Burnout warning as return to workplaces looms

One of the UK’s biggest unions has warned that the country’s workers stand at the cliff edge of a burnout pandemic.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has warned that its members have been increasingly contacting the union in desperate need for support as the forced move to remote working leaves then in danger of burnout.

“If you’re feeling drained, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, less capable at work or unable to face the demands of your job and life, you could be experiencing signs of ‘burnout’. You’re not alone,” the union said. “Burnout can happen to anyone at any time in their life, but the various impacts of the Covid crisis have exacerbated feelings of stress, anxiety, exhaustion and alienation for many people.”

The Charity for Civil Servants, which offers practical, financial and emotional support to all current, former and retired civil servants, has launched a new online ‘Burnout Hub’ that brings together information on wellbeing support.

The new resource was compiled after research carried out by the charity in 2020 highlighted a need for information and guidance on the topic. It showed that the majority of us feel like the pandemic has negatively affected our general well-being.

The hub includes guides on stress, anxiety, resilience and mindfulness, webinars on avoiding and recognising burnout, and signposts to finding more support.

PCS explained while many of these symptoms could happen for other reasons, common signs of burnout include:

Alienation from work-related activities: individuals experiencing burnout may view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow anxious about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel indifferent or numb about their work.

Physical symptoms: chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach aches or intestinal issues.

Emotional exhaustion: burnout can cause people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.

Reduced performance: burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work – or in the home, for example when someone is also caring for a loved one.

“I’m in my 20s and this is my first civil service job. I’ve been working from home since lockdown began,” said one union member while another added. “My job is stressful anyway – as many people’s jobs are. There is huge ministerial interest in our team’s work.”

“When Covid kicked off there was a rush of important, urgent work that needed to be done. The civil service responded brilliantly,” said one civil servant. “But I have noticed that ministers started to expect that as the norm. They think we should work like that all the time – you can, but you end up with loads of burned out staff breaking their necks to get things done.

“A lot of the team has been struggling to cope. When you add working from home into the mix, I often feel very isolated. You meet on Teams and then when you hang up there’s just this enormous pile of work and competing priorities, and you’re sitting in your living room stressed out of your head.

“Often there is just so much to do that I end up not doing any of it because I’m so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. I’m not sure if that’s normal.”

One union member added: “I’m just completely drained and dreading logging on the next day. I didn’t realise that’s how I was feeling until other people started to go off sick”.

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