Survey: Most workers are feeling burned out; 4 ways HR can help

If there was even a scintilla of doubt that the ongoing pandemic is increasing burnout among American workers, a recent survey has put an end to any speculation.

Burnout Nation, an online survey of 1,136 employed U.S. adults, found a dramatic majority—76%—of survey participants are experiencing worker burnout. The survey was conducted online nationwide by The Harris Poll on behalf of Spring Health, a behavioral health benefits provider, from Nov. 9-11.

Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic—along with political upheaval and natural disasters ranging from wildfires to hurricanes—is at the root of skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety and stress for U.S. employees, according to Millard Brown, senior vice president, Medical Affairs, at Spring Health. Among U.S. employees experiencing worker burnout, 57% say worries about COVID-19 have been a contributing factor, while 33% say worries about political issues have contributed to burnout.

“The events of 2020 have put a tremendous amount of pressure on U.S. employees, especially those who are raising children or taking care of elderly loved ones,” Brown explains. “Burnout is extremely costly for organizations, so it’s imperative that leaders take steps now to reduce and manage burnout symptoms for their workforce.”

Related: Depression, anxiety on the rise for male employees

Brown notes that the primary symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, feeling negative, cynical or detached from work, and reduced work performance. And survey findings show some populations are more heavily affected by burnout than others. Employed women, for example, are more likely than employed men to report they are experiencing worker burnout (80% vs. 72%), and employed women in younger age brackets are more likely to experience burnout than older employed women (87% ages 18-44 vs. 74% ages 45-54).

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“Employee burnout can present on a spectrum,” Brown says. “At its earliest stages, burnout can be minimized more easily.” She adds that whether it’s offering more flexible work schedules for caretakers or re-balancing workloads that have been skewed by layoffs, employers have a lot of opportunities to support their team members without sacrificing larger organizational goals.

“Once an employee reaches the complete burnout stage, though, recovery can become a challenging and long-term process that significantly disrupts both the employee’s life and the organization’s efficacy,” Brown says.

Taken together, job insecurity, increased work responsibilities and homeschooling or caregiving duties all contribute to today’s high burnout rates. The survey reports that an alarming 36% of those experiencing worker burnout say that increased responsibilities at work contributed to their burnout.

Living situations too have an effect on burnout rates. Those experiencing worker burnout with spouses are more likely than their unmarried counterparts to report working from home as a contributing factor to worker burnout (38% vs 24%).

Four ways employers can help

That’s the bad news. As Brown notes, the good news is that employers can help manage, prevent and/or reduce employee burnout. When asked what they believed would help avoid or reduce their burnout, many employees point to changes in workplace culture or employee benefits. First, for example, 24% of employees polled believe that receiving better mental health-related policies at work, such as mental health days, would help them avoid or reduce experiencing worker burnout.

Related10 strategies to improve employees’ mental health

Second, 30% say reducing the number of hours spent working would help them avoid or reduce burnout. Third, almost one-third (30%) say receiving more paid time off would help, and, finally, 26% say having a supportive and understanding manager at work would help them reduce and avoid burnout.

These findings have important implications for organizations seeking to prevent and manage worker burnout, according to Brown, who adds that reassessing workloads, paid time off policies and wellness benefits all are important actions employers can take to help workers adjust to a new work culture–where within the massive shift to work from home, boundaries between work and home have become highly blurred.

Read more from HRE about mental health and benefits during COVID

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