A wave of UAE professionals would like to quit their jobs to focus on their mental health in 2023, according to a new report.
Since spring 2021, the “great resignation” has seen more people than ever before leaving their jobs after the Covid-19 pandemic caused workers to reassess their priorities.
And the trend is set to continue into 2023 in the UAE, according to the Bupa Global 2022 Executive Wellbeing Index.
The report showed that over 53 percent of the UAE’s top-level executives are reassessing their priorities by reducing work hours or by leaving their current employer.
Of the executives surveyed, at least 20 percent said they have experienced burnout, while 24 percent reported “feelings of sadness and anxiety categorized as low mood”.
A further 22 percent of executives cited a lack of energy, with 20 percent experiencing feelings of anger, mood swings and burnout. A total of 94 percent reported symptoms of poor mental health over the last 12 months.
According to Dubai-based life coach Heather Broderick, burnout is one of the biggest threats to wellbeing among UAE professionals.
“The numbers show that it is essential to reconsider the burden placed on these leaders,” she says.
“The focus on mental health and wellness has grown exponentially over the past three years and every company now must focus on staff wellbeing if they wish to prevent future sickness or resignations.”
Long hours and late nights
Founder of Keene PR Ellie Keene left her job as a nightlife PR in 2019 after long hours began to take their toll.
“The office timings followed by evening events were really intense and most nights I wasn’t getting home until four in the morning, then had to get up and do it again,” says Ellie.
“I would wake up feeling horrible and It would really affect my mood and my productivity all day.”
After launching her own restaurant PR business, Ellie made self-care a priority and isn’t surprised by the findings of the Bupa study.
“I think after Covid people have really taken a massive interest in their mental health, their fitness and what they eat,” she says.
“The UAE is really good at helping people set up businesses or become a freelancer so it’s a lot easier for people to make those decisions and make those changes and I think that’s amazing.”
Now Ellie has four staff of her own and is deeply conscious about their wellbeing, organizing staff socials, gym memberships and flexible working hours.
“If I don’t look after my staff, they will leave and get a different option,” she says, “And also if I’m a good boss, they want to work hard for me.
“Richard Branson gave his staff unlimited holiday and let them choose their hours and he noticed that people worked harder for him because they respected him more, and I have a similar outlook.
“My mentality is, so long as the work is done, my staff can work anywhere, whether that’s the beach or from bed. I’m responsible for their work-life balance and that’s a really big deal for me.
“I want everyone to feel like they can come to me if they need me for anything.”
What is burnout?
Though burnout isn’t classified as a medical condition, it is widely recognized by mental health professionals and included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
The globally used diagnostic tool categorizes burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of cynicism and negativity and reduced professional efficacy.
For Haneen Abosh, mental health clinical therapist at Arabic therapy platform Ayadi, burnout is something that can affect any employee.
“Although workplace burnout is not considered a medical illness, I don’t think it should be taken lightly, as it really can be debilitating to an individual, and have long-lasting effects,” she says.
“I have had cases referred to me, where the client initially is presenting extreme anxiety or depression and managing chronic pain symptoms. Through our work together, we discovered that one of the root causes was in fact burnout.”
The Covid effect
Though many of us returned to the office after Covid restrictions were lifted, our mindset is not so easy to snap back, according to Heather.
“The pandemic made us re-evaluate our job security, job satisfaction and work life balance but having come through the other side, more businesses are returning to offices and the demand to return to traditional set hours is strong,” she says.
“The majority of CEOs viewed working from home as a positive move, yet with business and life returning to normal for the most part, ironically the pressure to get back in the office, working long hours, with long commutes and external and internal stressors has superseded this ‘luxury’.”
Now, Heather finds that an increasing number of her clients are adapting their work life to accommodate their well-being.
“The options to work for ourselves, change careers, move jobs, retrain or take some time off have moved to the forefront of many people’s minds,” she says.
“If executives and leaders are overworked, undervalued, burnt out or overwhelmed, it is the company’s responsibility to try to retain them and ensure their health is not suffering.”
For anyone considering resignation, Heather recommends taking some time to consider their situation.
“Re-evaluate what you want and need from your job, create a positive sleep routine and perhaps seek the help of a coach, doctor or therapist,” she says. “It’s important to prioritize your health and family over work.”
How can leaders care for staff well-being?
For chief executive and founder of Gates Hospitality Naim Maadad, 30 years in the hospitality industry has shown just how important staff welfare is.
“I truly believe leaders have a duty of care to support and nurture the mental health of their team members,” says Naim, who has over 700 staff working for him across restaurants including folly, Reform Social & Grill and Publique.
“It is imperative that leaders provide better working hours, mental support and general wellness, but this can only be achieved if the team at the top leads by example.
“With a more mindful and supportive industry, we can still deliver great results for our businesses and secure long-term success and loyal support from our employees and colleagues.”
One of Naim’s priorities is the physical health of his staff, which he believes is a key factor in preventing burnout.
“Better sleep, nutrition, and physical health are necessary for us all and leaders should support and encourage healthier lifestyles for their teams,” he says.
“The goal is to offer it through employee benefits and create a more nurturing work environment.”
When times do get tough, Naim insists that employees should speak up and work with their employer toward finding a solution.
“There should be no shame or fear in asking for a day off, rest or mental health help,” he says.
“Mental health days, fitness and wellness activities and an open culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions are some of the things leaders should offer to employees.”
What should I do if I’m feeling burnout?
To prevent burnout, Haneen has the following five tips:
- Work with purpose: Set out realistic daily or weekly goals and work towards them.
- Assess your current workload: If you’re being overworked, seek out additional support.
- Practice time management: Take control by scheduling tasks and actively managing your time.
- Take regular breaks: Pause, breathe, regroup and then get back to the task at hand.
- Practice self-care: Exercise, eat right, rest and live a full life full of experiences outside of work. You are so much more than just your job.
Emma Pearson is a freelance travel and lifestyle journalist with an ever-rumbling belly and permanently itchy feet. Currently based in Dubai, Emma lived and worked across the UK and US before settling in the UAE five years ago. Favourite country: Vietnam. Favourite food: crisps. Favourite writing topics: fitness, feasts and far-flung lands.