COVID-19 pandemic leading to higher levels of employee burnout

The pandemic has made employee burnout and turnover worse, while hampering HR's ability to recruit. A recent survey breaks down the numbers.

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Even though more companies than ever are offering a better work-life balance through the use of hybrid work schedules, employee burnout and turnover are on the rise. According to The Age of Workplace Uncertainty, a new study from MindEdge Learning and the HR Certification Institute released Thursday, 80% of respondents said they are seeing an increase in employee burnout, with 37% citing a major increase.

"A lot of survey work we did before the pandemic suggested that burnout was becoming an issue, at least in part, because a lot of younger people were working multiple jobs in the gig economy," said Frank Connolly, director of communications and research at MindEdge Learning, a developer of academic courseware and professional development courses. "But reports of burnout have mushroomed during the pandemic ...." 

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids' education is a mammoth task. Here's how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Jobs that place people at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, such as healthcare workers, frontline workers in supermarkets and warehouses and first responders, are more likely to report burnout, he said. For some people who have never done it, working remotely can be stressful enough to lead to burnout as well.

"Burnout is a widespread problem, regardless of industry,"said Toni Frana, career coach and team lead at FlexJobs and Remote.co.  "Especially with remote work, where job and personal responsibilities are happening in the same space, even in the best of times there are friction points when balancing work and life. The pandemic has amplified these issues for everyone."

A recent FlexJobs survey found that 56% of remote workers experienced burnout during the pandemic, with 39% stating their mental health is worse now than it was in January 2020. 

Realizing this to be a serious issue, most MindEdge survey respondents said their organizations are introducing ways to reduce stress or plan to do so, a 9% increase over 2020's survey responses. Only 38% of respondents said their organizations were not doing anything to address employee burnout.

Employee turnover also is a major concern for HR. A majority (54%) of respondents said turnover is higher today than before the pandemic. Only 8% said turnover is down compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

"I think there are other factors affecting turnover," Connolly said. "Some people are reassessing their career goals and their life goals because of what they've been through in the last year-and-a-half. And some jobs became high-risk during the pandemic like restaurant workers, supermarket cashiers [and] truck drivers and people might be nervous about going back to them.

The pandemic also has forced a large majority of organizations to implement hybrid work arrangements to offer full- and/or part-time remote work structures—a trend that will likely continue into the future, the survey found.

With 63% of respondents reporting their organizations have instituted remote work programs that will likely continue for some time, 52% said they are hiring at a faster rate than before the pandemic. At 63%, respectively, healthcare and manufacturing are experiencing the greatest rates of increased hiring. Only 13% of respondents said they were hiring at a slower rate than before the pandemic, or not hiring at all. 

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Only 43% of respondents said they are requiring employees to return to the office full time. Hybrid work arrangements are most common in the financial services (92%) and technology (85%) sectors, followed closely by education (72%) and retail (65%).

Among respondents whose organizations are hiring, 66% say that recruiting is harder than before the pandemic. Another 40% say that they find remote onboarding to be harder than in-person onboarding. The only exception to this trend is remote interviewing, with 64% of respondents saying that remote interviews are at least as productive as in-person interviews, including 22% who say they are more productive.

"HR professionals continue to face challenges to traditional HR functions, including revamping workplace structures," Amy Dufrane, HRCI's CEO, said in a press release. 

Connolly said that even though recruiting was going digital before the pandemic, anecdotal evidence from HRCI indicates that remote recruiting presents new challenges for HR professionals. 

"At the most basic level, remote recruiting represents a significant change in the way many organizations operate—and change almost always takes some time to get used to," he said.

About the survey

MindEdge and HRCI's 2021 HR in The Age of Workplace Uncertainty survey of 1,012 HR professionals in the United States, was conducted online on September 9, 2021.

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By Allen Bernard

Now a freelance business writer and journalist, Allen Bernard is the former managing editor of CIOUpdate.com, eSecurityPlanet.com, ITSMWatch.com, and EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet.com. Throughout his 20-year career, Bernard has focused on explaining the...