Burnout epidemic: fighting the war on employee disengagement

This WORKTECH Wednesday briefing explores new research on workforce burnout and how companies can combat its adverse effects by fostering open and safe workplace cultures

Burnout is often characterised by the feeling of chronic stress and exhaustion as a consequence of meeting the demands and pressures of the work environment. Sufferers of burnout can experience a loss of motivation and feelings of helplessness, detachment and depression.

New research from Leesman has found that burnout is a growing concern for business leaders, particularly as employee wellbeing has risen to the fore during the pandemic.

Currently, only 15 per cent of the global workforce is fully engaged in their work. In the US, UK and Canada the engaged figure rises to roughly 30 per cent, but that still means that over two thirds of the workforce is actively disengaged. Disengagement is one of the key symptoms of burnout and research has shown that Covid-19 has exacerbated the conditions that lead to work-related burnout in employees.

‘The pandemic has exacerbated the conditions that lead to ‘brain fog’ in employees…’

The pandemic has taken its toll on our mental state; the psychological impact of the past 12 months must not be underestimated. Neuroscience research observed a condition known as ‘brain fog’ – a term for poor cognitive function – in lockdowns compared to when restrictions were eased.

Individuals suffered from an inhibited ability to concentrate on a variety of tasks, issues with short-term memory and a smaller capacity for problem-solving. The research suggested that this occurrence could have been set off by the increased isolation or a lack of variety in people’s daily routine. It may also be a symptom of prolonged stress and anxiety.

Employees were expected to meet pre-pandemic productivity levels, particularly at the beginning of lockdown when people were feeling anxious and confused about the global state of play. The experience of the ‘workplace’ has undergone a paradigm shift from productive work environments in the office to busy households full of distractions unrelated to work, or – alternatively – households which are completely void of social interaction altogether.

‘Wellbeing strategies need to be rooted in empathy and active listening to combat burnout…’

The Leesman research has found that people living alone and workers under 30 were the more isolated and the most at risk of burnout. Leesman found that younger workers found working remotely more difficult, partly down to an ability to learn from others and connect with colleagues. Many younger employees feel like they are experiencing a pause in their career growth.

Workplace wellbeing strategies have long since been in place to combat the negative impacts of workplace pressures, but these strategies can be incredibly tone-deaf if they aren’t rooted in empathy and active listening to employee needs. Interventions to address workplace burnout can be implemented by consistently asking how people are feeling and to create environments of open and safe conversations. By taking the problem on at its inception, these interventions can be conducted in a non-intrusive way.

As organisations begin their journey back into the office, employee wellbeing will be at the top of the corporate agenda. While for many this process will involve large investments in wellness strategies, the silver bullet could be to empathise and actively listen to what employees want so they feel heard and understood.

Championing employee experience

New UK-based research from business messaging app service Slack has revealed a slightly more optimistic outlook on the pathway to achieve employee wellbeing. While the results recognise that more than half (56 per cent) of workers have experienced burnout since the first lockdown in March 2020, it also found that the same number of people feel that their employer is already making improvements to work culture, through initiative that promote wellbeing or providing further flexibility.

While the research indicates that companies who offer increased work flexibility are the most attractive to perspective employees, more than 40 per cent of employees who have worked from home in the last year are concerned they won’t have the same level of flexible working in the future.

Combating burnout and championing the welfare of employees essentially boils down to creating an engaging and safe work environment and culture. A quarter of UK employees are more attracted to companies who actively fight burnout by being proactive about the mental health and wellness of their people. To achieve this, employers need to take their employee experience to the next level by making sure the strategies and policies in place will protect the wellbeing of their employees in the future.

Workplace wellbeing on the rise

As organisations continue to fight the war on employee burnout, they will need plenty of inspiration from world leaders and best in class examples. WORKTECH Events is introducing its annual WORKTECH Wellbeing conference to the virtual stage on 26-27 May This event will address the current challenges and opportunities around physical, mental and financial wellbeing. Attendees will hear from industry experts, including five-time TED talk speaker and sound expert Julien Treasure.

The event will also share global case studies, best practice and latest innovations and research around workplace wellbeing. It will be split into five streams: healthy workplace communities, redefining workplace wellbeing, mindful leadership, prioritising people, and healthy innovative buildings.

Find out more about the event here.


In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 5 May 2021.
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