Stress & Resilience

Employee Burnout Increasing During the Pandemic


Employee burnout has been a common problem in the workplace for decades; however, the coronavirus health crisis has deepened the burden. Even with most employees working remotely, burnout remains an ever-increasing challenge in the “new normal” of work. As a result, employee wellbeing has become a major concern for business owners in the wake of the global pandemic.

The World Health Organization in 2019 included workplace burnout in the International Classification of Diseases, defining it as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. And the year 2020 has been described as one of the most stressful years for businesses, increasing the global burden of employee burnout.

According to Monster, a global employment platform, about 69 percent of remote workers said they experienced burnout symptoms in a survey conducted in July last year. This is up from 20 percent from a similar survey two months earlier. Another survey by Flexijobs revealed that employees are now over three times more likely to report poor mental health during the pandemic.

These statistics are not surprising, as many employees are now having to deal with pay cuts, furloughs, and increasing job demands by business owners who want to recover quickly from the financial devastation of the lockdown.

In addition to these concerns, remote workers find juggling work in the home office and the demands of their private lives a major source of stress. Employees who work on-site also experience the anxiety of contracting the infection in the workplace, in addition to dealing with pandemic stress.

Workplace burnout, while often overlooked, impairs the growth of any business. Poor employee wellbeing may lead to physical and mental health problems down the line, which places more strain on workplace productivity and costs. Therefore, the challenge for business owners and HR professionals is to pivot workplace wellness strategies to improve employee wellbeing and limit burnout. Some of these strategies include:

Create Flexible Schedules

Letting your workers have some control over their workday takes a lot of stress off work. Creating flexible workhours provides workers with adequate time for personal activities, which helps them enjoy a healthier work-life balance. 

Encourage work from home options for your employees. HR managers may need to evaluate what works best for each employee and design work patterns accordingly. While some employees may find on-site work much more productive, others may be more productive working from a home office. 

Creating flexible schedules for remote workers also means encouraging clear boundaries. Having clearly-defined work and personal hours helps workers sign off safely after work to attend to personal activities. This reduces stress and gives them time to recharge without feeling guilty about it. 

Business owners should also encourage frequent breaks and virtual tea breaks to allow workers to ease off and unwind between assignments.

Create Fair Workloads

Several businesses laid off workers in the wake of the pandemic and are operating at lower staff capacities, so it is tempting to assign more workload to the small number of workers available. This, however, will rebound with poor outcomes, as heavy workload ultimately lowers productivity, increases stress, and limits output.

In addition to maintaining optimum staffing, HR needs to ensure a fair distribution of job responsibilities, to optimize productivity and prevent burnout. Communicate tasks clearly to employees and assign them with reasonable deadlines and at appropriate intervals. Overloading your employees will only drain them physically and mentally and yield poor results.

Further, HR should ensure responsibilities are assigned to those who are capable of executing them. If you assign tasks to someone with inadequate knowledge to handle them, you also need to provide adequate training and resources to guide them in completing the tasks. Assigning employees inappropriate tasks is a surefire way to cause burnout.

Keep Communication Lines Open

It’s bad enough that many workers have been working in isolation for months, as coronavirus restrictions get tough in many parts of the world. Business leaders need to open the lines of communication to reach their employees and build a healthy community. Initiate regular check-ins to know how your employees are doing and how well they are coping in these unprecedented times.

Also, working in a home office is a lot different from working in traditional office settings where collaborations are easy and fast. Your workers may be having difficulties understanding your goals for a task or how best to execute it, which is a common reason for employee burnout. Do not keep your remote workers in the dark. Communicate frequently and exhaustively about their job tasks, with regular updates about any changes that may be needed.

Also, business owners should leave no room for uncertainty. One of the major concerns employees have at this time is the future of their employment and finances. Instead of allowing gossips and speculations to create more uncertainty and fear among your employees, be open with them about plans to make the business thrive. Your employees may also provide useful feedback and suggestions to help your business grow amid the pandemic.

Offer Mental Health Support

Employees have been faced with many setbacks in the last year, with the surging cases of the new coronavirus strain increasing uncertainty and anxiety. Given this context, employers need to provide mental health support for their workers now more than ever. This time, however, mental health offerings should go beyond the traditional in-office initiatives. Consider adding virtual mental health solutions that remote workers can access.

Some creative solutions for mental health support include access to mental health resources, including webinars on stress management and other mental health issues, free subscriptions to mental health apps and platforms, and access to virtual exercise and meditation classes.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) may also offer access to licensed mental health professionals and counselors to help employees cope with pandemic stress and burnout. These are also important for workers dealing with alcohol and drug abuse to combat pandemic stress.

Help your Employees Prevent Burnout

The coronavirus pandemic has stretched the corporate world beyond its limits, plunging business leaders and workers into the most stressful time in the careers. These unparalleled times have led to economic downturns, workplace maladjustments, and uncertainties that continue to stress employees. Employers, therefore, need to pivot workplace strategies to create an environment in which employees are not only productive but also insulated from workplace stress.

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