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Employee burnout on the rise

19 January 2022 at 2:09 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
“Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

Nikki Stefanoff | 19 January 2022 at 2:09 pm


Employee burnout on the rise
19 January 2022 at 2:09 pm

“Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout.”

Employee burnout has increased by over five per cent in the last 12 months, driven by one simple reason: leaders don’t really understand what the global phenomenon really is. 

The Global Burnout Study, which was published yesterday and included non-profit sector organisations and workers in its research, found that burnout is predominantly caused by organisational structures and cultures, and is not the fault of an individual employee.  

Now in its second year, the study, authored by Dr John Chan of Infinite Potential and author, coach and burnout expert Sally Clarke, provides further evidence on the workplace patterns behind burnout, and what leaders can do to prevent it. 

The hope is that insights from this year’s study will help leaders develop strategies to protect their employees. 

The global study took place across 30 countries, had 3,273 respondents and found that 34.7 per cent of those surveyed were experiencing burnout, up from 29.6 per cent in 2020. Women in middle-management roles had the highest level of burnout among all job levels. 

The stress the pandemic placed on workplace culture

The last two years have seen an incomparable shift in the way both employers and employees see the workplace, and changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have meant uncertainty and high levels of stress on a global level. 

The rise of digitisation has brought with it a need to  ‘always be on’ and, with that, employee work-life balance has become harder to maintain. 

It was this type of ‘24/7 access to employees’ thinking, the study found, that led to burnout. Around 60 per cent of employees surveyed were more likely to take a sick day, 23 per cent were more likely to pay a visit to the emergency room and 40 per cent of people stated burnout as the reason they left their job in 2021. 

Read more: pre-pandemic working conditions contribute to mass burnout and fatigue

Burnout and the ‘Great Resignation’

The number of people currently leaving, or thinking about leaving, their jobs is so endemic that it’s been termed the ‘Great Resignation.’ It’s a global phenomenon, with research by Microsoft showing that over 40 per cent of employees are likely to leave their current job in the next three years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made society rethink what work looks like and realise that, sometimes, it’s about more than salary. 

Today’s employees, particularly millennials and Gen-Z, demand workplaces that are healthy, safe and, most importantly, balanced. They want their employers to understand that work is just one part of life, not all of it. 

Read more: why the ‘Great Resignation’ can help you find a better job

What can leaders do to help their employees? 

Chan and Clarke concluded that people-centred solutions are needed to address burnout effectively. 

“Structural and cultural shifts, not wellness initiatives, are needed to address the chronic workplace stress of burnout,” Chan said.

Informed by the study’s participants, the researchers have developed RISE – a new framework for leaders to take action on burnout by rethinking their approach, inspiring and supporting their people, and experimenting with new approaches.

The report stated that ​​to break the cycle, leaders must: “Rethink the structures of how work is done, Inspire others to actively prioritise wellbeing, Support managers through education and acknowledgement, and Experiment with solutions to end the chronic stress that causes burnout.” 

Leaders from Health Justice Australia (HJA) have been participating in the study as a way to develop a baseline on burnout among the health and legal assistance services they support. HJA chose to play a role in the research as a way to inform a strategic objective to support practitioner wellbeing among frontline health and legal help workers. 

Suzie Forell, research director, Health Justice Australia told Pro Bono News that the organisation had a strategic focus towards practitioner wellbeing and capability. 

“While practitioner wellbeing is important in its own right, it is also essential to practitioners being able to do their work well and look after the people they’re here to help,” Forell said.

“We hear from practitioners that working in health justice partnership helps them respond to the complex issues in their patients’ and clients’ lives. Now, through our involvement in this study, we can begin to measure the effect of collaborative approaches on practitioner wellbeing and the outcomes that services can achieve.”

The 10 causes of burnout
Lack of manager support
Unreasonable time pressure unmanageable workload
Unmanageable workload
Unclear and inconsistent communication from managers
Unfair/inequitable treatment
Poor senior leader role modelling
Lack of support structures and guidelines
Structural under-resourcing
Adherence to outdated modes of working
Values mismatch


You can read the full report here

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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