Burnout in the dugout

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Support for football managers is provided by The League Managers Association (LMA), which is the collective, representative voice of all managers from the Premier League,  Sky Bet Championship, Sky Bet Leagues 1 and 2, and the Barclays Women’s Super League and Barclays Women’s Championship. The LMA provides mentoring and support to managers, including in health and wellbeing, but they have not offered any specific comment regarding Jürgen Klopp’s decision to step down.

To some – especially Liverpool fans – it is possible to imagine that Jürgen is something of a mythical or ethereal being, as opposed to a person: spearheading “the Reds” with energy, personality, and endless pearly-white-toothed smiles (except, perhaps, when VAR decisions go against his team). It is often forgotten that celebrity figures are human; praised infinitely when things go well, but vilified degradingly when things turn sour. We only need to cast back our minds to England footballers being subjected to hateful and discriminatory language when they stumbled at the penalty spot at Euro 2020.

Since that time,  we have seen numerous celebrity sports stars speak out about abuse. Eni Aluko – former professional football player, and current TV personality – referenced being genuinely scared and having taken legal advice after she had received abuse this year. 17-year-old darts sensation Luke Littler has reportedly hired a specialist to filter out abuse about his girlfriend that he was receiving online. Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast of all time, took a 2-year break (dubbed a mental health break) from competing from 2021-2023.

Whilst most people wouldn’t expect to be on the receiving end of this kind of constant attention – negative or positive – everyone has their own personal battles with which they must contend. Whilst Jürgen appears to have recognised the signs himself and decided to take a step back from the fast-paced life of management, most are not fortunate enough to be able to just take a break from work. However, stress, anxiety, and depression are amongst the main causes of work-related absence in the UK. So, how can employers help manage these challenges?

Managing burnout: spot the signs.

Managing burnout is not easy, and there is no guaranteed recipe for success – especially because everyone’s relationship with their health is different. The first thing employers can do is be attentive and understanding. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work – in addition to a duty to make reasonable adjustments where employees are disabled. Disability can include mental health conditions, which might involve stress, anxiety or depression – or they may be linked to other conditions.

The effects of burnout may not be as simple as noticing shifts in personality or mood. It could be reflected in a reduction in quality of work, mistakes, missing deadlines or meetings, being withdrawn, or becoming distracted or fatigued. According to the World Health Organisation, employee burnout is characterised by:

  1. Energy depletion or exhaustion.
  2. Increased mental distance from work, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to work.
  3. Resulting in reduced professional efficacy.

Some considerations for helping to identify burnout could be:

  • Encouraging a “speak-up” culture, where individuals are given a platform or open environment to discuss their concerns, including from senior members.
  • Training line managers to spot signs of burnout and ill-health.
  • Regular catch-ups, especially for teams that work remotely.
  • Perform (and act on the results of) work-related stress risk assessments.
  • Train employees as Mental Health First Aiders and give employees access to these services.
  • Offering confidential mentoring or support services, including Employee Assistance Programmes.
  • Implement or update policies and procedures to ensure employees know where to go or what might help if they are struggling.

Some tips for employees and employers in helping to manage burnout or taking steps to reduce the risk of burnout:

  • Championing core working hours – where possible – and sticking to these, to avoid overworking.
  • Encouraging breaks from work, especially the use of work phones, etc. out of hours.
  • Allowing flexible time in the working week for employees to take personal, admin or leisure time.
  • Being supportive with working patterns and providing office/flexible working, where necessary.
  • Proactively managing workloads and seeking support when required.

If you require help with any of the practical steps in managing burnout, such as a review of policies or procedures, or conducting training, please get in touch.