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Has burnout increased during COVID-19?

remote worker on sofa with laptop, taken from iHASCO's effective remote working training course

There is an argument that employee burnout is on the rise as a result of the workplace pressures created by the global pandemic. In some circumstances, employees have experienced longer working hours, unmanageable workloads, a poor work-life balance and increased concerns about job security and targets. Many remote workers have found the line between work and home has become blurred, workers have faced even longer working days and staff absences have put additional pressure on employees. All or a combination of these stress factors can create the perfect recipe for burnout. In fact, a survey carried out by Robert Walters found that 47% of managers thought their employees may be at risk of burnout. 

Anecdotal evidence shows that employees who were juggling home schooling and work were getting up early, working late and feeling increased pressures to remain productive and prove their worth. In the long run these working patterns are not sustainable, and whilst the majority of schools remain open there are still closures across the country as a result of further outbreaks of the virus, meaning some employees still have a lot on their plate. As COVID-19 is still very much causing challenges, the threat of burnout is still there. However even pre-COVID, burnout was recognised as an occupational illness by the World Health Organisation as a “syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” As a result employees feel mentally and physically exhausted, experience job dissatisfaction and become less productive and disengaged with their team and the company. Not only that but evidence suggests that employee burnout may increase the chance of workplace accidents, as those suffering with burnout become less aware of their surroundings. For example, burned-out employees who are operating machinery or driving may increase the risk to their safety.

Whilst employees in some industries appear more susceptible to burnout, it can happen to anyone in any occupation. The pandemic has seen people resigning from their jobs as a result of stress or reevaluating their career choices due to an overload of pressure and increased demands. You don’t have to look far on LinkedIn to find examples of this.

Even before COVID-19, despite a growing focus on employee wellbeing, productivity has often been measured by the hours you put in. The pandemic has caused organisations to reevaluate what success looks like, whilst navigating the challenges brought by the virus. Initially, organisations went into survival mode but after almost three quarters of a year later there has been a chance to fine tune processes and take a step back to see what is working and what isn’t. Some companies have continued to encourage an open culture, shown employee appreciation throughout the pandemic as well as continued to support staff wellbeing, however it is not the same across all workplaces and employers have the opportunity to make future changes, which will only strengthen their business. 

Whether employees are remote workers, key workers or have a job that they must go to a designated place of work, it is undeniable that COVID-19 hasn’t impacted them in some way. The pandemic has created workplace challenges that have never been seen before. Whilst some employees have begun to recognise the importance of downtime and switching off, there are others that have not even noticed they are burnt out or do not have the confidence to discuss it with their employer for fear of losing their job or not being considered for a promotion. Employers must take responsibility for looking after the welfare of their employees. The pandemic has heightened this further and those companies who strive to create a working environment where their employees can thrive, will help increase productivity and strengthen relationships with their staff and ultimately customers.  

The role of employers

Employers need to be mindful about the impact of COVID-19 on their staff. Ensuring workloads are manageable, encouraging staff to take holiday, offering rewards and recognition for success and building team morale are just a few of the ways employers can help prevent burnout. 

Staff training in areas of mental health awareness, building resilience and stress awareness training can help build an effective wellbeing strategy or provide a good place to start in providing awareness about the importance of employee mental health and wellbeing. It can help employers and employees spot the signs of workplace stress so it can be dealt with as it arises and ultimately ensure employees are comfortable discussing these issues. Why not sign up for a free trial of our mental health and wellbeing training courses to see how they can benefit your staff.

iHASCO's online stress awareness and management course
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