitate a strong manager-employee relationship with suggested talking points, shared agendas, and sentiment scores from weeks prior.

“Encourage an open-door policy where managers regularly ask for honest feedback and employees are actively encouraged to discuss any problems, without fear of repercussion,” recommended Gareth Hoyle, managing director at Marketing Signals. “Finding the time to schedule regular one-to-ones with each team member helps managers gauge how they’re doing both personally and professionally, whilst providing them with a natural opportunity to voice any concerns or stress they may be feeling,” he added. 

3. Ensure managers receive sufficient training.

While some aspects of being a good manager can be intuitive, like empathy and compassion, many first-time managers feel a degree of trepidation when it comes to building a successful team. Managers need to support their teams, but “in many companies, they need to do this with unclear expectations for people management roles and limited support,” explained Carhart. “HR is of course one key factor here, but so too is support and coaching from more senior managers.”

Investing in training designed to support managers in recognising and measuring workplace burnout is therefore essential. This might include things like training them to recognise the early signs and symptoms of burnout or teaching them how to evaluate burnout using tools like the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI).

Managers knowing how to prioritise tasks for their teams is also key, especially given that our survey found employees suffering from burnout also report a lack of clarity around expectations. “Constantly feeling the need to ask, ‘What’s next?’ or not knowing what’s expected of them, and when, could cause unnecessary stress and burnout amongst your workers,” said Hoyle. By making sure tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines are always as clear as possible, managers can give their teams the clarity they need to perform their best. 

4. Have managers lead by example.

There’s no point in managers telling their team not to work long hours or check emails after the end of their day if they themselves are replying to emails at 11 PM. Establishing clear boundaries is essential, especially for remote workers with flexible schedules. Hoyle suggests strategies that have worked for him including reminding his staff to take regular breaks to eat, stretch, rest, and exercise and adding an email signature making it clear that instant responses are not expected.

It’s also essential for managers and leaders to demonstrate good self-care, model a healthy work-life balance, and take advantage of provided wellness programs. “If your employees see that leaders are taking breaks, using their annual leave entitlement and truly switching off after work, they’ll feel more comfortable doing the same,” said Hoyle. These actions not only help managers lead by example but may also reduce stress and stave off burnout for them, too. 

Taking the Heat Out of Burnout 

Our survey results show that burnout needs to be taken seriously — and doing nothing isn’t an option. Embedding the above strategies can help employees feel supported, by demonstrating that businesses not only care about profits and performance but that their employees' health and wellbeing are just as important. 

Conducting a wellbeing survey is a great place to start. Download the Lattice Wellbeing Survey Template and take the first step toward creating a workplace culture where employees can fire on all cylinders, not crash and burn.

For a step-by-step guide to building a wellness program that drives high-performance, download our free workbook, HR’s Guide to Balancing Performance and Wellbeing.