Employee burnout is on the rise, global study finds.
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > Employee burnout is on the rise, global study finds, and poor understanding is to blame

Employee burnout is on the rise, global study finds, and poor understanding is to blame

by Freya Lucas

January 24, 2022

The Global Burnout Study, released last week, has found that employee burnout has increased by over 5 per cent in the last 12 months, driven by one simple reason: leaders don’t really understand what the global phenomenon really is. In the piece below, The Sector draws on report insights compiled by Pro Bono to share insights of interest or relevance for the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. 


Including insights gathered from non-profit sector organisations and workers in its research, study authors found that burnout is predominantly caused by organisational structures and cultures, and is not the fault of an individual employee.  


Authors Dr John Chan of Infinite Potential and author, coach and burnout expert Sally Clarke hope that their findings will help leaders develop strategies to protect their employees while also providing further evidence on the workplace patterns behind burnout, and what leaders can do to prevent it. 


30 countries, more than 3,000 responses 


Using information gathered from more than 3,000 respondents in 30 countries around the world, the study found that nearly 40 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. 


Pandemic stress impacted workplace culture 


The unrelenting stress caused by uncertainty and disruption arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to what authors termed “an incomparable shift” in the way both employers and employees see the workplace, and has meant uncertainty and high levels of stress on a global level. 


While the opportunity to work from home for some has been a way to limit danger from the virus, it has also led to a culture of ‘always be on’, and with that, employee work/life balance has become harder to maintain. 


The “24/7 access to employees” thinking is a vital element in understanding why employees are burnt out, authors said. 


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. 


The Great Resignation 


Across a number of professions, including the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, employers are experiencing unprecedented recruitment pressures. Owing to the number of people who are actively leaving their jobs, or strongly considering leaving, the term ‘The Great Resignation’ has been coined, referring to the global phenomenon.


Research by Microsoft shows that over 40 per cent of employees are likely to leave their current job in the next three years, and that the pandemic has made employees reevaluate their priorities, with work now about much more than just salary. 


What do employees want? What can leaders do? 


Employees, particularly millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (those born between 1997 and the present day) are seeking workplaces which are healthy and safe, and which offer balance, with work being just one part of life, rather than being all consuming. 


People centred solutions are what’s needed to address burnout, the authors said. 


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


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, he added. 


The 10 causes of burnout


Ten key causes of burnout were identified in the study, namely: 


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


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