PeopleImages / iStock
While the transition to remote work proved seamless for many organizations and served as a welcomed reprieve for employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, feeling of goodwill began to dissipate as the pandemic wore on through the rest of 2020.
A lack of work-life effectiveness coupled with health concerns has led to a significant uptick in employee burnout, according research from Clever, which found that 41% of the 1,000 U.S. workers surveyed experienced burnout in 2020, a syndrome caused by chronic workplace stress.
Upcoming WorldatWork research found that 74% of the 501 employees it surveyed have felt burned out at work at least some of the time, with 26% noting they feel this way all the time or very often.
This became apparent to many organizations throughout the past year, which led to some organizations providing their employees with “recharge days” in addition to accrued paid time off. Clever’s research, however, found that workers were reluctant to use their allotted time off, with only 14% of workers reporting they took all of their vacation days in 2020, despite the fact 28% can’t roll unused days into the new year.
The survey also found that 37% of employees experienced such intense stress from their job that it frequently affected their personal life. Additionally, 40% of people agreed that remote work supports better work-life balance, however, remote workers said they struggled to prevent work from bleeding into nights and weekends.
Beyond the obvious mental health concerns, employee burnout can lead to a severe decrease in productivity. Burnt-out employees are 13% less confident in their performance and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room, according to Gallup. Workplace stress costs U.S. companies an estimated $300 billion annually. The World Health Organization estimates that every $1 companies invest in mental health treatment yields a $4 return in improved health and productivity.
Remote work, while the survey ultimately found contributed to positive employee well-being, does have variables to it that contribute to burnout. Among remote workers Clever surveyed, 63% said they find it difficult to shut down after work, potentially undermining the restorative potential of evenings, weekends and vacation time. Remote workers also tend to work longer hours, with 42% starting the workday early and ending the workday late. Nearly one-third of remote workers (28%) said they also devote holidays, weekends, or other non-workdays to completing work tasks.
Mental Health Days
For the past year, the pandemic has had a disruptive impact on travel plans — potentially impacting how and whether workers use their PTO. Clever’s survey found that at the end of 2020, the average worker still had seven unused vacation days, or nearly 1.5 weeks away from work they didn't use.
In fact, only 35% of workers attempted to use all of their annual vacation days in 2020 — even though 28% could not roll unused days into the next year. Despite this, 60% of the employees surveyed agreed it’s important to use PTO for mental health days. However, lockdowns and travel restrictions caused many workers to forego their vacation days. Relevant to that, WorldatWork’s survey found that 54% of employees it surveyed said reduced social interaction with friends and family influenced the burnout they experienced.
The leading concerns that cause people to avoid taking time off in the Clever survey include:
- A heavy workload (32%).
- Fear of missing important information or opportunities (26%).
- Feelings of guilt (23%).
- Concerns about their perceived commitment to work (19%).
Even if workers intend to take care of their mental health and have the capacity to take PTO, company culture can prevent them from doing so. Though both in-office and remote workers struggle to take advantage of their PTO benefits, remote workers may have better access to a wider array of coping mechanisms. Clever found that remote workers are:
- 35% more likely to report journaling.
- 17% more likely to unplug from electronic devices.
- 11% more likely to practice meditation at least once per week.
“Stretched thin by the demands of their jobs and the reality of the pandemic, more than two out of every five workers are struggling with burnout. Left unchecked, this burnout can cause productivity to plummet and workers’ health to decline,” said Francesca Ortegren, Ph.D., the data science and research product manager at Clever. “Without a supportive company culture, burnt-out employees are unlikely to enact the work-life balance they need. Companies that ignore this problem can face costly losses, disruptive turnover, and an ailing workforce that struggles to remain productive.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.