Employee Burnout During COVID-19 - Strategies to Help Staff Recover

Mental Health

Man showing symptoms of burnout while working late to finish his tasks.

Exhausting is a word that has been used by many to describe lockdown. It may come as a surprise that staying at home, having fewer commitments and not rushing in and out of the car could be so tiring, though people who are under stay at home orders are just that - tired. It’s showing in their work and personal lives, with many employees complaining of symptoms of burnout. It is crucial that organisations understand the importance of supporting its employees during the pandemic, and many are looking for ways to help keep staff going in these difficult times.


Difficulties Faced By Employees During the Pandemic

For more than 18 months, employees have been adapting to changing circumstances. The way they live and work has drastically changed in this time. For some, the changes have been relatively minor and, in some ways, welcomed. For others, the pandemic has brought with it major change and challenges to overcome. Many have missed out on holidays and celebrations, which has contributed to their sadness.


Work From Home Arrangements

Working from home has been one of the most widespread changes. Some staff have embraced working from home and vowed never to return to working five days a week in the office. They’ve enjoyed the more flexible work arrangements and have happily given up the commute to and from work. These employees may have found that their productivity has sky-rocketed, with fewer disruptions from colleagues and a noisy office.

Other employees haven’t enjoyed working from home. They may feel isolated and lonely because the face-to-face interaction with colleagues has gone. Some have found it difficult to concentrate on tasks when they have the distractions of home. Modelling shows that working from home due to COVID restrictions has caused productivity levels to decrease by 3%, but for staff that are feeling burnt out, the drop in productivity is likely far greater.


Juggling Parenting and Home School with Work

For working parents, the biggest struggle has been around the closure of schools. Some have had multiple children at home for months, requiring their attention to assist their children and keep them on task with schoolwork throughout the day. When children aren’t doing school work, some complain of boredom, which means their parents need to spend time entertaining them whilst working from home. Parents have often had to juggle work and children through the work day during the pandemic, with some even starting their day early and/or finishing late in the night to get through their work.

Younger children who went to childcare while their parents went to work have needed to be cared for at home while childcare centres were closed. The competing commitments of children and work have been a major source of stress for many parents.


Signs of Employee Burnout

When employees are in the workplace, it may be more obvious to spot the signs of burnout than when they’re working from home. However, it’s important that managers look for the signs, which include:

  • Increased error rate

  • Poor motivation or productivity

  • Increase in illness, particularly headaches and feeling tired

  • Feelings of frustration


5 Strategies for Overcoming Employee Burnout

When employees felt stressed before the pandemic, they may have been more inclined to take annual leave and go on holiday. However, with lockdowns and border closures, holidays have been almost impossible to organise. As a result, these employees have continued to work, which has increased their stress levels over time.


#1 Educate Employees on Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Organisations should remind all staff that they have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The service provides employees with free access to qualified psychologists at PeopleSense to talk through their concerns. The psychologist can provide the employee with strategies for helping to cope with the uncertainty, stress and increased workload.


#2 Check-in With Employees Regularly

Some staff are struggling with isolation, so meeting online or talking over the phone more regularly can help. There are many other ways to check-in with employees, including more one-on-one meetings with employees who may be at risk of burnout, or even more team meetings to keep friendships alive and the lines of communication open. Staying connected with colleagues can help to reduce stress levels for some staff who may be worried about their work performance or just feeling lonely.


#3 Encourage Staff to Ask for Help

Remind staff that the virtual door is always open. If they’re experiencing any problems or struggling in any way, they should ask to speak to their manager or, if they prefer, someone from HR. Tell staff that you understand that people are struggling more than ever during these times. Reassure staff that it’s ok to ask for help rather than be stressed by the increasing workload.


#4 Offer Reassurance and Appreciation

Some employees think their employer doesn’t understand the strain they’re under with children at home or an increased workload. When managers take the time to tell staff that their contribution is greatly valued and they're doing a good job, it can go a long way to making someone’s day. Some organisations have taken the time to send personal notes or gifts to employees working from home, thanking them for their efforts. These small gestures can help employees feel more valued and make their day.


#5 Encourage Time Away From the Screen

Finally, organisations should remind their employees to take regular breaks away from the computer. This can be done by encouraging coffee breaks outdoors, taking walks or engaging in hobbies. Some organisations have facilitated group messages where employees can share pictures of their walks or hobbies during lockdown periods.


An Uncertain Future

Part of the problem for many people is the uncertain future we all face.

For some organisations, the end of lockdown will bring new challenges. Those businesses that need to welcome back customers under strict rules around social distancing, QR code sign-in and restrictions on the unvaccinated may have to contend with more aggressive, unhappy people. Staff are bracing themselves for possible abuse from unhappy customers.

For some employees, they may be worried about the increase in infections as people move around more freely. They might be reluctant to get on busy public transport, return to the office, eat in a packed restaurant or have visitors to their house. 

Employers can admit that they don’t know what the future will hold but should reassure staff that they will do what they can to look after their health and wellbeing.     

For more information, see details of our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Counselling, call us on 1800 258 487 or get in contact online.

Category: Mental Health