December 10, 2020
A December 2020 online study of 1,136 employed U.S. adults carried out by wellbeing provider Spring Health claims that more than three-quarters (76 percent) of U.S. employees are currently experiencing worker burnout. The coronavirus pandemic — along with major political upheavals and natural disasters ranging from wildfires to hurricanes — has led to skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and stress for U.S. employees, setting the stage for another crisis: worker burnout. Among U.S. employees experiencing worker burnout, 57 percent say worries about COVID-19 have been a contributing factor to their experiencing burnout, while 33 percent say worries about political issues have contributed to the problem.
The primary symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, feeling negative, cynical or detached from work, and reduced work performance. This state of physical and emotional exhaustion is often reached after an extended period of high stress.
Findings from the study suggest some populations are more heavily affected by the problem than others. Employed women, for example, are more likely than employed men to report they are currently experiencing the feelings (80 percent vs. 72 percent), and employed women in younger age brackets are more likely to experience them than older employed women (87 percent ages 18-44 vs. 74 percent ages 45-54).
“Employee burnout can present on a spectrum,” said Dr. Brown. “At its earliest stages, burnout can be mobilized more easily. Whether it’s offering more flexible work schedules for caretakers or rebalancing 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.”
This disruptive complete stage is more frequently reported by married or child-rearing employees. For example, while just 6 percent of unmarried U.S. employees report they are currently experiencing complete burnout, 12 percent of their married counterparts report the same. Moreover, 12 percent of working parents with children under 18 report they are currently experiencing complete burnout, while only 7 percent of those who do not have children under 18 report the same.
A sense of job insecurity, increased work responsibilities, and homeschooling or caregiving duties all contribute to today’s high rates. An alarming 36 percent of those experiencing worker the symptoms say that increased responsibilities at work contributed to them. Nearly a quarter of those experiencing symptoms (23 percent)—and a third of those aged 35-44 experiencing them (33 percent)—report insufficient paid time off as contributing to their experiencing worker 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 percent vs 24 percent).
When asked what they believed would help avoid or reduce their experience of worker burnout, many U.S. employees point to changes in workplace culture or employee benefits. For example:
- Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. employees (24 percent) believe that receiving better mental health-related policies at work, such as mental health days, would help them avoid or reduce symptoms.
- Almost a third of U.S. employees (30 percent) say reducing the number of hours spent working would help them avoid or reduce experiencing worker burnout—an understandable figure considering the reports of increased responsibilities at work experienced by those experiencing the problem.
- 30 percent also say receiving more paid time off from their employer would assist them in avoiding or reducing experiencing worker burnout.
- 26 percent say having a supportive and understanding manager at work would help them to reduce and avoid burnout.
The authors claim that these findings have important implications for organisations seeking to prevent and manage worker burnout. Reassessing workloads, paid time off policies, and wellness benefits are important actions employers can take to help workers adjust to a new work culture in which the boundaries between work and home have become blurred.