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    Employees everywhere are feeling it.  Employee burnout. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, the compounding effects of stress and anxiety from social isolation, fears of contagion, added workloads where staffs have been reduced,  and (for many) the potential of financial ruin are mounting.  The cumulative effect is edging many of us close to, if not beyond, a breaking point.  With daily news media reporting on the spreading pandemic second wave in Europe, breakouts in colleges and newly rising infection rates in many states, we need to be prepared for not just a second wave of the virus, but the mental health impact of  a second wave of employee burnout.

    The executive recruiting firm, Korn Ferry, recently published an article, Burnout: The Second Wave, which brought attention to this looming issue facing employers throughout the country.  The article is worth a read, but excerpts are provided below.

    Employee burnout is increasing

    According to the article, nearly six in 10 employees reported feeling burned-out last month, compared to 45% in April. Moreover, as it becomes clear that the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, more employees are blaming the virus for their burnout, citing it as responsible for increased workloads, lack of support, and unclear performance expectations.

    Experts say the increase in instances of employee burnout is troubling given that employees have had some time to adjust to the “new normal” of remote working and fear of layoffs. What’s more, organizations have ramped up wellness efforts over the last four months. Now, however, the concern for organizations is employees sliding from burnout into anxiety, depression, or worse. “Organizations are looking hard at the impact that diminished informal interaction and personal support is having on employees,” says Mark Royal, a Korn Ferry senior director.

    Current efforts are not enough

    What many employers are finding is that Zoom check-ins and basic wellness activities like yoga classes, mindfulness training, and gym classes aren’t enough. In fact, instead of relieving stress, reports indicate that work-sponsored social activities over Zoom could actually be causing more stress. George Atkinson, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry, says right now wellness isn’t about programs or activities. Rather, he says, it is about “creating intimacy with employees to cut through the surface.”

    “People need to vent, but they aren’t comfortable talking about these kinds of issues with managers or coworkers,” says Atkinson. That puts the onus on managers and leaders to proactively engage with employees, something they aren’t necessarily comfortable with, given that they are legally bound by what they can and can’t ask about home, kids, and health.

    It’s not just the pandemic

    But it isn’t just the work-life imbalance created by the pandemic that is leading to burnout. It’s also ongoing racial unrest, wildfires, and the upcoming election, among other factors, that together with the pandemic are creating a general feeling of hopelessness and lack of control, experts say. To be sure, part of the problem is that people haven’t had time to take a breath because they are being hit with one metaphorical body blow after another.

    Another problem is that employees often don’t know that help is available for them. “Organizations need to proactively connect employees in need of help with available resources,” says Royal, pointing to benefits like psychological counseling, telehealth programs, employee resource groups, and company-supported childcare.

    Managing employee burnout 

    According to the Korn Ferry article, the most important thing leaders can do is to make sure employees know they are not alone in how they feel, nor should they feel guilty about it.  We agree, but we’d add several tips on how to handle burnout from an Espyr blog published last year.

    1. Learn your own strengths

    If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.   Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized and send burnout packing.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

    1. Understand your weaknesses

    In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  There are many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

    1. Develop strong partners at work

    It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

    Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

    1. Communicate

    If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

    1. Identify a good manager

    A recent Gallup study on stress and burnout at work found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

    1. Keep good health habits

    It goes without saying, but good basic health habits – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep –  can go a long way  in relieving stress and thus burnout.

    1. Consider a change

    Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

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