An analysis of Google search data has revealed that the UK education sector faces a ‘burnout spike’ in January 2021, following a sharp rise in internet searches for symptoms, driven by this year’s pandemic-fuelled chaos.
HR departments have warned education leaders that teachers face increased levels of stress as we enter the new year, with searches for terms like ‘signs of burnout’ increasing by 24% in 2020, compared to the previous year.
According to the data, winter 2019 saw a record high January ‘burnout spike’, likely due to the impact of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), traditionally associated with low mood, depression and demotivation. Current trends suggest that the spike could reach even greater heights in January next year.
HR teams have advised the sector to implement measures to address burnout, which has been elevated by the monumental disruption to Christmas break plans, workflows, personal lives, and the academic year as a whole, caused by COVID-19. To maintain workplace wellbeing and productivity, education institutes will need to make plans for additional staff support.
Despite the significant peak this year, evidence points to a steady annual increase in searches for symptoms of burnout – which the NHS describes as a type of psychological stress characterised by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, as well as possible feelings of frustration or cynicism, leading to reduced efficacy in the workplace.
According to Google search data, collated via search volume tool kwfinder, there has been a gradual rise in the volume of searches for ‘signs of burnout’ over the last four years, culminating in a noticeable spike in January 2020. Total yearly searches have surged by 41%, on average, since 2017.
Internationally, searches for the term ‘occupational burnout’ have soared by more than 2,500% since 2015, with the pandemic inciting an even sharper rise in mental health issues. In a recent study by educational technology association Naace, 72% of the teachers surveyed claimed their mental health had been affected by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Richard Holmes, director of wellbeing at Westfield Health, commented: “Burnout is a state of emotional, physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Pressure at work is usually the main culprit and when budgets are tight and teams are small, people often find themselves with multiple roles and heavy workloads, piling on the stress.
“Policies like turning off email servers outside of working hours helps ring fence valuable recovery time. Mental health first aid training can also help managers spot the signs or triggers and put preventions in place.
“Contractors or freelancers who don’t have the support of HR might need to adopt their own strategies such as setting working hours, turning off email alerts out of these hours and separating work and living space if working from home.”
Steps you can take to avoid workplace burnout
Angela Knox, director of workplace employee wellbeing programme Keep Fit Eat Fit, believes the issue is exacerbated by employers’ lack of understanding surrounding the issue. “Recognising burnout or excessive stress in employees is a vital part of the HR manager’s work, and one which sadly often gets overlooked,” she said. “If employers have systems in place that are designed for regular monitoring of each employee, then problems can be identified and dealt with before they escalate.
“Opportunities to intervene can easily be missed. In larger companies with higher head counts, it is a good idea for the head of HR to have eyes and ears in the various departments so that they can keep track of any key developments or problems before they occur.”
Here are some simple steps your institution can take to avoid employee burnout:
- Encourage regular exercise – even a 10-minute walk can make all the difference. A change of scene and a breath of fresh air have a direct link to increased productivity.
- Ensure employees don’t sit at their desk too long – a 5-minute desk break every hour reduces the risk of injury, refocuses the mind and helps break the monotony of home, office and classroom working.
- Encourage quitting unhealthy habits – poor diet and excessive drinking can contribute to stress, as does smoking. A recent study found that quitting smoking made immediate positive improvements to mental health, especially after the first month.
- Schedule regular team catch-ups – with much of the workforce conducting their duties remotely, it’s important to keep communication open and maintain the social side of working culture. This can help reduce feelings of isolation and has knock-on positive effect on mental health.
- Promote mental health days – encouraging a workplace culture where people don’t feel guilty for occasionally taking the day off sick – even if they’ve got no physical illness – will help alleviate longer-term stress and maintain morale.
- Push annual leave – employees should be urged to use all their holiday allowance each year, even if they’re not going anywhere. This nurtures a healthier work environment and creates better work-life balance that benefits all.