Winter can be a challenging time for many employees. The shorter days, colder weather, and the general gloom can often lead to a dip in morale and productivity. This is particularly true in Australia, where the contrast with the sunny, outdoor-centric culture of the rest of the year can be stark.  

The Leading Mentally Healthy Workplace Survey Report 2023, conducted by Corporate Mental Health Alliance Australia, found that burnout was highly prevalent, with 44% of employees experiencing it. Therefore, addressing employee burnout is important for businesses that value their workforce and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy, productive environment. It’s crucial for leaders and HR professionals to recognise and address these challenges to prevent employee burnout – and winter is a good place to start.

Understanding Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when employees feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, they begin to lose interest and motivation that led them to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout can lead to a significant decrease in productivity, a rise in absenteeism, and even high turnover rates, which can have a substantial impact on a company’s bottom line. More importantly, it can affect the mental and physical health of employees, leading to a decline in overall job satisfaction and morale.

Why Winter?

In winter, people are often less active and spend more time indoors. This lack of activity and sunlight can lead to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. In Australia, it’s more common to experience SAD during the winter months.

4 Strategies for employers to manage burnout

There are a range of strategies to manage employee burnout, however, here are four key approaches for organisations to adopt.

1. Promote Work-Life Balance

Encourage your employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This could mean flexible work hours, opportunities for remote or hybrid work, or simply ensuring that employees take their full lunch breaks and regular short breaks throughout the day. Employers should respect boundaries and avoid contacting employees outside of work hours unless there is a critically urgent scenario.

2. Encourage Physical Activity

Promote a healthy lifestyle by encouraging physical activity. Consider organising office-wide physical activities that are suitable for the winter months. This could be anything from yoga classes to team sports. Regular physical activity can boost mood and energy levels, helping to combat the symptoms of SAD. If your workforce has a large remote composition, consider the introduction of online tools and fitness classes.

3. Foster Social Connections

Workplace isolation can be a significant problem during the winter months. To combat this, encourage social activities that can be done safely indoors. This could be team-building exercises, book clubs, or even just a communal lunch area. These activities can help employees feel more connected and less isolated, improving overall morale. If your workforce is remote, look for ways in which this can be done via online forums such as Microsoft Teams.

4. Provide Mental Health Resources

Make sure your employees have access to mental health resources. This could be as simple as providing information about local therapists and mental health professionals, or it could involve bringing in a professional to talk about coping strategies for stress and seasonal depression. Employers are encouraged to ensure that workers have access to their leave when required to take time off to focus on their mental well-being. 

6 Key Tips for Employers to implement the right strategies

1. Undertake a Psychosocial Hazard Risk Assessment

It is imperative that employers take the time to identify the root causes before determining the right strategy. It is great that many employers are focused on EAP and Health and Wellbeing Strategies, however it is key to first complete a risk assessment. Ai Group has a webinar to support members to effectively manage Psychosocial Hazards and employers can also access our consulting services. 

2. Open Communication

Encourage open communication about mental health in the workplace. This can help to destigmatise mental health issues and make employees feel more comfortable seeking help if they need it.

3. Training for Managers

Provide training for managers on how to recognise the signs of burnout and how to handle it. This can help to ensure that issues are addressed early before they become more serious.

4. Recognise and Reward Efforts

Regularly recognise and reward your employees’ efforts. This can help to boost morale and motivation, particularly during the challenging winter months.

5. Regular Check-ins

Regularly check in with your employees to see how they’re doing. This can help to show that you care about their well-being and can also help to identify any potential issues early.

6. Promote Continuous Learning

Encourage employees to engage in continuous learning and development. This can be achieved by providing access to online courses, workshops, or seminars. Learning new skills can boost employees’ confidence and job satisfaction, which can help to mitigate feelings of burnout. It also shows that the organisation is invested in their personal and professional growth.

Mitigating the risk

Mitigating burnout needs to be part of the organisation’s risk management strategy.

Some resources to help employers prevent or manage burnout include:

  • Training courses – including Mental Health first aid and psychological safety training.
  • Educational resources – there is extensive information available that can provide guidance to employers to learn the causes, signs and effects of burnout.
  • Consulting services – there are private providers that offer workshops and coaching to promote an emotionally healthy workplace. Ai Group has Consulting Services on Psychosocial Hazards to support employers and empower them with knowledge and tools. 
  • Guidelines and standards - Safework Australia provide an overview of WHS requirements and benefits for organisations. Employers can also access the model Code of Practice: Managing psychological hazards at work. In addition, the Heads Up initiative by Beyond Blue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, which provides information and resources for employers and employees on how to create mentally healthy workplaces.

Employers have a key role to play

Employee burnout is a serious issue that can lead to decreased productivity and high turnover rates. By understanding the unique challenges that the winter months pose, managers and HR professionals can better support their employees during this time and create a healthier, happier workplace.

By implementing strategies such as promoting work-life balance, encouraging physical activity, fostering social connections, and providing mental health resources, employers can help mitigate the effects of burnout. Furthermore, by maintaining open communication, providing training for managers, recognising and rewarding efforts, conducting regular check-ins, and promoting continuous learning, employers can create a supportive and engaging work environment.

Remember, every employee is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It’s important to maintain open lines of communication and be flexible in your approach. The key is to show empathy and understanding, to listen to your employees’ needs, and to take proactive steps to address any issues that arise. Employee burnout maybe an individual experience, but it is a joint responsibility. Employers that recognise the signs are best positioned to the keep the winter blues at bay.

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.  Ai Group has a Health and Safety Resource Centre and offers a range of development through our training programs.

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Download our brochure to see why you should join and call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.