As we enter the fourth and final quarter of the year, there is a surge of additional activities in the workplace: employees are under pressure to end the year on a high, spend budgets and deliver results. In addition, planning for the year ahead is in full swing and, with homelife activities also increasing, individuals often feel a sense of overload and teams can run out of steam.
The last three calendar months of the year are typically the most intense at work and at home. With ongoing economic pressures, it can be easy for leaders to prioritise profit and forget the importance of wellbeing. As recognised by the World Health Organization, burnout is an ‘occupational phenomenon’; in fact, research suggests a large majority of UK workers are experiencing burnout-related symptoms. These symptoms can be even more prevalent in Q4 as they are heightened by other factors, such as:
- Seasonal affective disorder. The shift to colder weather and return of the dark evenings has been scientifically proven to have a negative effect on humans, with as many as two million people in the UK suffering each year and 12 million across Europe, according to the NHS. A lack of sunlight impacts the chemicals in our brains and, as a result, it’s common for us to feel low in mood and suffer a lack of interest in life.
- Change fatigue. Research from Gartner at the start of 2023 suggested that the workforce is getting tired of near-constant disruption, suffering from what it dubbed ‘change fatigue’. As we enter the last few months of the year, it’s common for us all to feel a sense of fatigue. 2023 has truly been the year of businesses bouncing back from the impact of Covid, and this hard work has the potential to catch up with us and make us feel fatigued from our jobs.
- ‘Always on’ culture. The holiday season is just around the corner, and this often means employees wish to start winding down and switching off from work. However, many workers feel they are not able to fully switch off over the Christmas period, with Slack reporting that 53 per cent of people believe they are available to work over Christmas despite having time off booked. This ‘always on’ culture has been driven by hybrid working and blurs the lines between work and home life.
- End-of-year job hunt. It is common for workers to seek out a new job in time for the new year, with January and February considered the most popular months for hiring. Fuelled by the desire to take on a new challenge or to start the year afresh, businesses often lose a high percentage of their staff in the lead up to Christmas.
While this outlook may seem bleak, this period of workplace shift brings with it opportunities for leaders to reprioritise and encourage employees to strive through training and development.
Business confidence ticked up in the beginning of 2023, with a large percentage recruiting in Q2 and reportedly feeling confident they will recruit the people they need by the end of the year. On top of this, a new wave of graduates have completed their studies and are entering the workforce, keen to learn. Bringing in new staff can be the perfect time to focus on training and teaching new skills that can enable the workforce to improve productivity and build on their existing skills. This can also be a chance to upskill and retrain existing employees, ready for a new year.
As well as thinking about how to train employees, business leaders and managers should also be looking to develop their own skills and understanding of wellbeing. With burnout, SAD and change fatigue being so prominent in Q4, it’s a chance for businesses to train managers on the ways they can effectively support employee wellbeing and the importance of mental health-led policies.
At the start of 2023, many HR leaders recognised the opportunity to help their organisation manage change in a way that excites and empowers employees, through providing them with tools such as:
work hours to be used for wellbeing activities such as yoga in the workplace and educational webinars on topics including healthy sleep and dietary habits;
employee assistant programmes with a specific focus on managing stress at work;
manager training on how to recognise burnout in their teams and colleagues and what to do about it; and
policies such as a Friday no email day.
Role of technology
Finally, while some businesses may be sceptical of the impact tech could have on existing jobs, many also see i as an opportunity. New and emerging technologies can provide a solution to burnout by reducing employee workloads, enabling them to achieve a greater work-life balance.
Many businesses are exploring emerging technologies, especially AI, and have shown a willingness to take the steps to educate and train staff on using AI to improve their productivity, for example, upskilling staff but also helping to ease some of the struggles faced in Q4.
Laure Fraval is an ICF-certified international executive coach (PCC) and consultant for change