Although the concept of occupational burnout originated in the 1970s, it was only in 2019 the World Health Organization finally included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, describing it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This definition acknowledged that burnout is more than just an employee problem; it’s an organizational problem that requires an organizational solution.
Unfortunately, the majority of corporations has put the burden of solving the problem on the shoulders of individual employees. There is a desperately need of upstream interventions, and I feel this need every time one of my connections from the corporate world shares his / her feelings in / outside the coaching and mentoring sessions.
Malaise, burnout, depression, stress — all of these were here before COVID-19, but now they are getting worse.
By April 2020 places of employment for 81% of the global workforce were fully or partially closed and a huge mass of employees began doing their tasks from home. This unexpected, unplanned experiment made the burnout much, much worse.
The feeling of constantly being “on” made people feel exhausted, both physically and emotionally. The current crisis contributes to burnout in ways that just working from home during a normal time wouldn’t. Most of us are trying to do everything—work, exercise, relax, socialize—in a space we didn’t previously use for all these things.
Yesterday, one of my recent connections was telling me: „The lobby of our small apartment became, since March 2020, the place of networking with my two teenagers kids and my husband during our breaks... My kids are attending the online classes from their bedroom, my husband and I are sharing the kitchen and living room for work...”
Some weeks ago, a mentee was telling me that she begun to have dreams about work at night...
Margaret Wehrenberg, an expert on anxiety and the author of the book “Pandemic Anxiety: Fear, Stress, and Loss in Traumatic Times” said:
“When people are under a long period of chronic, unpredictable stress, they develop behavioral anhedonia, meaning the loss of the ability to take pleasure in their activities.”
Natasha Rajah, a professor of psychiatry at McGill University said the longevity of the pandemic had contributed to a sense that time was moving differently:
“There’s definitely a change in how people are reporting memories and cognitive experiences. They have fewer rich details about their personal memories, and more negative content to their memories. People may be having a harder time forming working memories and paying attention, with “a reduced ability to hold things in their minds, manipulate thoughts and plan for the future.”
Teaming up with several professionals, Jennifer Moss - journalist, author, speaker and workplace expert, created a survey that analyzes the state of burnout and well-being during Covid-19. With support from Harvard Business Review, they gathered feedback from more than 1,500 respondents in 46 countries, in various sectors, roles, and seniority levels, last autumn.
The statistics spoke by themselves showing that burnout is a GLOBAL PROBLEM:
- 89% of respondents said their work life was getting worse.
- 85% said their well-being had declined.
- 56% said their job demands had increased.
- 62% of the people who were struggling to manage their workloads had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months.
- 55% of all respondents didn’t feel that they had been able to balance their home and work life.
- 25% felt unable to maintain a strong connection with family, 39% with colleagues, and 50% with friends.
- Only 21% rated their well-being as “good,” and around 2% rated it as “excellent.”
The same study shows that millennials have the highest levels of burnout, mainly due to having less autonomy at work, lower seniority, and greater financial stressors and feelings of loneliness.
How did we get here?
Jennifer Moss is mentioning some of the major causes in her book „The Burnout Epidemic”, published by Harvard Business Press this January.
Overwork was the most-cited reason for burnout and decreased well-being. A research from Gallup (from March 2020) has shown that the risk of occupational burnout increases significantly when an employee’s workweek averages more than 50 hours, and rises even more substantially at 60 hours.
Some organizations saw the value of allowing employees more flexibility, but too many did not! Childcare options were limited, with day care centers and schools closed and grandparents separated from their extended families.
Allowing more meetings and unhealthful levels of screen time.
According to Steven Rogelberg of UNC Charlotte, who wrote The Surprising Science of Meetings, pre-Covid-19 studies showed that about 55 million meetings a day were held in the United States alone and that U.S. organizations wasted $37 billion annually because most meetings were unproductive.
Now, we are also suffering of Zoom burnout...It is a fact that video calls are actually harder on us physically and mentally because our brains find it more challenging to process nonverbals like facial expressions and body language.
The pandemic was simply an accelerant for the extreme burnout levels we are experiencing today. In the first weeks of the pandemic, most of us were expecting it to end within a month or two. And, here we are, after almost 14 months, in the middle of what a Burnout Pandemic... If we do not take structured, solid actions NOW, we will face a total nightmare!
About actions, burnout stages, I intend to write in a follow-up article.
By that time, I leave you with some signs based on which you can recognize the „Work-From-Home Burnout” and act before it is too late:
- Going through mood changes like irritability, sadness, or anger
- Experiencing symptoms of depression, like hopelessness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, or fatigue
- Feeling discouraged or apathetic about work
- Getting poor sleep, experiencing insomnia, or having trouble falling asleep
- Losing track of tasks
- Not completing work on time
- Drinking more alcohol than normal, or drinking to cope
- Experiencing physical symptoms like chest pain, headaches, increased illness, heart palpitations, dizziness or fainting, or gastrointestinal pain.