Chris Russell

2 min read

Human Resources

Employee Burnout Is on the Rise

Workers are feeling more burned out than they have in years and the Covid pandemic is why.

A survey by the job search site of 1,500 workers found 52% of them reporting feelings of burnout. That’s up from 43% in a similar survey in January 2020, two months before Covid caused the shutdown of most businesses worldwide.

In October, a broader survey by the American Psychological Association found a third of all Americans feel so stressed by the pandemic they sometimes struggle to make even the simplest of decisions.

“Pandemic stress is contributing to widespread mental exhaustion, negative health impacts and unhealthy behavior changes — a pattern that will become increasingly challenging to correct the longer it persists,” said Arthur C. Evans, Jr., the organization’s CEO.

Difficulty making decisions, along with a loss of motivation, a higher level of irritability, tiredness, difficulty concentrating and other behavior changes are all among the classic symptoms of employee burnout.

Employees Feeling the Stress

The World Health Organization describes employee burnout as a “syndrome” characterized by:

  1. “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.”

While research and personal experience tells us we all have feelings of job stress from time to time, Covid has made employee burnout worse. Two-thirds of workers in the Indeed survey blame the pandemic for worsened those feelings.

Over the years, research by Gallup, Deloitte and others found that lack of recognition and management support, consistently long hours and an unmanageable workload were the leading causes of employee burnout. Those same reasons – especially feeling overworked — are behind the stress employees are feeling now. Concerns over health (25%) and finances (33%) are adding to it, according to the Indeed survey.

Employee Burnout Syndrome

Those working remotely are more likely than their counterparts working onsite to feel Covid’s effect on employee burnout more strongly. 38% of remote workers says burnout has worsened since the pandemic, compared to 28% of those who worn onsite.

One reason for the difference could be that those working from home have a harder time stepping away from work. While both virtual and onsite workers report putting in longer hours, 61% of those working remotely say they find it more difficult than ever to unplug from work. Among onsite workers, 53% find it harder to unplug when they leave the office. And regardless of whether they work remotely or onsite, if they have access to office communications on their phones, 8-in-10 say they’re more likely to work after hours.

No employer can afford to ignore the impact of employee burnout. The World Economic Forum a few years ago estimated the cost of burnout at $335 billion globally. Stanford researchers put the cost of workplace stress on the U.S. healthcare system at $190 billion. Gallup estimates burned out, disengaged workers cost companies $3,400 out of every $10,000 in lost productivity, absenteeism, retention and medical expenses.

Employers can reduce employee burnout by emphasizing the importance of work-life balance and backing that up by limiting after hours work and encouraging employees to take time off. Better than a third of workers told Indeed that more time off, greater flexibility in scheduling and remote work would all help ease employee burnout.

Gallup detailed a more comprehensive approach in Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures. The report proposes three broad strategies for companies: Emphasize wellbeing in the company culture; educate manager to identify signs of burnout and equip them to prevent it, and improve the employee experience.

Echoing the Gallup recommendations, Indeed concludes its report with this advice for employers: “Awareness of the employee experience can help you develop an action plan to mitigate feelings of burnout, prevent costly churn and protect workers from burnout in a post-pandemic future.”

Contribution by John Zappe

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