On burnout watch

A new report emphasises, once again, the need for employers to look more closely at workload pressures.

Tired woman pouring coffee


The Modern Families Index released over the weekend highlights how many parents are still struggling for work life balance and how younger parents in particular are choosing to downsize to deal with the stress of overdemanding jobs.

The Working Families and Bright Horizons report’s findings are not new. This has been happening for a number of years, but it is important to keep highlighting this fact as it has big implications for employees’ well being and employers in terms of retention. While issues around blurring of work and family life have been highlighted, I don’t think this is always a bad thing. As someone who works from home, I think a certain amount of blurring makes family life and working possible, but it’s not for everyone and when there is no space for time off that is when it becomes problematic. The issue for me is more to do with workload.

The truth is that many jobs are way too demanding for the hours people are contracted to do them and that they only seem to get bigger as people struggle to keep up with rapid changes in the workplace which require more training or an ability to absorb and adapt to different systems quickly.

Ever more pressure

In my profession, social media has had an enormous impact. It is no longer enough to write a news story. You have to send it out on various and ever-proliferating numbers of platforms, some text-based, some image-based. You have to keep a constant eye on all those platforms and do this while, at the same time, trying to do your original job of talking to people and finding out what is going on. News has never been a do your hours job. Journalists always have to keep their ear to the ground and things can change within seconds as a big story breaks, but there is no slack time now and the pace is down to the second. The competition is enormous because budgets are squeezed due to revenue issues, with all the problems that brings for accuracy, in-depth and truthful reporting.

The pressure is already enormous, particularly if you want to do a good job, and often seems unmanageable, yet it only seems to increase as more platforms come online, more restructures are brought in, more jobs go, putting more pressure on those left. I was at a gathering of older journalists the other day. They talked about the days of alcohol-fuelled lunches and getting out of the office to talk to real people. It seemed like a foreign land. They spoke of years spent developing expertise in particular areas, something that has gone out the window in recent years. Very few national journalists spend any significant time on one patch these days.

While I’m all for a cross-disciplinary approach – I think there is a lot you can take from, say, social affairs which is useful for health or education or politics, but it means they have little time to build up contacts and little knowledge of anything in their patch which stretches back more than a decade.

Journalism seems to be becoming more and more of a younger person’s game as a result, but is that sustainable?

The Modern Families Index shows that many younger parents are choosing to walk or take a lower ranked job rather than put up with impossibly long hours. What does that mean for career progression to senior jobs?

There is a huge skills crisis in the UK, much of it in the public sector the result of budget cuts. There needs to be an increasing focus in all areas on sustainable jobs, an intelligent use of automation to relieve pressure, a recognition that people are the most important ingredient of any company and a realisation that employers need to stop doing one-off mental health initiatives, as nice as these are, and invest in realistic ways of tackling work overload.

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