Why some workers are burning out more than others

New assignments are adding another layer of stress

Why some workers are burning out more than others

Courage and agility are valuable in the new world of work, and workers have demonstrated this by taking on new assignments and responsibilities at the start of the COVID-19 crisis. But, as one study on workplace resilience revealed, one in four employees – who stepped up to the challenge of a new workload – also saw their job stress levels and tendency to burn out increase in the pandemic.

Workers who were given additional responsibilities reportedly witnessed their workplace stress skyrocket by more than four times, while their feelings of burnout also more than doubled, according to the findings of meQuilibrium, a technology firm that uses neuroscience and artificial intelligence to understand the phenomenon of resilience at work.

Read more: A mental health crisis is coming – here's how HR can help

“While new work assignments and roles are commonplace, what’s different today is that it adds another layer of stress onto employees whose well-being has already been diminished,” said Dr. Andrew Shatte, chief knowledge officer and co-founder of meQuilibrium. The firm also observed employees, whose workload expanded during the pandemic, were far less motivated than colleagues who didn’t step up to the plate.

And it isn’t just professional obligations that have started to take a toll on workers’ mental health, either. Those who took on extra duties at home have also been struggling through the crisis. About one in five employees had additional caregiving responsibilities, and these people saw a 16% jump in burnout, twice the increase in stress and nearly twice the decrease in motivation, experts noted.

Read more: Mental health: C-suite struggles in the pandemic

“Employees are also challenged by new caregiving responsibilities at home – taking care of children, virtual schooling, and more. This can also impact well-being and motivation and many people don’t have the ability to adapt,” Dr. Shatte said. “While hope is on the horizon, we are still observing a continued slide in well-being and motivation, and a decreasing ability to handle self-care.”

Which workers appeared to be more vulnerable to the pressures of work and home? The researchers observed the following:

  • Employees who had “poor emotion control” had a 73% decrease in motivation.
  • Those with low energy showed an 82% increase in physical symptoms of stress, a 92% decrease in motivation, and a 61% increase in job worries.
  • Those who were not engaged had a 112% increase in burnout symptoms.

“The three E’s – emotion control, energy and engagement are crucial resilience skills,” Dr. Shatte said. “We know that employees are struggling. But, if HR leaders make resilience a priority, we can move the needle and reverse the dip in worker well-being.”

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