End of year burnout can creep up on you quickly. One moment, you’re kicking goals and steaming through your daily routine; the next, you’re desperately watching trashy Netflix Christmas movies and eating instant ramen in bed (…or so I hear).
Becoming obsessed with royal dramas in made-up European countries isn’t the only symptom of end of year burnout. It can trigger feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and dissatisfaction. In 2021, we would argue that people are twice as likely to be at risk of seasonal burnout; it’s been a long two years of relentless lockdowns, restrictions and uncertainty. We feel tense just thinking about it.
Burnout of any kind easily seeps from our personal time into our working lives, and is ripe for social contagion. If someone in your team is feeling it, there’s a good chance that it could spread through the workplace, impacting morale, culture and even retention into the new year.
What is end of year burnout?
End of year burnout (also referred to as end of year fatigue) is a phenomenon that generally occurs in around November and early December each year. It’s a feeling of exhaustion typified by a sense that the year has worn us out, and it’s still far from over. Experiencing end of year burnout is kind of like looking down the barrel of the last 5km of a marathon. You may have sped through the majority of it, but the home stretch might just be the toughest.
Even though most of us find enjoyment in the silly season, it doesn’t necessarily reduce the effects of end of year burnout. As we move into December, the overcommitments of social activities – even if they’re something that we generally enjoy – can add to our mental load.
Company lunches, holiday parties, and running errands for the festive season fill our calendars. It can be difficult to admit that these typically fun things can end up making us feel guilty, such is the vicious cycle of this frustrating experience.
Remember, experiencing end of year burnout doesn’t necessarily mean that you dislike your job or your work. Correlating end of year burnout with job dissatisfaction is a mistake. Work stresses can add to end of year burnout, but they’re not necessarily the ultimate cause. Still, there’s plenty that managers and employers can do to treat the symptoms of burnout in their teams, re-engaging their employees in the process.
What are the symptoms of end of year burnout?
End of year burnout symptoms run alongside general effects of burnout. They just occur in front of a festive backdrop, I suppose. People experiencing burn out will often cycle through;
Burn out can make us feel incredibly fatigued, no matter how many gingerbread frappucinos we drink. Getting up in the morning can feel much more difficult, we’ll find ourselves yawning more throughout the day and staring into space at regular intervals. At the end of the workday we’ll feel compelled to crawl onto the couch and stay there until further notice.
Stress and overwhelm
When we experience burnout, the most menial tasks can feel unachievable. This is generally because our mental capacity is at breaking point. Any additional tasks or activities, even if they’re generally quick or easy, can make us want to retreat.
Drop in motivation
As everything feels so much more difficult than usual, our motivation can drop. We don’t have the energy to get our regular dopamine hit from ticking off work consistently, and with each incomplete task, we lose more and more momentum.
Exhaustion, overwhelm and a lack of motivation can really bring out our inner Scrooge. Feeling grumpy and flat is a natural product of end of year burn out, and sadly, this can have the biggest effect on drawing others in. Nothing can dampen your team’s spirits quicker than a throwaway negative comment from a burnt out colleague.
Think it might be more than end of year burnout? Download our free ‘Know the Signs’ poster to help your employees better understand the red flags of mental health issues.
How can we help employees fight end of year burnout?
We don’t just have to surrender to burnout. The good news about it is that there are lots of strategies that you can use to help your team resist this unfortunate yuletide experience. When you see end of year burnout creeping in, reach for these helpful tips.
1. Encourage them to take leave
I’m certainly guilty of pushing myself to wait until the end of the year to take any holidays. After all, we’re so close, right? If I just hold out for a few more weeks, I can drown my burnout in pavlova and brandy.
This, however, is not the wisest approach. If your staff member hasn’t taken any leave for a while, a long weekend or a half working week could be just what they need to fuel them to the end of the year.
2. Show your appreciation
Most workplaces give thanks to their employees by throwing a holiday party towards the end of the year. While this time-honoured tradition is fun for teams, it doesn’t take away the need to show your appreciation in the last quarter of the year.
Reward and recognition is a great antidote for demotivation. Even small positive reinforcements can give your team members a lift. Share kind words with your employee, or highlight some of their great work from throughout the year. At Employment Hero, we use our on-platform company feed to shout out a job well done to the whole business.
If you have any budget to spare, you might consider organising a low-key event for your team before the end of the year. Be conscious that everyone’s calendars will be filling up, so prioritise quality over quantity. A fun lunch out on the company or a festive happy hour is a perfect choice.
3. Don’t spring new tasks or projects on them
Say you’ve just had an amazing idea. You want to get your staff across it, organise a brainstorming session and get the ball rolling.
Hot tip: Don’t.
Unless your new project or task absolutely can’t wait, push it to 2022. Your team members are likely focused on just getting to the end of the year, and they probably won’t be able to match your energy until they’ve had a break.
Trust me, your team will be happier – and you’ll likely get a much better result – by kicking off your project in the new year.
4. Help them prioritise end of year deadlines
As well as refraining from adding any new work to your team’s plates, you might see how you can lighten their existing workload.
Have you ever heard people talk about winding down for the year and think ummm… I have more work than ever?! While the end of the year can quieten for some, for many, it’s a rush of final deadlines and reporting.
Catch up for a 1:1 meeting with your team and ask how they are keeping up with this kind of work. Take a look at their task list with them and see if you can make a game plan together, identifying what they need to prioritise and what is more of a ‘nice-to-have’.
5. Encourage time out for health and wellness
If your workplace has any kind of mental wellness resources, it’s worth spruiking them near the silly season.
If you have an employee assistance program (EAP), send out a friendly reminder of how your team can get in touch, no matter how small the issue. If you offer yoga or stretching sessions, share the details again. You could even just send around some general mindfulness tips or online meditations.
Reminding your employees to take time out of their day for wellness can give them a little boost of energy, and send the message that you prioritise their wellbeing.
Oh, and for the love of Michael Bublé, don’t push any idea of striving for a ‘summer body’ in any talk about wellbeing. Holiday gluttony is a time-honoured tradition that should be free of guilt, always.
6. Don’t put too much pressure on next year’s goals
Looking to the future when we’re struggling with the present can detach us from the needs of the here and now.
Although it can be tempting for your team to jump into 2022 planning, try to keep them focused on the tasks at hand. It will be much better for everyone to dive into next year’s planning when they have a clearer head, and some perspective on the year that has just gone.
7. Support flexible working and quiet work
It’s pretty amazing what good a neighbourhood walk or a quick swimming break can do for the effects of burnout. Supporting flexible work can give your team more opportunities for breaks like these, as well as helping them run to the dreaded post office when they need to.
Flexible working can also help your team knuckle down for some quiet work at home. Having additional headspace, away from the bustle of the office, can help them charge through that stubborn end of year workload. If you want the team to still have some office time, try putting aside a certain amount of ‘collaboration’ time a week when your team attends the physical workspace together; then release them to work remotely for the rest of the day.
8. Keep a positive mindset
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to keep morale high amongst the pressures of end of year burnout. Try to keep a positive tone with your team when energy is running low. Approach this time of year with patience and an open door policy if anyone needs to talk through issues.
You don’t have to share Christmassy memes, bring yummy treats to the office or wear some kind of novelty holiday hat, but look – it can’t hurt. Live your best festive life.
Finish the year on a high
If there’s one thing that most people can agree on, it’s that the last couple of years have been a bit of a dumpster fire. For many, it’s been two long years without celebrating the holidays with family and friends. It’s been two long years of uncertainty and stress. No wonder we’re feeling burned out and lacking in holiday cheer.
If you’re looking for more ways to boost employee wellbeing, at any time of year, download our free Employee Wellbeing Bundle. Featuring lots of great wellness resources including; 10 low-cost strategies to improve employee wellbeing guide, employee wellness survey template and so much more.
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