Is Employee Burnout The Next Pandemic?

The term ‘burnout’ was introduced in the 1970s by the American psychologist, Freudenberger which was used to describe the consequences of stress in “helping” professions. In the year 2019, after WHO identified burnout as an occupational phenomenon and laid forth a constructed definition of the syndrome, the term gained widespread attention. Now, the year 2020 is closely witnessing ‘employee burnout’ while the spatial line between office and home has blurred. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines employee burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It has outlined three dimensions of the phenomenon which include feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion, increased negativity related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy. 

The Work Trend Index, designed to understand the effect of the pandemic on employees submitted a report based on Microsoft Teams’ productivity patterns. The survey involved more than 6,000 frontline and information workers from across the globe including Germany, Australia, Brazil, Singapore, Japan, India, the United States and the United Kingdom. According to the report, around 30% of respondents claimed that the pandemic has “increased their feelings of burnout at work” though the trend isn’t consistent across all countries. 

Due to intense online engagement, the remote workers feel corporate exclusion from the team and office-events. They do not feel supplemented with feedback and reviews as there isn’t any clarity about work expectations. The lack of visibility into workflows is yet another distressing element of ‘work from home’ reality which is taking a toll on workspace morale and productivity. After the shift to remote work, employees observed a jump in average workweeks by 3-4 hours, post-shift. The employees are also spending more time in meetings according to several studies. Yet another study of 3,900 employees and business leaders across 11 nations by The Workforce Institute at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) and Workplace Intelligence laid down the fact that burnout and fatigue can be equally observed amongst remote workers (43%) and physical workers (43%). 

Taking into consideration the situation in India, The7thFold’s Employee Wellbeing Survey 2020 which was recently concluded, reveals that 50% Indian employees or professionals are suffering from employee burnout. The reasons of stress range from uncertain career growth to isolation and relationship issues to insecurity about children’s education. The survey observed that the self-employed category is comparatively in a slightly better place than the employees working under an employer. 

The 2020 Eagle Hill Consulting COVID-19 Employee Burnout Survey which was conducted online by Ipsos on April 8-10, 2020, and August 13-17, 2020 included more than 1000 respondents from a random sample of employees working across the United States. It enlisted the following prominent causes of burnout-

  • 47% of the employees attributed burnout to the workload.
  • 39% claimed that the task of balancing work and personal life is exhaustive.
  • 37% indicated it results from a lack of communication, feedback, and moral support.
  • 30% of the workers pointed to deadline pressure and lack of clarity about expectations as the reason for burnout.
  • More than a quarter, i.e. around 28% said it’s performance expectations which lead to stress and anxiety.

Employee burnout can be related with security and business continuity concern which requires an integrated approach of management to avoid its direct impact on employee’s performance and the organization’s stability at large. Not just individuals or the organization face the repercussions of burnout but the entire country and economy. The WHO recently found that the global economy undergoes deprivation worth $1 trillion a year in productivity as a result of stress and depression. 

It has been observed that OYO, Google, PhonePe and Deloitte India have shown sensitization to the issue. Offering a five-day workweek, introducing a ‘do not work from home’ policy, providing three-day weekends, and opening up to the idea of ‘shared leave bank,’ these organizations have tried to support the mental well-being of their employees.  

In addition to lower productivity rate, employee burnout can result in a spike in health plan costs, unwanted absences and disabilities, and a less competitive workplace environment. Therefore, while the coronavirus pandemic is on, another psychological pandemic must be addressed at the earliest. Introducing effective communication strategies, curbing ‘monotonous work’ trend, allowing longer weekends and lesser workdays, prioritizing wellness leaves over sick leaves, introducing ‘no meeting’ days, normalizing the ‘shared leave’ culture are all measures which can be taken by the organizations or employers to avoid yet another pandemic, that is, EMPLOYEE BURNOUT.