More workers have reported a deterioration of their mental health and feelings of burnout since the pandemic began. According to a September 2021 study, more than half the workers surveyed reported a decline in their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home environments. Employees feel more pressure to respond to work messages quickly and to respond after-hours. They find it hard to take a break from their technological devices.
On top of that, the exodus of employees from their jobs or from the workforce altogether means that remaining employees are spread thin. The rising workload spread amongst fewer employees has fueled the burnout dilemma.
Burnout has been pervasive across industries. Erin Kelly, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, authored a book titled “Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.” She describes how the new intensification of work creates chronic stress and attrition. “There had already been a speedup in many jobs before the pandemic, and then we turned up that volume,” Dr. Kelly commented.
How Employers are Handling Employee Burnout
Companies, desperate to retain employees, are searching for ways to curb burnout. The consensus is that it will take more than yoga sessions or meditation apps to fix the burnout problem. The tight labor market requires employers to compete for talent. Many employers are seeing attrition despite increases in financial incentives and other corporate perks.
According to pre-pandemic surveys conducted by MetLife, 60% of employees said that mental health should not be their employer’s responsibility. When employees were surveyed again in June 2021, 62% said mental well-being should be handled with employer assistance.
Team interventions have a positive impact on decreasing burnout. In her research, Dr. Kelly compared employees whose managers consistently checked in with them personally and professionally to a control group. She found those employees had lower mental stress levels and were 40% less likely to quit.
Flexibility Around Personal Commitments
The flexibility to complete work around their personal commitments also helps reduce burnout. Some managers have been cutting out superfluous meetings or Friday meetings.
“Employees reported that they just felt free.” Dr. Kelly stated. “It’s going to be easier to approach as a collective project than to stick your own neck out as an individual.”
Boeing announced a company-wide policy of meeting-free Fridays. The aerospace giant has also given managers discretion to offer white-collar workers more flexible work schedules.
Jane Fraser, the CEO of Citigroup, acknowledged that burnout results from a combination of factors. “It is not simply the long hours taking a toll. It is the density of the day. Bouncing from one Zoom to the next. Barely a minute to catch your breath. To reflect, digest, or prepare for what’s next,” she stated.
Expanding Time Off for More Personal Circumstances
The race for talent on Wall Street has led to new wellness perks. At Goldman Sachs, they are offering employees more time off for bereavement leave and pregnancy loss leave. Employees who have been with Goldman Sachs for at least 15 years are eligible for six weeks of unpaid sabbatical leave.
Company-wide holidays have also been implemented curb burnout. German software company SAP created a companywide mental-health holiday. In June 2021, female-founded dating app Bumble gave 800 employees an entire week off for mental well-being, while a few employees remained staffed to provide essential functions. Alternative arrangements were made with those few employees to also give them a mental health break.
Barrier to Curtailing Burnout: Clear Communication
One barrier to curtailing burnout has been that employees are unable to communicate with managers about unrealistic workloads. Ben Wigert is the lead researcher for Gallup’s workplace-management practice. He notes that a lack of manager support, as well as a lack of communication channels with managers, rank among the largest contributors to worker burnout.
“If you take a vacation and come back to the same work circumstances, it doesn’t solve the problem. It might upset you more,” Mr. Wigert explained. “The next time, you might not come back.”