COVID-19 has exacerbated a 75% job burnout rate, study says

Of the three-quarters who experienced burnout at work, 40% specifically cited the COVID-19 crisis as the cause in new survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America.

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Image: Lacheev, Getty Images/iStockPhoto

A new survey, from FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) taken late last month reported that 75% of workers have experienced burnout, and 40% of those polled said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Seventy-six-percent of respondents were currently working remotely. Working at home has meant longer hours (reported by 37% since mid-March), the result of starting the workday earlier and ending it later, due to a fuzzy line between working online and just being online.

Contributing factors to this pandemic-induced burnout include--but are not limited to--disruptive responsibilities throughout the day, such as deliveries, the ramped-up use of likely crowded food-prep areas, all meals eaten at home by all the inhabitants, and the addition of at-home schooling. There's also the tendency to start checking work emails upon waking up, and responding to those work emails before and after a work day.

The report cited the current top stressors:

  • COVID-19
  • Personal finances
  • Current events
  • Concern over family's health
  • The economy
  • Job responsibilities

"One of the most important things remote workers can do is to set clear boundaries between their work time and non-work time, and HR needs to take an active role in helping workers practice healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives," said Carol Cochran, VP of people & culture at FlexJobs, in a press release. 

"Offering flexible scheduling to employees can have a dramatic impact on reducing burnout, since rigid work schedules usually magnify conflict between work and family, leading workers to mental exhaustion," Cochran continued. The report found that  56% of the 1,500 total polled said their workplace could offer support and mitigation of burnout through flexibility in their workday. Employees would also welcome leaders encouraging time off (43%), as well as offering mental-health days (also 43%).

Another way employees would like support offered are through increased paid time off (PTO) and better health insurance (28%). 

Whether it's close quarters or a heavier workload, employees are now three-times as likely to report poor mental health now vs. before the pandemic (5% vs. 18%). Pre-pandemic, 7% of currently unemployed workers assessed their mental health as poor or very poor, but that number has spiked to 27%. Now, 42% of those employed and 47% of the unemployed rate their stress levels at "high" or even "very high."

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More than three-quarters (75%) agreed that workplace stress has an affect on their mental health, causing conditions such as  depression or anxiety.

Many indicated a strong interest in attending virtual mental-health solutions offered through their jobs, such as meditation sessions and virtual workout classes; this is likely because just more than half (51%) of workers agreed they're getting the emotional support they need "at" work to help manage stress. Virtual sessions respondents were enthusiastic about meditation sessions (45%), healthy eating classes (38%), virtual workout classes (37%), desktop yoga (32%), and webinars about mental health topics (31%). 

People are likely confused about who to approach with pending or existing burnout: Should they speak with their team leaders, their bosses, or the human resources department? Unfortunately, only 21% said they were able to have open, productive conversations with the HR department and ask for solutions for their burnout, and 56% said their HR departments did not encourage discussions on burnout.

"Company leadership, including executives, HR, and management, have a responsibility to their employees to model and talk openly about behaviors that reduce stress, prevent burnout, and help employees establish the appropriate boundaries when working remotely," said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO at MHA. 

The survey also included tips to avoid burnout as a remote worker:

  1. Develop boundaries between work and personal life, even if that means creating a designated workspace. If that's not feasible, shut down and store your computer in a drawer or closet until the work day begins anew next. Develop a ritual.
  2. Turn off email and work notifications after work hours. You should not be available all the time, and let your team leaders and teammates know your general schedule so they know when you're "off the clock." 
  3. Schedule more personal activities, tap your go-to hobbies, schedule a hike, work on a puzzle, etc., so you have something specific to do with your personal time.
  4. Discuss a flexible schedule with your supervisor, to control your days and balance personal and professional responsibilities.
  5. Focus on work during work time, and don't let "life" things creep too much into work. If you're productive in that work frame of time, you'll feel accomplished and better enjoy your personal time.
  6. Take a mental health screening if stress feels unmanageable or if you have other mental health concerns. A free, confidential and anonymous mental-health screen can determine if you have symptoms of a mental-health condition.

"Most importantly, leaders should strive to create a healthy company culture that values the individual as a person, and prioritizes the overall wellness of its workers," Cochran recommended. 

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