Why is employee burnout on the rise globally?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 20 January, 2022 - 12:00
Industry news
National News

Employee burnout has increased by more than 5 per cent over the past 12 months, according to a new report which has found middle managers and women are reporting higher levels of burnout within organisations.

Burnout has a significant negative impact on a person’s overall wellbeing, productivity and quality of work, and the report said the degree of this negative impact has grown substantially in the past year.

The Global Workplace Burnout Study, conducted by consulting firm Infinite Potential, took in 3273 respondents across 30 countries, and found almost 34.7 per cent of those surveyed were experiencing burnout, up from 29.6 per cent in 2020.

“In the last two years, the world has experienced the most rapid and significant levels of workplace change since the first industrial revolution,” the report said.

“The changes caused by the covid-19 pandemic created peak levels of volatility and uncertainty in people’s personal and professional lives.”

While feeling exhausted and stressed is a perfectly normal response to uncertain times, the report said prolonged and extreme levels of stress can lead some to experience burnout.

This is a more complex and multifaceted issue, however, the report noted burnout is over-reported in the media due to a fundamental misunderstanding of burnout.

“Burnout is caused by organisational structures and cultures,” said the report.

“Burnout is not the fault of the individual and is not caused by individual factors or circumstances.”

People are seeking structural and cultural shifts – not wellness initiatives – to address the issues that cause chronic workplace stress.

Furthermore, short-term fixes and individual-focused ‘solutions’ have little to no preventative or curative effect on burnout.

The report also recommended a number of steps for leaders to address burnout:

1. Purposely and regularly prioritise wellbeing and burnout as discussion topics across the organisation. Create a culture of openness and safety for these discussions to occur,

2. Review workloads and adjust individual job responsibilities to ensure roles are healthy and sustainable,

3. Leaders must RISE (Rethink, Inspire, Support and Experiment) to the challenge of burnout and embed wellbeing as part of the business strategy,

4. Identify metrics to measure pressure points that can cause chronic stress within the organisation (e.g., hours worked outside of normal working day), and

5. Create structures that require people to rest and recharge after stressful or intense periods.