How to tackle burnout in the modern workplace

Tired businesswoman having a headache while sitting at the office desk

In May this year, ‘burnout’ was formally added to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, meaning as of 2020 it will become a globally-recognised medical condition.

According to the WHO’s definition, burnout is “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and its associated symptoms include reduced professional performance, feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, and a mental distance or feelings of negativity towards one’s job.

For the vast majority of entrepreneurs, burnout isn’t a surprising or indeed new concept. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common issues impacting our community today and has been for many years now.

What is surprising though, is that this is the first time it has been formally recognised by an official health organisation.

While the term burnout is becoming more widely used and recognised, in many instances, it is still tarnished with the same brush that branded millennials as ‘snowflakes’ and, as such, is often overlooked by cynics as an overreaction or something that can be easily remedied by taking a long weekend or a Carribean holiday.

But for those of us who’ve suffered from burnout, we know that the reality is very serious and something that infiltrates every area of your life, as well as the lives of those around you.

Which begs the question, why has it taken so long to be formally recognised, and now that it has, what is being done to support those impacted?

Since experiencing my own challenges with mental health as a direct result of my highly pressured career, putting issues like burnout at the top of the business agenda has been my main priority.

I have met countless entrepreneurs and business owners who each have their own mental health story to tell – and it is clear that so much more needs to be done to protect our community than simply recognising we have a problem.

I recently launched a new future-facing initiative called Mindful Investor which aims to drive lasting change for the small business community by measuring and improving wellbeing, diversity and inclusion within the investment industry.

We’ve launched with the backing of a number of expert delivery partners, and as we’ve identified founder mental health as a priority, these include organisations such as Mental Health First Aid, Harley Street Therapy, weare3sixty, and The Self Space.

Earlier this month we also held our first event. More than 100 early-stage investors, entrepreneurs, and delivery partners gathered in central London for a packed afternoon of insight, tips and practical advice.

Forward-thinking investors such as Atomico, Connect Ventures and Octopus Ventures took to the stage to explain what they’re doing to support their employees and the teams they invest in and build better cultures for people to thrive

We also put up a ‘pledge tree’, where everyone could share something they’ll do to take care of themselves or the people they work with.

There were dozens of pledges by the end of the day, covering everything from taking up yoga, scheduling R&R, self-care buddies in the workplace, and asking colleagues how they are doing.

Through working with these inspirational companies and individuals, I have a renewed sense of hope for the future of our business community.

I have learned that huge headway can be made simply by starting a conversation – whether that’s asking someone how they are or taking that first step and admitting that you are struggling.

I have also learned that so many more people in the business community are starting to recognise that tackling issues like burnout is everyone’s responsibility – not just that of C-suite execs or the individual in question.

So while the WHO’s formal recognition of this condition is a step in the right direction, it is clear that we all have a role to play in helping address the causes and impacts burnout can have – so that one day, it can become a thing of the past.