Burnout, stress and disconnection are now our most urgent workplace mental health issues

burnoutThis has been a tough year all round, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cause seismic shifts in how we live and work. Surveys across various countries indicate that employees are experiencing more feelings of burnout, stress and disconnection as the pandemic is taking a toll on people’s mental health. What’s causing this and what can we do to combat it?

It may come as no surprise that many workers have reported feeling increased levels of stress during the pandemic. With job uncertainties and growing unemployment rates across the EU, it is entirely understandable why many employees are worrying about their future employment prospects and financial situation. Those working in hard-hit sectors such as the arts, tourism, and hospitality are also especially vulnerable to the impact of restrictions and lower wages.

A survey carried out by the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, found that half of all employees reported feeling less connected to their teams when working from home and that women in particular are finding it difficult to balance work and home life.

Before the crisis started, women on average did nearly three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. Lockdowns, COVID-19 restrictions, and school closures have only increased the demands for childcare, carers, and domestic work on women. Juggling full or part-time work with childcare and family commitments can be challenging at the best of times, add on school closures and/or caring for sick relatives, all while maintain strict social distancing and hygiene measures, and this can take a toll on even the most organised of people.


Regaining the balance

So, what can we do to rebalance the scale and prevent mass burnout among employees? There is surely no one-size-fits-all answer but there are still plenty of options on the table.

Transitioning to a blended working environment is a popular idea with many employees and is a good way of gradually winning over those who are more sceptical about returning to the workplace full-time. Companies could scale back or dial up their in-office operations more effectively in line with government COVID regulations and reinforce the community feel among employees. It may also offer a welcome reprieve for parents looking to juggle childcare costs with work.

Flexible working hours could be an alternative for parents who need to balance home schooling with their work commitments. This, of course, depends on the role a person has. This is unlikely to be an option for those in customer-centric roles. The German model of Kurzarbeit (short-term working allowance) is also being implemented across more countries such as the UK, which will give employers the opportunity to reduce staff working hours with the government stepping in to top up some of the missing salary. The aim of this is not to cut staff hours, but to minimise the risk of job losses. Anyone who is potentially struggling to balance work and home life commitments should consider asking if this is an option at their company.

Placing more focus on mental health in the workplace to promote staff wellbeing and address issues like burnout was already an emerging trend prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic certainly throws the need for this into sharp focus. Managers need to have honest, open and non-judgemental conversations with staff about stress and anxieties and seek to find solutions that work for both employee and employer. Not doing this risks staff burn out, crashing productivity and low morale which are all much harder to come back from.

Love it or loathe it, how we work is shifting. Mentalities need to shift with this.