Preventing burnout at work

Singaporeans have built a reputation for being some of the world’s most hardworking yet tired workers. 

So, it came as no surprise that nearly half of Singaporean employees have low energy levels at work, and are close to suffering employee burnout, according to the Mercer Global Talent Trends Study published in May 2022.

The study, which polled 11,000 people across 16 geographies and 14 industries, found that only 44 percent of Singaporean participants reported feeling energised at work. This compares with the United States at 58 percent, China at 86 per cent, and Hong Kong at 72 percent.

The number of “de-energised” Singaporeans is twice as high as the Asia average, and 6 percent higher than the global average, said Mercer.

About 85 percent of employees feel at risk of burnout this year, with one in two employees planning to leave their jobs. 

Mercer names being under-rewarded (35 percent) and overloaded at work (34 percent) as some of the top reasons for employees’ ill feelings and resentment towards the workplace. 

These findings point to a huge gap between employee and employer expectations, with the latter having lots of catching up to do when it comes to making work more engaging and conducive.

Lewis Garrad, Career Business Leader of Mercer (Singapore), notes that Singapore-based employers are more cognisant of the needs of their workers, with 36 percent of HR leaders planning strategies to address burnout. 

This includes more mental health insurance coverage, offering virtual mental health counselling and providing trainings on how to identify and support those facing mental health challenges,” he says.


Practising agency over your mental health at work

But for the 67 percent of employers who have yet to include mental health care at work, the onus falls on employees to take charge of their mental health.

Harvard Business Review lists down four ways employees can safeguard their mental well-being.

Prioritise self-care

Whether it is catching up on sleep, going for a luxurious massage, reading a good book or taking a vacation, doing something that makes you feel good mentally and physically  is essential to preventing burnout. If you find that you lack the time for these things, it may be a sign that you need to reassess how you spend your free time. 

For instance, is there an hour in your weekend to destress at a yoga class? Or can you reschedule an appointment to catch up on much-needed sleep? Perhaps you may even need to do away with late Friday nights, so you could squeeze in more time in the mornings for exercise.

Address the root of your burnout

Relishing one’s personal time is only a small part of taking care of your mental health. Sometimes, a more permanent change is needed.

If you are a business owner, perhaps you could weigh the pros and cons of taking on challenging portfolios or difficult clients. If doing so is pushing yourself as well as your team to burnout, you may want to think twice on whether it is worth the impact on your mental health, as well as your relationship with your team.

If you are an entry-level executive, could you seek support from a senior colleague, or ask for help from your teammates? If you are managing a team, could you delegate tasks and communicate the deliverables to your colleagues, and work on your micromanaging tendencies? 

And if it’s your boss who’s the source of your woes, is it wiser to cut your losses and look for another job, or apply for a transfer to another department, instead of walking on eggshells all day at work?

These are some worthwhile questions to ask yourself if you are on the verge of burnout.

Set boundaries

If your client or manager is haranguing you after work hours or sets unrealistic expectations, don’t be afraid to communicate what you are willing or able to take on.

Learning how to manage the expectations of your colleagues, managers and clients is important for ensuring quality work, as well as handling the different working styles and personalities you encounter at the workplace.

Talk to a mentor or seek out a community

Feeling stuck in your job? Constantly running into obstacles at work? You may need a dose of wisdom from an experienced friend or mentor. Finding an executive coach, or seeking tips from a business leader that inspires you, can help you identify and resolve your challenges at work.

Just in October 2021, Young NTUC introduced a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Certified Training in Peer-to-Peer Mental Well-being Support @ Work, to equip working adults with peer support and psychological first aid skills. This was developed in partnership with NTUC LearningHub and its training partner, Singapore Anglican Community Services. To date, Young NTUC has trained 675 peer supporters of all ages.

If the feelings of burnout and cynicism are mutual among your colleagues, you could come together to support one another, or even solve problems collectively. You could brainstorm for ways to improve processes and find solutions. 

By rallying together to push for change, you may reconnect with a sense of control and purpose at work.

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