Healthcare and service sectors report highest levels of pressure in study

Employees earning less than £20,000 per year are at the greatest risk of ‘burning out’ at work according to a new survey of more than 1,100 professionals.

Salary benchmarking site Emolument found that 92 per cent of those in the lowest wage bracket had experienced burnout, which it suggested could be due to working longer hours in poorer conditions to make ends meet.

By contrast, 72 per cent of those earning £20-40,000 and two thirds of those on £40-60,000 had burned out. The highest earners, taking home more than £100,000, were the least likely to experience burnout in the course of their careers, at 53 per cent.

Burnouts were most common in those with a lower educational attainment level, with 79 per cent of those without a degree saying they had burned out compared with 71 per cent of those with a Bachelor's degree and 52 per cent of respondents with a Master’s.

Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, said stress levels tended to be highest among people on the lowest socioeconomic levels, given the lack of control they experience in their jobs. However, pressure was increasing further up the hierarchy as jobs at senior levels were no longer secure, he added.

“If you are a smart organisation, you will be aware that everybody is at risk from burnout, with depression, anxiety and stress now the leading causes of sickness absence and presenteeism in the UK,” said Cooper.

While many organisations targeted the entire workforce with a wellbeing strategy, he said, there were some who ignored shop floor workers – particularly in traditional industries such as manufacturing, transport and construction.

“Burnout occurs all the way through the pipeline, because no job is secure anymore,” said Cooper, adding that this is likely to escalate if organisations retrench in the wake of Brexit. “If employers are just looking at management, they are making a big mistake.”

Charlotte Cross, director of the Better Health at Work Alliance, agreed that concentrating on the entire organisation was paramount.

“The best strategy is always to consider the needs of the whole workforce. It is inevitable that different sectors and roles face different risks, and as with stress, burnout often includes underlying social factors too,” she said.  

“Organisational culture is key. To prevent and react to burnout among staff, employers should prepare robust wellness strategies, consider resilience training for all staff (combined with appointing mental health first aiders and additional training for line managers), adopt flexible policies and regular workload reviews and engage health at work support for when rehabilitation is needed.”

The survey found the sectors most likely to experience employee burnout were healthcare (82 per cent), services, tourism and restaurants (82 per cent) and construction and real estate (77 per cent). Those that saw the least burnouts were banking and financial services (56 per cent), energy, mining and chemicals (55 per cent) and insurance (51 per cent). However, a “macho banking culture” could mean that fewer people admit to burnout, said Emolument.

“Alpha jobs such as consulting or banking are unlikely to provide adequate structures for professionals to recover from a burnout,” said Alice Leguay, co-founder and COO of Emolument. “Moreover, stigma attached to burnouts is likely to deal such a blow to a top performing professionals’ careers that they are unlikely to thrive should they recover and return to their teams.”