Britain’s small and medium sized firms make up 99.9 per cent of the UK’s private sector businesses, employ nearly three-fifths of its workforce and account for 48 per cent of the turnover. But full-on pursuit of commercial success may be putting owners and employees of these businesses at increased risk of ill health and burn-out. Described as a type of stress, office burnout can manifest itself as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.
SMEs at risk
Unfortunately, long working hours are often embedded into SME culture. According to research by AXA PPP healthcare, 47 per cent of employees in SMEs across the UK said they regularly work four or more hours of overtime per week, and for half of those employees, the extra hours are unpaid.
Additionally, 22 per cent of employees take fewer than 30 minutes for lunch, 19 per cent have cancelled family time and 19 per cent have missed a child’s event such as a school play and for parents with younger children due to working over and above their contracted hours.
High earners : few burn-outs, many interpretations
In its latest study, Emolument.com asked 1,132 professionals if they ever had a burn-out. Junior professionals are most at risk, and as expected, burn-outs are more common in sectors entailing long working hours, with the surprising exception of banking.
Employees earning over £100,000 a year have the lowest burn-out rate (53 per cent). Their resilience when faced with intensive working conditions might have played a part in reaching those top jobs in the first place. Another explanation could be that high incomes have allowed these professionals to step back from their career if they felt an oncoming burn-out.
Lower pay also means poorer working conditions. Employees at the lowest end of the pay-scale are the most at risk from burn-outs, according to the study, with nine in ten having experienced a burn-out. They are most likely to have to work extra hours to make ends meet, and feel the pressure of performing well more acutely than those with more financial flexibility.
No degree = low salary = high burn-out rate
Unskilled workers without university degrees are the ones with the highest burn-out rate (79 per cent). Professionals who stayed at university for five years or more are less likely to have a burn-out (52 per cent of masters’ degree holders) than those with a bachelor degree (71 per cent). Having a master or a PhD often gives professionals a competitive edge, enabling them to be more picky when choosing jobs. A top education also contributes to employees’ toolboxes when it comes to managing projects, workflow and stress.
The healthcare crisis
Crowded emergency rooms, understaffed hospitals, general lack of resources in an professional environment where stakes are high: the list of complaints from healthcare professionals is alarming, particularly in the UK. These failings take a substantial toll on employees, with 82 per cent of healthcare professionals saying they have had a burn-out.
Burn-out in banking : don’t ask, don’t tell
Stories of burn-outs in the banking sector are often found in the media, but, surprisingly, relatively few bankers declare having had a burn-out (56 per cent). Could it be that a macho banking culture, which glorifies hard work and 100-hour weeks, might discourage employees from acknowledging a burn-out?
Financial sector professionals are highly likely to have quit finance following a burn-out in order to pursue less demanding careers, thereby artificially bringing down the proportion of bankers having had burn-outs, according to the study.
Alice Leguay, co-founder and COO at Emolument.com believes this study should be seen as a wake-up call. “Alpha jobs such has consulting or banking are unlikely to provide adequate structures for professionals to recover from a burn-out. Moreover, stigma attached to burn-outs is likely to deal such a blow to a top performing professional’s career that they are unlikely to thrive should they recover and return to their teams,” she said. “Having been accustomed to outperforming throughout their university and professional lives, burn-outs are still taboo for many, often perceived as a lack of discipline and willpower and rarely acknowledged as a valid condition.”
Are you at risk of work burn-out?
Here are the warning signs:
- Becoming cynical or critical at work
- Lacking the energy to be consistently productive at work
- Lacking satisfaction from your achievements
- Feeling unmotivated at work
- A change in sleep habits or appetite
- Becoming troubled unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints
Eight ways to prevent employee burn-out
This infographic from Market Inspector outlines preventative measures to keep your team motivated and charged.