79% of workers are experiencing burnout due to additional work challenges ©Getty Images
79% of workers are experiencing burnout due to additional work challenges ©Getty Images

How procurement can beat mass burnout

14 February 2022

A prolonged period of crisis response has left many procurement professionals at breaking point. Employers can help by leading the way to a more balanced working environment

Employee burnout is on the rise, which is hardly surprising after almost two years of relentless problem-solving as a direct result of the pandemic, on top of the usual work pressures. According to Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of Talent survey, 79% of UK workers are experiencing some form of burnout, with the three main causes being increased workloads (49%), mental health challenges (34%) and pressure to meet deadlines (32%). And while the figures may not be the same for other countries, the general trend points in the same direction. 

For supply chain and procurement professionals, the situation has been exacerbated as teams have regularly encountered additional challenges, such as changes in global trade relations and brexit-related supply issues, port and distribution shutdowns and the ramp-up around Christmas. “This could result in longer hours, fewer breaks and more work – all of which are key burnout contributors for office workers and those in the field alike,” says Lesley Cooper, management consultant and founder of Working Well.

There are, however, many actions managers can take to alleviate the burden on their teams.

Support time out

Managers should become sticklers for time management and efficiency to ensure adequate allowance for downtime when employees really need it. “Have set working times – so it could be a nine-to-five rule with no emailing and all work paraphernalia out of sight outside of those hours,” says Debbie Bowen-Heaton, partner at business consultancy Oliver Wight.

“Team members have reported a huge reduction in pressure to respond or get things done in this time and it also ensures they are able to spend time doing what they enjoy or being with their family.”

And while holidays are important, something as simple as making sure people schedule – and actually take – sufficient breaks throughout the day can help. “Recovery breaks of as short as five minutes can be effective if they are intentional and involve movement of some sort, but 10-15 every 90-120 minutes is even better,” says Cooper.

“When it comes to holidays, employers should prevent people from accessing their work systems or sending emails during their time off – the distinct separation between work and holiday is necessary to recover and is likely to create a better work-life balance upon return.”

Success may require a change in work culture and attitudes. For instance, challenging the notion that being a team player means always being available. It’s often the case that people are afraid to set boundaries or say no – even when they are at breaking point – to protect their job or to support their colleagues and company. However, it’s vital that leaders make space for and enforce downtime to ensure long-term staff wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Show the way

Ceridian also reported that almost half (41%) of employees surveyed said they would like their organisation to support their mental health and wellness by introducing mental health days, with 40% also wanting flexible schedules and workloads and 31% seeking additional benefits.

“As organisations listen to the needs of their employees, they can take small, actionable steps that have the potential to make a big impact,” says Steve Knox, the company’s vice-president of global talent acquisition.

But again, such initiatives need to be underpinned by a working culture where people feel able to discuss their mental health concerns and know that seeking help will lead to support.

Leaders should promote, or keep promoting, open communications, says Kayleigh Frost, head of clinical support at Health Assured. “Run a mental health awareness or wellbeing day, if you can. Let staff know about local support groups. And tell your employees about the symptoms of burnout so they can spot it, too.”

These may include a sudden change in mood, a drop in performance levels, uncharacteristic behaviour, reduced energy and efficiency, and decreased motivation, she adds. Of course, it’s essential to know your team members to recognise and respond to the signs, which, after a period of home-working disconnect, is a valuable investment of time. 

For those who exhibit trigger signs or who actively reach out, it’s important to not only check in but be in a position to offer them support. “As a leader, you can help with practical work-based issues by finding out what the person needs, scaling back the pressure and workload and allowing them time and space to recharge,” advises Dr Sam Mather, a neuro-practitioner and author.

“But unless you are a qualified and insured psychologist, do not try to solve other people’s personal or mental health issues, but rather direct the employee to sources of help such as HR or a wellbeing programme.”

Procurement leaders aren’t expected to be experts in wellbeing but their communications and relationship expertise makes them best placed to guide their people to the resources they need for a healthy work-life balance.

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