The Factors Driving Burnout in 2021


Burnout, not just from work, but life, is rampant. The pandemic has affected workers in different ways, whether it’s not knowing when to log off or the disproportionate impact it’s having on mothers and families cramped into smaller workspaces and cut off from the peers they would typically work with.

All things considered, companies and the workforce have weathered the storm of the pandemic reasonably well. But the pressures of life during this period and the market uncertainty that has come from it have created an environment where employee stress levels are high and engagement with their work is tough to sustain.

This type of chronic workplace stress can cause feelings of exhaustion, negativity, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness in their work. But it’s worth noting why burnout is so important.

The fact is, burnout happens to people who love their work, are highly engaged and generally energized, productive workers. Over time, however, these workers may lack the personal skills to maintain their wellbeing. Without organizational support, that can quickly transform into burnout.

“You have to be on fire in order to burnout,” Lindsay Lagreid, Sr. Advisor at the Limeade Institute said in a recent webinar titled ‘A Roadmap to Burnout Recovery’. She added: “Burnout does not happen to the disengaged. People who are at risk for burnout are people who really care and are on fire about their work. You’ll have this rock star performer and then 18 months later the organization is okay parting ways with that person because something has changed. But it’s often that they’re burnt out and there’s an opportunity for the organization to understand what their role is in that.”

Factors of Burnout
Burnout is an experience, but it’s also a step along the journey that is the employee experience. It’s tempting to think that it’s solely a pandemic related problem. You might think that people are working longer hours from home and because their work and personal lives are blurring, it’s causing people to feel burnt out. Or it’s that they can’t take a vacation and the news cycle over the last year has all been a bit depressing.

There is truth to some of this and we saw that reflected in this year’s State of HR report. Some key statistics from the report as it relates to burnout are laid out in the infographic below.


But there is more driving burnout than just pandemic related factors. The truth is, much of it still comes from organizational factors that many companies were getting wrong before March of last year. Some key drivers of the burnout experience include:

Not enough time to get everything done
Lack of support from the organization
Growth stagnation
A disconnect between the company and personal values.
“We’ve seen the values disconnect piece come up a lot in the last year,” Lagreid said. “Especially around social issues like racial injustice, people were left wondering why their organizations didn’t respond in a way that was in line with their own moral values. A disconnect there can become draining and make it difficult to remain engaged in your work.”

Limeade’s research revealed the depth of the problem with a burnout at present. The number of employees that reported feeling burnt out pre-pandemic was 42%, a number that is concerning on its own. That number shot up to 72% in August. More than a third of respondents said that burnout was the most stressful aspect of COVID-19, despite all the other stressors they experienced in 2020.

There are a lot of things that companies can do to identify burnout and move people toward recovering from it. But for Rhonda Hall, the best offense is a good defense so to speak. Put simply, before the company makes any decisions that could impact the employees’ day-to-day work, leadership has to consider the broader implications of what they’re asking for.

“Burnout of staff was the single biggest challenge we had, whether it was HR staff or customer-facing staff,” Hall, CHRO at University Federal Credit Union said. “From an HR perspective, we’ve been in the center of all the decisions that are being made to accommodate people’s needs. Being a people-first, cultured organization, the first question we ask is what’s going to be the impact on our employees? That has added a layer of complexity, but it’s been worth it.”


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