Burnout, or the feeling of physical and mental exhaustion related to work, has long been an issue for employees. However, under the current pandemic, instances of burnout have intensified.
According to The Hartford’s July 2021 Future of Benefits Pulse Survey, burnout rates among working Americans remains high at 61%.
And the rates are even higher among female workers. The survey found 68% of female U.S. workers report experiencing burnout at work, compared to 52% of male U.S. workers.
When employees experience burnout, they can become disengaged.
“This can have disastrous effects,” said Dr. Michael Lacroix, medical director at The Hartford. “For example, if an assembly line worker or warehouse worker is experiencing burnout and feels disengaged, that could—and often does—lead to on-the job accidents and injuries. In addition, many employees who feel burned out or disengaged will start to look for other job opportunities.”
Burnout can also lead to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, which refers to the lost productivity that occurs when employees are not fully functioning in the workplace. This can result in:
· Lower employee production
· Increased workers’ compensation claims
· Lower bottom line for the employer
Solutions To Address Burnout
Burnout will likely remain a serious issue even after pandemic infection rates significantly decrease. This is due to the economic crunch caused by the pandemic, which forced many employers to lay off staff. Remaining employees then took on more responsibilities and longer hours.
Even with a return to normal, employees will likely keep their pandemic workload, possibly leading to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The Hartford’s claims data also shows that untreated mental health and substance use disorders can lead to unplanned absences and prolonged disability. In fact, mental health conditions are among the top five reasons for U.S. workers to file a short-term disability claim, according to the data.
However, there are steps that employees and employers can take to ease the burnout burden:
Maintain a Routine
There are physiological benefits to keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle and maintaining our circadian rhythm.
“If we’re not sleeping regularly, for instance, insulin resistance can occur,” said Dr. Adam Seidner, chief medical officer at The Hartford. “This condition means people will not use insulin appropriately and may start to gain weight, which puts them at risk for higher blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.”
To ensure a regular circadian rhythm, Seidner recommends that employees:
· Get up and go to bed at the same time
· Shower and dress just like they did before the pandemic, even if working remotely
· Try to eat meals at the same times
· Exercise and get exposure to sunlight
Expand Employee Benefits and Support
For employers, this may include:
· Offering greater access to behavioral health providers
· Promoting virtual providers
· Encouraging the use of employee assistance programs (EAPs) and mental health benefits
· Providing specialized caregiving services
· Enhanced wellness resources for financial, meditation, mindfulness and sleep support
Ask employees what resource gaps they see and be creative in filling those gaps. It is also important to offer year-round communications to employees so they are aware of the benefits offered to them and how to access help should they need it.
Stay Connected With Coworkers and Managers
An EY report about employee wellbeing in the time of COVID-19 cited research in Hong Kong after the 2003 SARS outbreak that found increased social connectedness offset the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic. For many people, connection with colleagues can provide an important buffer to their feelings of social isolation.
Encourage employees to stay regularly connected with virtual video meetings if they are working remotely. Managers – whether working on-site or remotely – should also connect regularly with their direct reports, even if it is simply to ask how they are or how their week has been.
Some organizations are also increasing employee sick days, vacation and other types of paid time off.
The Hartford partners with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to help employers and employees be stigma-free in the workplace and encourage those with mental health conditions to seek support.
In early August, NAMI gave employees in the national organization one week off for rest, in recognition of the physical and mental toll taken by the pandemic. Similarly, LinkedIn recently gave all 15,900 full-time workers the same paid week off in April to combat employee burnout, and ensure that when they returned to work, they did not have a barrage of emails from colleagues to catch up on, which could exacerbate burnout.
To help address workplace burnout, U.S. workers surveyed by The Hartford said they wanted their employers to offer a range of options including:
· Additional paid time off
· A condensed four-day work week
· Schedule flexibility
· Remote work options
· Company-wide mental health days
· A lighter workload
But perhaps the most important action managers can take is to evaluate if there are certain conditions in the workplace that can create the burnout among employees. Lacroix said that the conversation should try to identify what the employer can do to help ease the stress their employees are facing at work.
Business leaders must continue to prioritize employee mental health by fostering stigma-free company cultures, increasing access to wellness resources, adopting benefits and initiatives that reflect employee needs and encouraging early treatment. This will not only result in happier and healthier employees but can create a more inclusive workforce and better bottom lines over time.