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Middle-age burnout and how to combat it

In February of this year, official figures showed that since the start of the Covid pandemic, nearly a quarter of a million Britons aged between 50 and 65 have left paid work altogether and are not actively seeking new jobs. Many millions more are likely to be contemplating the same move. Needless to say, at a time when the workforce is in higher demand than ever, and companies are struggling to keep hold of valued workers, this is a huge problem for employers. The cause of this mass exodus? Burnout.

Why so common for the middle-aged?

It seems that the emotional and psychological stresses of the pandemic have taken a higher toll among the middle-aged. In many ways this is not surprising, according to Ben Harrison, the director of the Work Foundation, a think tank for improving work in the UK. “Midlifers are the group that had the most challenging of times. They are more likely to have had additional caring responsibilities, combining work with home schooling and supporting their own parents, so they faced the greatest stress and anxiety.”

These stresses are layered on top of an already-volatile time of life. A 2020 study by the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, looking at data from 14 million participants in over 40 countries, indicates that the age of 49 is when, on average, people are at their unhappiest. As well as the stresses of being the “squeezed middle” between ageing parents and children, at this age, people start to comprehend that life is finite, and that they may not achieve all their goals.

This isn’t just a pandemic-related problem, either. The Health and Safety ­Executive reported in February 2020 that according to the Labour Force Survey, 602,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018-19.

What is the effect of Burnout?

In 2019, the World Health Organisation characterised burnout as an “occupational syndrome” resulting from unsuccessfully managed chronic workplace stress that leaves a person permanently exhausted, feeling disconnected, cynical and unable to do their job. Physical signs include fatigue, aches, headaches and digestive problems.

A 2017 study by the journal PLOS One found burnout was also associated with serious health problems and that matters were worsened because sufferers’ levels of physical activity plummeted. This is particularly unfortunate as exercise, it appears, can me a major tool in negating the effects of burnout.

Why does exercise help?

In 2021, German researchers from the University of Cologne found that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, such as cycling, is significantly better at helping us to recover from mental exhaustion than relaxing physically or watching television.

In an article about burnout, Mental Health UK advises: “Keep physically active. Exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It can increase the levels of serotonin and endorphins which are your body’s natural ‘happy’ chemicals.” It also stresses the importance of sleep and good nutrition.

But if exercise is a key part of any strategy to mitigate the effects of burnout, how do we encourage workers, who are already exhausted, to get out there and get physical? This is where a workplace wellbeing tool like Buddyboost can be hugely effective.

How can BuddyBoost help?

BuddyBoost has a growing range of programmes where participants commit to doing something that’s good for them for at least 26 days in a month. For example, in BuddyBoost Active, people commit to doing 26 minutes of physical activity each day. Participants rate their mood after doing their minutes, and the data from around 250,000 activities logged on the app shows that, on average, people get a 25% mood boost from the programme.

Participants form into groups of buddies in the BuddyBoost app to help and motivate one another to complete their challenges – a key component in getting exhausted and stressed-out workers off the sofa. Everyone taking part in a BuddyBoost challenge stays in touch on their company’s private community feed, posting messages and photos, boosting engagement and a sense of unity.

Is social wellbeing important?

This sense of unity is another key factor in fighting burnout. In September 2021, consulting firm McKinsey conducted a survey of British, American and Canadian workers. It concluded that post-pandemic employees “crave investment in the human aspects of work. They want a renewed and revised sense of purpose. They want social and interpersonal connections with their colleagues and managers. They want to feel a sense of shared identity. They want meaningful interactions, not just transactions.”

A 2009 University of Quebec study found that forming quality relationships with colleagues “may reduce exhaustion and depersonalisation over time, in addition to fostering feelings of personal accomplishment at work.”

In short, a tool like BuddyBoost, that promotes physical activity and helps to foster a spirit of open engagement and camaraderie in the workplace, will have long-term benefits in the battle against burnout. Get in touch to find out more about how BuddyBoost can benefit your workforce.


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