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Burning at both ends: The growth of employee burnout

As the pandemic has ravaged the working landscape, it has given rise to a multitude of worrying issues – burnout being one of the most austere. It is, of course, understandable on one hand. The tectonic shifts in how we carry out daily life have been immense. With the strains of uncertainty, change and fear proliferating into every atom of our being, it’s no wonder that employee mental wellbeing is teetering more precariously than ever. 

A recent survey concluded that 60% of workers in Ireland have noted increased stress since the onset of COVID. The signals are there that burnout is on the rise and if left unchecked, it could lead to a whole other sort of pandemic.


What is burnout?

Nicknamed the ‘civilisation’s disease,’ burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged stress. It pervades all industries and income brackets, egalitarian in who it affects. According to Gallup, as of 2020, 76% of US workers have admitted to feelings of burnout with varying frequency. Professional burnout can be a long and protracted affair, accumulating with time if not addressed. It’s becoming an increasingly acute issue, so much so that the World Health Organisation classified it as an official mental health condition in 2019. 

How does burnout manifest?

Nobody is immune to burnout and it can flare up differently depending on the person, but there are some telltale signs.

  • Exhaustion
  • Disengagement 
  • Absenteeism 
  • Lack of motivation
  • Drop in productivity 
  • Irritability 
  • Anxiety 
  • Isolation

Burnout is marked by a weariness in the employee that wasn’t present before. While stress generally forms the underlying trigger, the reasons can be diverse. From unfair treatment and unmanageable workloads, to a lack of communication and time pressures, burnout is insidious and can easily manifest from any number of nocuous employment situations. COVID only compounds these issues further. According to HBR, it is a mistake to treat this condition as a talent management or personal issue as it implicates the organisation as a whole. And the cost of burnout to a business can be staggering, especially in terms of productivity, attrition and loss of talent.


Ways to relieve burnout


It’s important to spot the signs and encourage employees to come forward if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Forbes even urges managers to become the ‘chief empathy officers’ for their team, or the sounding boards for issues. Pointed communication has come to the forefront with remote working, and this has to extend to wellbeing. Employees need to feel safe to bring work issues up and know that their company will take their concerns seriously. Discussing and identifying the components of burnout is the initial launchpad for a solution.


Never before have the edges of our work been so fluid. In a culture of an always-on workplace with fragmented hours and fragmented calendars, it’s important to offer both clarity and respite. Everything cannot be a priority. No one person can function with that mindset forever. There are always times when your employees may need to step up, but this has to be the exception not the rule. Recognise the hard work and encourage rest and breaks. In the face of increased workloads, job insecurity and frustrating routines, finding time to shut off is vital. Ensure your employees know that recharging is a requisite. 


According to recent data, companies have the opportunity to liberate up to 20% of an employee’s time by adhering to stricter policies of time management. Overworking is often a workplace norm, and is even celebrated. This culture has to be nipped in the bud. If a job cannot regularly be done in the scheduled time, it usually points to poor management. Freeing up an employee’s calendar allows them to spread their wings a little too. It offers an opportunity to upskill or research or be creative. With a touch more flexibility over their routine, employee’s feel more engaged in their work.


COVID-19 unfortunately changed a lot of the rules. So many people are gasping for normality, fighting each day to support themselves. No-one would blame them for burning-out. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented. The lasting consequences of burnout are severe. Early identification and actionable steps can head the issue off at the pass and ensure both your company and people are at peak performance.

One last thing! Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up-to-date on SocialTalent and all the latest trends in talent management. Looking for more information on remote working? Why not check out this blog post on how to make your company culture flourish when working from home.

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