Most of us are burned out; what more can HR do to help?

With the pandemic driving higher rates of burnout, organizations should step up with flexibility, mental health days, employees say.
By: | August 27, 2020 • 3 min read

The vast majority of workers say they’re experiencing burnout at work, in large part due to the pandemic—and they also say they aren’t getting the help they need from their HR departments.

A staggering 75% of employees say they’ve faced burnout at work, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout during the pandemic specifically, according to a July survey of more than 1,500 respondents from FlexJobs, fielded in partnership with Mental Health America.

New from HRE: How COVID-19 will redefine workplace flexibility forever

Longer hours—37% of employees report working more since the pandemic started—and intense stress are in part to blame for the increase in burnout levels.

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Further adding to workers’ stress is the feeling that their employer, and HR department in particular, is not helping with their concerns. Just 21% said they were able to have open, productive conversations with HR about solutions to their burnout. More than half (56%) went so far as to say that their HR leaders did not encourage conversations about burnout.

“One of the most important things remote workers can do is to set clear boundaries between their work time and non-work time, and HR needs to take an active role in helping workers practice healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives,” says Carol Cochran, vice president of people and culture at FlexJobs, an online job service.

The new data out this week adds to a slew of recent research indicating that the current environment is one of the worst times for employees on record and that the pandemic is taking a dramatic toll on mental wellbeing. Research out last week from Total Brain found that the risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen a whopping 102% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—and 305% for workers aged 20-39.

Related: Is COVID-19 a turning point for workplace mental health?

FlexJobs data similarly found that workers are more than three times as likely to report poor mental health now than before the pandemic. Before COVID-19, 5% of employed workers said their mental health was poor or very poor; that number has jumped to 18%. Top stressors include COVID-19, personal finances, current events, concern over their family’s health, the economy and job responsibilities.

What can help with burnout and other mental health struggles? Flexibility in workdays is most important, workers say. Encouraging time off, offering mental health days, increasing paid time off and offering better health insurance are also actions of support that employees want, the survey found.

Survey respondents said they would be open to using virtual mental health solutions, such as meditation sessions, healthy eating classes, virtual workout classes, desktop yoga and webinars about mental health topics, if they were offered through their workplace.

Related: Employers’ strategy for getting employees healthy during COVID: virtual fitness

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Importantly, says Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO at MHA, company leadership—including executives, HR and management—“have a responsibility to their employees to model and talk openly about behaviors that reduce stress, prevent burnout and help employees establish the appropriate boundaries when working remotely.

“Offering flexibility during the workday, encouraging employees to use their PTO when they need a vacation, and providing time off for employees to tend to their mental health can help employees at all levels of a company cope with COVID-19 and other stressors.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.