The importance of developing an anti-burnout organisational culture

The events that we have all experienced since early 2020 have had a huge impact on individual and collective mental health and well-being and it is likely that for many, the impacts will be long-lasting.


 “On a population-wide basis, the negative mental health effects of the pandemic are likely to last much longer than its’ physical health impacts. The effects of physical distancing, social isolation, and lockdown on individual mental well-being, as well as the loss of a loved one, increase the mental health challenges for the UK population”
(Mental Health Foundation, Jan 2021)


There have been numerous studies* carried out in the past year that have shown that the number of people experiencing increased levels of stress; and mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, have increased significantly.


We have all been affected to some extent. We have all had change forced upon us – homeworking, restrictions, lockdowns. Many of us have experienced health worries – and very sadly many of us have lost people we love. Those with existing mental health or physical health conditions may not have been able to access the support or treatment they have needed.


People working in some specific professions or sectors have been identified as experiencing particularly high levels of stress – including those working in the NHS, the Care sector, education and those working in the sectors most significantly affected by lockdowns and restrictions.


That’s a lot of stress for a lot of people.


In general terms, the stressfulness of any difficult situation is related to how long it lasts. As the effects of the pandemic have dragged out, over many months, people have been exposed to chronic stressors throughout all of that time.


That wears people down.


“Pandemic fatigue is an expected and natural response to a prolonged public health crisis”.
(World Health Organisation, November 2020)


For many people the stress and fatigue will find its’ expression in burnout.


Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion.


In 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. However, as the lines between work and home have blurred so much for so many, throughout the pandemic – ‘burnout’ can, and will affect us in and out of work.


46% of UK workers feel ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared with a year ago.
(Mental Health UK March 2020)


Dr Mike Drayton, author of ‘Anti-Burnout’ describes burnout as “the biggest public health crisis of the 21st Century”.


So, what are some of the typical signs of burnout?

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time
  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed

These are all signs to watch out for in yourself and in your colleagues.


Burnout can happen within the context of an organisational culture. Business leaders, urgently, must make it a top priority to develop an anti-burnout culture – a workplace that is psychologically safe, where people feel safe to ask for help, where they know they will be heard and supported.


Claire Russell, CEO, Mental Health in Business.


To find out how MHIB can help you, or your organisation, please contact the team on or call 01788 340180.