Canadian Underwriter

Brokerage leader wants burnout taken more seriously

June 24, 2021   by Adam Malik

young businesswoman lying with her head down on her desk while working in an office at night

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A brokerage leader is concerned that “burnout” is a term thrown around too casually, and it’s not taken as seriously as it should be in the property and casualty insurance industry.

“As someone who has suffered burnout, I can tell you it’s neither benign nor temporary,” said Mary-Lou MacDonald, Ottawa-based national practice leader of health and performance at Hub. “Although feeling burned out is common, it’s not normal, and the consequences unfortunately can extend to your family, your relationships, your employees, and your career.”

MacDonald was speaking alongside Philip Swayze, Hub’s east region practice leader of health and performance in the U.S., during the brokerage’s recent virtual summit, Resilient: Responding to Changing Workforce Needs.

MacDonald noted that two years ago, the World Health Organization declared burnout — defined as a state of complete physical and emotional exhaustion — an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been managed successfully.

And that was before the global COVID-19 pandemic struck last March.

“Now the situation is so much more broad and dire, and workplaces can no longer afford to ignore it — because when employees struggle, the organization struggles,” MacDonald said during the session Beyond Burnout: Responding to Employee Mental Health Needs. “In organizations, it cripples productivity and costs, and manifests as low engagement, presenteeism, attraction/retention — things that are critically important to the successive organizations — and obviously increased absenteeism and turnover.”

Looking at the business as a whole, burnout results in increased safety accidents and mistakes on the job. For the individual, it affects work performance and behaviour, MacDonald reported.

“You’ll be easily frustrated, angry, cynical, or critical about your work [and] unmotivated, disillusioned, and wanting to socially isolate from your co-workers and your family and friends,” she said.

Further indicators include headaches and other physical complaints. Plus, and this may not be easy to see when you are working from home, negative changes in personal appearance.

In Canadian Underwriter’s Working From Home survey, conducted in June 2021, more than half (54%) of 800 Canadian P&C workers who filled out the survey reported feeling at least some stress and burnout (35% some; 11% a lot; 8% a great deal) being at home and working. The remaining 46% reported feeling either “very little” burnout and stress or “none.”

“The day never seems to end,” one person wrote in response to an open-ended question about why they felt the way they did.

For managers, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to detect the initial signs and most recognizable indicators of burnout. “As leaders, you should be trained to actively watch for the signs because they indicate long-lasting and significant health impacts such as depression, anxiety, substance use, and even suicide,” MacDonald advised.

Having no training in detecting burnout signs is not an excuse for managers to ignore the issue, Swayze said. “An employee in need of mental health support can also look like an employee in need of a performance improvement plan. [Providing training that educates leaders] can help managers spot the difference between these.”

For employees, self-awareness is key, MacDonald added. You may be able to recognize such behaviours but “my personal experience tells me that’s not typically the case. And even if you do, there can be a tendency, particularly with high performers, to override those little voices in your head and power through.”

For this reason, the onus can’t be placed squarely on the employee to recognize burnout. “Rather, the environment the system or the culture in which we work has at least as much to do with creating and exacerbating the situation,” MacDonald said.


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1 Comment » for Brokerage leader wants burnout taken more seriously
  1. TBA says:

    There are several factors here.
    Burnout, Depression, Anxiety, Auto-immune disorders, blood disorders, in actual day to day work life is something most employers do not want to deal with.
    Actually when employees go off on sick leave the employer does everything in their power to make certain the short term and long term disability companies deny the claims so the employee is forced back to work. AND of course the Disability companies have no problem in declining cover because they know the employees do not have the where-with-all to fight it
    Disability Companies should be mandated to pay claims upon confirmation of the employees doctors, if they do not pay, they should be forced to pay back all premiums collected to date with the highest rate of growth in that period premiums were paid.

    I was a branch manager of a growing brokerage across the country, and was forced to contact employees on leave to ask them when they were coming back, this was a call I was to do once per week per employee. That is just not acceptable, and I would not do it. I didn’t work in HR and was not my job, but this is the extent that this particular employer would do.

    In the end, the employer has to be genuine in caring:
    Help the employee complete disability forms/ and get approved
    Encourage employee to obtain advice/help-genuinely provide resources
    Employees pay the complete premium for long term disability cover (under most plans) and therefore, the employer should not receive any information on the employees progress unless the employee agrees
    When employers are not dealing with this in good faith, it is hard to trust the comments made above.

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