Resolve employee burnout by turning the lens from the individual to the organisational

Resolve employee burnout by turning the lens from the individual to the organisational

The Impact of COVID-19

Worldwide, a mental health pandemic has followed the COVID-19 one, triggering a 25% increase in anxiety and depression (WHO,2022) and setting off the “Great Attrition” (McKinsey, 2022) leaving organisations in dire need of effective solutions to address employee wellbeing. At the heart of the Great Attrition appears to be a gap in relational aspects of the work environment, rather than individualised mental health or wellbeing experiences.

The mental health pandemic is global and recognised by leading experts such as Dr Mike Ryan (2022), Executive Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Health Emergencies Programme. In November 2020, a report by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Labour Force Survey identified 828,00 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression, or anxiety, which was attributed to experiences of burnout. The WHO describes burnout as an occupational phenomenon that results from people experiencing chronic stress in their place of work.

As early as 2020, Vadivel et al predicted a surge in mental health issues that might, due to other pressures on health services, remain untreated in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era. Valdivel et al point to,

…previous major public health emergencies showed that more than half of the population developed mental health problems and required mental health intervention. There is, therefore, an urgent need to reorganise existing mental health services to address the current unmet needs for mental health and to prepare for future challenges in the post-pandemic era in terms of prevention and management…. with increased prevalence among the vulnerable population and people with risk factors.

In a report commissioned by the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS). Vizard and Joloza (2021) paint a picture of,

…a rising toll on mental health, with some people not necessarily accessing medical help, particularly during the start of the pandemic. As we move into the next stages of the roadmap out of lockdown, it is going to be important to look out for our own and each other’s mental health and well-being.

Taken in tandem with Pollack (2022)’s description of how in the United States an.,

…area that we must address now is the behavioural health crisis affecting our nation.

…Behavioural health care has long been underfunded, underappreciated, and stigmatized. The pandemic has only intensified the unmet need for services…

How can Digital Health Solutions Help Address Burnout?

Digital health solutions with a heavy focus on cultivating individual-level behaviour change have been heralded as a potential answer to employee burnout, a priority workplace wellbeing concern (Holmes et al., 2020). Headspace for Work, Calm, TalkSpace, and other leading products in 2022 propose to resolve employee burnout and other stress-related wellbeing challenges through mindfulness-meditation programmes. Recent evidence suggests (McKinsey, 2022) this type of approach may not be enough to resolve the employee burnout concern or make a significant dent in the mental health pandemic from a workplace wellbeing perspective. Rather, organisations would benefit from turning the lens from the individual to the organisational and gaining a better understanding of the intersection of systemic interpersonal patterns in the organisational culture and individual-level employee burnout experiences.

Digital health solutions deliver mixed levels of efficacy in addressing employee burnout, further suggesting the resolution to employee wellbeing concerns might require an additional level of understanding and intervention.

In Scotland, at the Universities of Glasgow and Stirling, Pollock et al (2020), report on the efficacy of digital interventions to support the resilience and mental health of frontline health and social care professionals during and after a pandemic such as COVID-19. In a mixed methods systematic review, they found evidence that the key to implementing successful digital interventions was that they were adaptable to the prevailing cultural contexts. Unsurprisingly, Pollock et al (2020) with intuitive interactive functionality were seen as being easier to implement. These findings support the acceptability of digital interventions (primarily apps) though not yet their efficacy. Indeed, Pollock et al (2020) concluded that,

“There is a lack of both quantitative and qualitative evidence from studies carried out during or after disease epidemics and pandemics that can inform the selection of interventions that are beneficial to the resilience and mental health of frontline workers.”

In another Spanish study, Serrano-Ripoll et al (2021), conducted a Randomised Control Trial (RCT) to investigate why, despite the lack of evidence about their efficacy, apps are already being widely implemented. They suggest that in the first instance this is because of their low cost and high scalability, and they concur with other researchers that mobile DMHIs are popular and at a superficial level they are acceptable to many different types of users. Yet they too found the evidence of the efficacy of such interventions to be at best sketchy. They conclude by stressing that,

 “…the evidence about the effectiveness of mHealth—an area of research still in its early stages, for which robust trials are urgently needed. “

Pollak (2022) emphasised that the solution to staving off a mental health pandemic may lie in investing in and developing behavioural solutions.

Understanding Behavioural Solutions

Behavioural solutions to wellbeing often centre the individual experience of health and illness and most of the digital health product world is no different. Interactive Health Ltd (IHL)’s team led by Dr Silja Voolma, has developed a digital health solution to address employee burnout – Well™ @Being – with a difference. Well™ @Being creates transparency in the intersection of organisational and individual level factors contributing to employee burnout using validated measurement scales and user journeys centred on contextual experiences of workplace wellness. Well™ @Being is based on the Trans Theoretical Model {(of change) (TTM)} (Prochaska, 2008) It is adaptable and capable of quickly adopting any branding style or content. TTM describes the following five stages of change:

  • Pre-contemplation – The user is not seriously considering the possibility of change.
  • Contemplation – The user becomes aware or acknowledges the existence of a problem. They might seriously consider the possibility of change but are often distressed about what they may need to give up to achieve it.
  • Preparation – The user has committed to change perhaps shortly but is still in the decision-making process. Change is not inevitable.
  • Action – The user starts making changes to their behaviour.
  • Maintenance – The client attempts to continue and sustain progress.

There are a range of issues that the user might wish to explore, for example, ‘Mood’, ‘Healthy Weight’, ‘Isolation’ etc. For each of these issues, once selected, the user is prompted with behaviours associated with the issues, Scenarios for each issue are developed that present Behaviour Change techniques user can record their progress with different activities, quizzes, and planning tools presented at the appropriate stage.  Additional information is available via links to further reading; activities and videos are playable in the app.


Well™ @Being is a smart-phone app that provides personalised feedback. This uniquely personalised platform may indeed be an antidote to the overwhelming mental health pandemic.

The Well™ @Being platform was developed with the support of a Smart Grant from the European Regional Development Fund and Scottish Enterprise.




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Note. The references to Dr Mike Ryan’s address at the WONCA conference, 2022 in Limerick, are currently unpublished and taken from the author’s notes from the conference.



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