A report undertaken by health researchers at Leeds Beckett University has reviewed the most effective ways to treat and prevent burnout and work-related stress, and revealed organisational interventions in the workplace may be more effective than individual interventions alone.
The report, commissioned by Public Health England and prepared by the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett, provides an overview of how individual and workplace interventions can prevent burnout and work-related stress.
The review is one of four commissioned by Public Health England exploring priority – but generally under-explored – issues around health, work and unemployment.
Findings from the report suggest that:
- Interventions designed to reduce symptoms and impact on burnout and work-related stress were conducted more often at an individual or small-group level than at an organisational level.
- Individual level interventions that can reduce burnout include staff training, workshops and cognitive-behavioural programmes.
- Changing aspects of an organisation’s culture and working practices might be considered alongside individual level interventions to more effectively prevent burnout.
- Changes to workload or working practices appear to reduce stressors and factors that can lead to burnout.
- Evidence suggests that organisational interventions produce longer-lasting effects than individual approaches.
- Organisational interventions in the workplace may be more effective than individual interventions alone.
- Combining individual and organisational level approaches includes a system change that adopts a participatory environment, promotes open communication, manager and peer support, a culture of learning and successful participation of employees in planning and implementation of programmes.
Estimates from the Labour Force Survey in 2013-14 suggested that the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 39 per cent of all cases of work-related illnesses. Occupations with the highest reported rates of work-related stress were health professionals (in particular nurses), teaching and education professionals and caring personal services (in particular welfare and housing associate professionals).
Dr James Woodall, Reader in Health Promotion at Leeds Beckett, said: ‘Although there is existing evidence on what works to treat burnout and work-related stress, there is less on what works to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
‘In undertaking this research, we found some evidence that individual interventions including staff training, workshops and cognitive-behavioural programmes can reduce burnout. There is also some evidence to suggest that organisational interventions, such as changes to workload or working practices, produce longer-lasting reductions in stressors and factors that can lead to burnout than individual approaches.
‘We found that most existing research focused on large-scale organisations with few examples of interventions in small or medium-sized working environments. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for 59.3 per cent of private sector employment in the UK, therefore further research is needed to determine what works in small to medium-sized workplaces.’
Dr Anne-Marie Bagnall, Reader in the School of Health & Wellbeing at Leeds Beckett, added: ‘Understanding how burnout and work-related stress can be prevented and treated in workplaces is of great importance both from a public health perspective and for businesses aiming to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.
‘Workplace health and worklessness are a corporate priority for Public Health England (PHE), as employment is a wider determinant of health. Burnout is associated with adverse health outcomes associated with stress, such as depression, musculoskeletal pain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.’
Dr Justin Varney, Interim Deputy Director for Health & Wellbeing (Healthy People), Public Health England, said: ‘This evidence review highlights workplaces as a key setting for improving people’s mental and physical health, as well as their overall wellbeing. Having a healthy workforce can reduce sickness absence, lower staff turnover and boost productivity. Employers can’t afford to wait until staff burnout happens; it is in their interest to implement healthy interventions which can prevent the main causes of it, including stress and musculoskeletal conditions.”