Covid Burnout: Workplace Culture Is On The Decline

An article detailing the increase in burnout amongst Covid and it’s impact on workplace culture, as well as strategies for managers on how to support employees and prevent burnout.

This article will cover:

  • How COVID-19 has led to an increase in employee burnout – what is causing it? 
  • Why is it important to avoid employee burnout as an organisation?
  • How do you notice Covid burnout as a manager? 
  • How do you avoid it?  (eg. ways to re-engage your staff during the pandemic)
  • Benefits of fostering a positive workplace culture 

COVID-19 and Workplace Burnout 

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, an increasing number of employees are feeling heightened levels of anxiety. Recent research suggests that around 7 in 10 workers are suffering from burnout in the wake of COVID. The biggest problem to have surfaced is the lack of separation between work and private lives (thanks to remote working). Additionally, pay cuts have been common place, workloads have increased, while work hours have decreased. It’s no wonder that feelings of anxiety and burnout are present. Considering all of the above, it seems inevitable. 

Pandemics lead to change and change can often lead to stress. Stress, of course, could easily lead to burnout. Unfortunately, without appropriate stress management, it can affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Therefore, recognising the signs and how to manage this kind of stress is crucial to avoiding burnout. Burnout is now an officially recognisable condition, costing billions a year. The World Health Organisation reports that burnout refers specifically to phenomena in an occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life. 

Home-schooling, caring for sick relatives, and worrying about job security are all common causes of stress during these unprecedented times. Additionally, given the lack of separation between work life and private life, it is not surprising to see burnout increasing and productivity dipping. Research demonstrates burnt out employees have decreased situational awareness. Being less aware of your surroundings can increase workplace accidents (environmental), cause conflict (social), and decrease productivity (profit) – all of which will inevitably have an impact on your triple bottom line.  

Signs of Covid Burnout: What To Look Out For

There are many signs of burnout but they are not all easy to spot. You may see anxiety, depression, anger, and irritability amongst staff or within yourself. Other symptoms include a weakened immune response, trouble sleeping, sleeping more, low energy, high blood pressure, a variety of aches and pains, or even cardiovascular impacts. In a work environment, you might notice decreased productivity, difficulty concentrating, sudden emotional outbreaks, resentment, and feelings of disillusionment or cynicism. Increased sick days and higher employee turnovers are also commonplace. 

What To Do In the Face of Covid Burnout

As a leader, you have a responsibility to protect your team from burnout. It should be of the highest priority, especially amidst the difficult time of the global pandemic. You cannot expect your employees to be ‘always on’. If you tend to respond to e-mails outside of standard business hours, make sure you have a written line indicating that you do not expect the receiver to work at those hours. Keep in mind that employees mostly want to perform based on the culture and expectations that are set by management. It is your job to set a good example for employees to follow. 

Tactics To Combat Covid Burnout

Help manage your employees’ workloads. No two workers are the same. Some may be more flexible while others more detailed orientated. Adjust tasks to workers and their skill sets. The most important tip is to communicate regularly and actively listen. Checking in with employees is crucial. And do so regularly! You do not want to become a micro-manager, but not checking in will leave employees feeling despondent and not cared for. You could also miss out on potential issues. 

This is a time to get more creative and inventive. Come up with new ways to manage staff that may even serve you better post-pandemic. Most organisations have by now mastered managing remote teams (or at a minimum, figured out a video conferencing tool that is effective for their teams). Resist the temptation to make work tactical through strict processes, rules, and procedures. For example, if you let your employees have a longer lunch and time for a healthy walk, they may come up with a creative solution to a work problem and be more productive after hours, when they get back to completing their tasks outside of normal working hours. 

Get Personal: Make Connections

Check in with employees on a more personal basis, particularly during this time of workers increasingly working from home. Do they have the appropriate office furniture? Are they receiving support from staff that they may no longer have direct access to? How are they going with social distancing? Are they suffering additional stress due to a partner losing a job? Provide support beyond the workplace and make sure employees are aware of the support available to them. 

If you want an engaged team member who is not burning out, you need to provide an environment for them to do this in. Give your staff the opportunity to present different solutions. As a manger, it is easy to get distracted by the strategy and big picture. You may feel overwhelmed yourself. Keep an eye on yourself and lead by example, but don’t be afraid to share your experiences with staff. People connect through stories. 

Be the hero in the pandemic who creates a ‘non-burnout’ culture, a supporting work environment where productivity can rise, staff can thrive, and innovation can come to life. 

Written by Tanya Finnie

Tanya Finnie is the founder of Redhead Communications, a leadership and cultural strategy consultancy firm. As a global cultural strategist, she works with organisations who are looking to grow situational awareness, innovation and their in-house culture.  This helps them to be more collaborative, leveraging their diversity and growing their ROI. She also runs a diversity magazine called Cultural Times, is a mom and a dog lover.