Three in ten (29%) UK workers – including those in the tech industry – considered quitting their jobs in the past 12 months because of poor mental health despite national job insecurity caused by the pandemic, new research finds.
Survey findings, published for the first time today by mental health startup Spill, explore the prevalence of burnout in relation to company culture surrounding holiday and time off.
The research found that almost half of UK workers (46%) reported that they experienced symptoms of burnout (fatigue, prolonged stress and lack of motivation) in the past 12 months, only one in five (20%) took time off from work to manage their symptoms.
The research found 25-34 year old workers (59%) and parents with children under the age of 18 (54%) across UK industry were more likely to have experienced symptoms of burnout, anxiety and prolonged stress in the past 12 months compared with the wider working population, nodding to the child-care strains caused by the pandemic.
When asked why they didn’t take time off, two in five (38%) workers believed burnout didn’t warrant time off, a further two in five (36%) said they were too busy and a quarter (25%) said they felt guilty taking time off during the pandemic when so many were out of work or furloughed.
The research suggests the remaining stigma attached to mental health in the workplace is discouraging a proportion of workers from asking for time off when needed. A quarter (23%) of those who didn’t take time for their mental health were concerned asking for time off would make them appear weak at work and three in ten (27%) said they didn’t feel comfortable asking their manager that they needed a break.
Nodding to the pressures of ‘always on’ working, a quarter (26%) of workers believed that leadership within their companies favoured employees who took minimal time off and worked overtime during evening and weekend.
Worryingly, one in ten (8%) workers who didn’t take time off said they were actively discouraged by companies from taking time off when they were experiencing symptoms of burnout and three in ten (31%) said they have felt pressure to move or cancel holidays due to workload in the past.
The impact of unmanaged work-related stress on personal lives is evident in the research. Two in five (42%) UK workers said their personal lives had suffered as a direct result of work-related stress in the past year. This number spiked with business leaders – just under half (49%) of board level respondents said that symptoms of burnout had impacted their personal lives.
The ‘always on’ working culture comes from the top
Spill’s research suggests company culture, shaped in part by leadership’s approach to their own holidays, had an impact on how comfortable people felt asking for time off work.
Three in ten (31%) workers don’t believe their workplace fosters a culture that encourages significant time off and four in ten (42%) don’t believe the leadership team in their workplaces are leading by example by taking time off.
The research suggests they make a justified argument. It found that business leaders took, on average, just 65% of their annual leave in 2020 compared with the average UK workforce who, despite the constraints of lockdown, took 80% of their annual leave.
When business leaders did take time off, 3 in 5 (66%) admitted checking work notifications – for example on Slack or email – higher than the UK average (42%).
Taking significant time off is beneficial for mental health
The research found that the average UK worker’s holiday is just 6 days long. Yet respondents said it took them on average 3 days to stop thinking about work and relax, making the argument that taking significant time off is more beneficial for mental wellbeing compared to a series of short breaks.
Spill, whose all-in-one mental health app for businesses is used by over 200 European companies to provide therapy to their teams, is launching the #TakeYourHoliday campaign as part of Mental Health Awareness Week to encourage business leaders to foster healthier holiday culture to counter burnout.
The pledge, which asks business leaders to take three affirmative actions to foster a healthier culture around taking time off in the workplace, has already been signed by over 35 business leaders including leaders from Tech Nation, Vita Mojo and venture capitalist Ada Ventures. Calvin Benton, Founder of Spill, said:
“As a founder, I know us business leaders can be the worst offenders when it comes to taking time off and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. We rarely note the signal our ‘always on’ work lives send to the wider team and how it might discourage people to ask for time off when it’s needed most.
Promoting the importance of time off is one of the easiest things businesses can do to help protect the mental health of their teams and challenge burnout in the workplace. We want leaders to also understand that taking time off is not just beneficial for the wellbeing of your teams, but ultimately it’s also good for business. As our research shows, work related stress and exhaustion is pushing people to consider quitting their jobs and we already know it also accounts for around 45% of sick days. If you’re a business with an ambitious vision, that’s a dent in your long-term productivity.
Mental Health Awareness week is a great time for business leaders to be thinking about what they can do to support their staff. A healthier approach to time off is a great place to start.”