Health by Design Interactive – Employee Burnout

 

What effect has the pandemic had on the mental health of your organization? Are your employees burning out?

Watch our interview with Dr. Georgia Pomaki for insights on addressing employee burnout in your workplace.

Narrator 

What effect has the pandemic had on the mental health of your organization? Are your employees burning out? Today on health by design interactive, we explore the key questions people are asking about what they should be doing about mental health in their workplace, for now, and in the long-term. Here's your host, Greg Bisch.

Greg Bisch 

I'm here with Dr. Georgia Pomaki. She's a Director of Mental Health Best Practices at Manulife and has a Ph.D. in workplace mental health. Dr. Pomaki, welcome to Health by Design Interactive.

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Hi, Craig. Great to be here.

Greg Bisch 

Great to have you here, Dr. Pomaki. What are the signs that an employee is burning out?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Well, being burnout can mean a lot of things, from being dissatisfied with our work, to experiencing anxiety, to having debilitating depression.

So first off, it's important to be mindful that employees and leaders may use the word burnout to mean a variety of emotional experiences or mental health issues. But no matter what's behind it at the workplace, we need to look out for changes, changes in a coworker’s behavior.

Do they appear more quiet than usual? Do they seem more tired? Do they show up late to meetings when they didn't used to? Are the making many negative comments or sound like they don't care and that's really uncharacteristic?

Greg Bisch 

So, it sounds like you really have to get to know your employees in order to see when those changes occur.

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

That's correct.

Greg Bisch 

How do you approach how do you approach an employee you suspect is burned out?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Talk to them. Talk to them and share that you're noticing something is different.

If you get asked why that is, offer some examples. Offer examples with empathy. Sometimes people don't realize they show up differently to work. And listen, validate what they're sharing. That first approach is very important. You don't have to find a solution right there and then, but you opened a communication path that you can cross again and can offer help and resources in the future.

Leaders and employees can get training to identify initial signs that a worker, a coworker is struggling. Remove the stigma of reaching out for help and remind of mental health resources available to them, such as the Employee and Family Assistance Program.

Greg Bisch 

That's great information to help us work with other employees. But what if it's ourselves? What, for example, if I was burnt out, how could I tell?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

I think a way to do this is to ask a question, ask yourself a question. When is the last time I started, work and felt good and ready to go? If you can think of that last time, and you think it's been more than two, three, four weeks ago, perhaps it's time to reach out for help.

Reach out for a counselor or a conversation with a counselor and learn new ways of coping with the pressures that you feel may be piling up. Make sure you're aware of what your benefits are so you can get the help that you need and use those benefits.

Greg Bisch 

Yeah, those benefits, in knowing what your benefits are, in the help that you have available to you is so important. What can organizations do right now to help fight employee burnout?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Well, for the short term, I think it's important to first give employees more sense, more of a sense of control over their work. It will provide employees more certainty in very uncertain times that we're living through.

For example, give your employees responsibility over how they organize their work. Be creative and open-minded. And you can find ways to give more autonomy, which we know makes work more meaningful. Meaning can be an antidote to burnout.

Another idea is to strengthen connections. This can be done by having leaders meet one-on-one with their team member regularly. And start the meeting by asking how are you and listen? Really listen, or by having moments of the week where a team can meet in any formal way and spend time together?

Greg Bisch 

These are some great strategies any leader would need to keep in mind, but for an organization overall, how do you create a strong workplace mental health strategy?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

I think the best way is to create a long-term strategy to create a longer strategy is to actually get senior leadership commitment and have a committee plan out meaningful actions for the next say, two to three years.

In 2019, Deloitte published research and found that return on investment for workplace mental health programs went from $1.6 to $2.2 when companies have programs in place for three years or more. Part of that strategy should be really reviewing the coverage you provide for mental health services, the coverage, maximum amounts, the professional types that are covered, as well as any hidden out-of-pocket fees, and set then a plan to gradually remove barriers to accessing mental health services for the employee and their family members.

And don't forget to include virtual mental health services, this is a significant investment. And that will support your people for years to come and keep the benefits package competitive as well.

Greg Bisch 

You talk about some of the barriers to mental health in the workplace. Can you give us some examples of those barriers?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Well, going through the pandemic, we know that many of us are struggling with mental health issues, and really how our employees will deal with those challenges will depend on many factors. And I can just give you some examples of those barriers or those factors.

First of all, do employees have a quick and easy access to mental health care? So, when they do struggle? Can they regain their mental health more quickly, with the help that they need? Do they have coverage to get all the psychotherapy they need? The counseling that they need? Is stigma going to prevent them from getting that help early on before those initial symptoms become a crisis? Can the organization accommodate employees if we need time off to go to a medical appointment, a counseling appointment? Or we need extra time in the morning, maybe for a short period of time to compose ourselves and start work.

So, if you do identify any of these barriers in your organization, addressing them could go a long way to helping employees manage their mental health.

Greg Bisch 

You mentioned stigma now, even in my experience in the in the workplace, things have dramatically changed in regard to attitudes around mental health. But stigma is still there. How can an organization start to tackle stigma?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Yes, you're right, Greg. We know how mental health is viewed when we hear others talk about mental health. Or when we hear other people talk about someone they know who is struggling with mental health issues, we understand how people feel about that from these conversations.

So, it's more important than ever to really reduce that stigma, and how to do that well plan, for example, plan an action each month or maybe every other month around mental health. That could be a communication that comes out of HR could be a lunch-and-learn, a team activity, or let's say a one-on-one conversation that has some kind of reference to mental health that touches on mental health. That's one thing that could be done.

But make sure that everyone understands and is very clear about the impact that we personally have on others when we speak about mental health and make one change towards being more inclusive. Make everyone accountable for those actions and encourage each other to keep it up. It's a journey.

Greg Bisch 

It sounds like leaders really particularly have to be mindful about how they talk about mental health so that their employees will feel comfortable approaching them about and talking about any issues.

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Absolutely, and showing them vulnerability, but also, they're being respectful.

Greg Bisch 

Yeah, that makes sense. Now with COVID-19, and all the crises that have happened over the last couple of years, have we seen mental health disability claims rise?

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

It's been it's been interesting in 2021, we didn't see an increase in our long-term mental health disability claims. Now, having said that, we actually did see an increase in our anxiety disability claims, and I think that reflects the high anxiety levels that we see in the Canadian population.

Just to give you an example, the Center for Addiction Mental Health published a study where they showed that almost one in five Canadians experienced moderate to severe anxiety during the pandemic. And we're also seeing an increasing mental health disability claims trend in the age group of 26 to 35.

Now what does this mean for the future? We can't really tell yet. On the positive side, it's important to note that there is more emphasis on mental health now than ever before, whether it's organizations, employees or healthcare. So, we do hope this emphasis will provide the much-needed buffer.

Greg Bisch 

Dr. Pomaki, thank you so much and on behalf of everyone listening, thank you for providing such this really important information to us. And I really look forward to talking to you again about mental health issues and workplace wellness issues in the near future.

Dr. Georgia Pomaki 

Thanks, Greg. It's a pleasure.

Meet our guest:

Dr. Georgia Pomaki is the leader of our mental health specialists at Manulife and an Instructor at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences. She has a PhD in workplace mental health.

Meet our host:

Greg Bisch is a Marketing Director for Manulife Group Benefits. He empowers industry leaders through storytelling and compelling conversations.

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