Why workplace wellbeing is important

Providing your team with a safe and healthy workplace is an important part of running a business. If employees feel their wellbeing is being looked after at work, they are usually more productive, healthier, and less stressed.

We caught up with Dr Georgi Toma (MA, PhD) founder of Heart and Brain Works, and an expert on employee wellness, to talk about wellbeing in the workplace and how working conditions can impact you, your team and your business.

Dr Toma says sustained, or high levels of work-related stress can lead to burnout, which is when you’re emotionally, physically or mentally exhausted. People with burnout often feel negative or cynical about their jobs and may not be able to perform as well they used to.

“The main reason someone starts feeling burnout is because of what happens in the organisation where they work, and the mental health hazards that are there. So, it’s important to create a mentally safe workplace environment. This means people feel safe enough to speak up at work and discuss their ideas and mistakes without fear of getting into trouble.”

Unchecked, sustained stress leads to burnout

The six main causes of stress leading to burnout:

  • Consistently high workloads and/or pace of work with little or no chance to rest and recover.
  • Unclear job requirements and constantly changing priorities.
  • Employees feeling like they’re not part of the team.
  • Low levels of trust, lack of support, and unresolved conflict.
  • Changes at work that haven’t been well managed.
  • Bullying, harassment, or threats of violence.

“Research shows that work can lead to a range of mental health harms. If sustained, these can lead to mental ill-health, illness and/or physical injury.”

WorkSafe New Zealand website

It's important to remember that as an employer, you must make sure that you provide healthy work conditions that don’t lead to burnout. Remember, burnout is caused by sustained workplace stress, with little or no time for recovery.

Lisa Ducat, Senior Engagement Advisor with the Mentally Healthy Work Team at WorkSafe NZ, says mental harm can come through physical and mental fatigue. “Mental strain is part of the workload. For example, if an employee is dealing with people all day this can be a strain. Especially now with an increase in uncivil and rude behaviour.”

Supporting mentally healthy work(external link) — WorkSafe New Zealand

A health and wellbeing policy is an excellent way to build a positive and healthy workplace. Use our tool to easily create one for your business.

A health and wellbeing policy is an excellent way to build a positive and healthy workplace. Use our tool to easily create one for your business.

How can burnout harm your business?

Business productivity is directly impacted by burnout. Research done by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research shows that poor wellbeing negatively affects a person’s decision-making ability and productivity for an average of three months every year.

The top three consequences of burnout for your business include:

  • Employees resign – in today’s job market they can easily find other jobs that are not as stressful.
  • A drop in productivity which can mean businesses struggle to meet production or service targets.
  • You can get into legal trouble. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 business owners and operators must monitor, get rid of, or reduce mental health hazards as much as is possible.

“People aren’t willing to put their mental wellbeing on the line for employers anymore. Because there are lots of jobs out there, they don’t have to do that,” Dr Toma says. 

Approaches to mentally healthy work [PDF, 397KB](external link) — Government Health and Safety Lead

“When your people flourish, your business thrives.”

Dr Georgi Toma

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Some symptoms of burn-out are:

  • exhaustion and fatigue, even after sleep
  • foggy brain
  • little interest in your work and doubt about what you contribute
  • lack of personal achievement – you feel you’re not doing your job well and then it becomes real as you’re unable to do your job properly
  • irritability.

What can you do to promote wellbeing at your workplace?

Experts recommend a routine for starting and ending work that includes taking time-out to allow the brain to take a break from thinking about work. This is because many small business owners and operators spend all day thinking about work, so getting into a habit of re-setting helps to minimise stress after a long day.

Dr Toma says her routine involves finding a park or somewhere else to sit and relax. You might take time after work to recharge the batteries too - and encourage your employees to do the same.

What kind of end-of-day routine would work for you and your team?

Take time after work to relax and recharge your batteries

Take time after work to relax and recharge your batteries

What you can do to prevent burnout

Get the best from your team and reduce the chance of burnout by:

  • Setting clear, achievable tasks and goals.
  • Make sure your employees have the skills to do their jobs properly.
  • Help to manage workload and the pace at which work needs to be delivered.
  • Discuss work challenges and brainstorm ideas with your team.
  • Involve employees in issues that might affect their health and safety.
  • Identify signs of stress among workers.
  • Have agreed policies and procedures to deal with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Involve employees in changes to your business as soon as you can.

How you can provide support for your employees:

  • Prepare a plan of action (such as a workplace wellbeing policy) and share it with your employees – this builds trust.
  • Regularly check in with your team.
  • Where possible, collect information to record mental health hazards and cases of burnout.
  • Provide employees with access to counselling if needed.

You can get in touch with the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for more information.

Employee Assistance Programme(external link) — EAP Services

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