Employee burnout on the rise, according to report

Many factors contribute to burnout, including ongoing crises. Picture: Karolina Grabowska /Pexels

Many factors contribute to burnout, including ongoing crises. Picture: Karolina Grabowska /Pexels

Published May 21, 2024


Job burnout is a type of work-related stress that leaves people feeling physically and emotionally worn out. It can also make individuals feel useless, powerless and empty.

While burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, some experts believe it might be linked to conditions like depression. Though burnout can increase the risk of depression, the two are different and require different treatments.

In today’s world of constant crises, International SOS, a top health and security services company, has highlighted insights from its Risk Outlook 2024 report.

The report shows that employee burning out because of crisis fatigue is becoming a major issue.

Around two-thirds of surveyed professionals expect more challenges in keeping their workforce healthy, secure and well. This is the highest level of concern seen in the past five years.

International SOS stresses the importance of organisations proactively addressing stress and burnout among their employees.

Many factors contribute to burnout, including ongoing crises, rising living costs, climate change worries and political tension.

In South Africa, the issues are compounded by a weak economy, high unemployment and inconsistent access to basic services like water and electricity.

Burnout is a major concern for organisations and needs immediate attention. Picture: Alena Shekhovtcova/Pexels

This creates a perfect storm for stress and burnout. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) estimates that about one in three South African employees experience burnout.

Burnout doesn’t adhere to a strict schedule but there are recognised periods throughout the year when it tends to peak.

The periods can vary, depending on individual circumstances, industry demands and cultural factors. However, some common patterns include the end of the financial year.

The lead-up to major holidays and the post-holiday period can be taxing. Big projects or product launches often require intense effort leading up to deadlines.

A series of ongoing crises have led to a state of “permacrisis”, where we no longer see the usual cycle of crisis followed by recovery. Instead, there’s constant unpredictability and stress.

The continuous state is causing more employee burnout, characterised by emotional exhaustion and lower productivity.

With the threat of future pandemics and other unexpected events, employers need to shift from just reacting to crises to being well-prepared in advance. The change is crucial to lessen the negative effects of permacrisis and burnout among workers.

Dr Kate O’Reilly, the regional medical director at International SOS, warned about the seriousness of the issue: “We are seeing a troubling trend of burnout affecting workplaces globally. Factors like heavier workloads, poor work-life balance and constant change are pushing employees into difficult territory.

“The line between professional and personal well-being is becoming less clear. Burnout is now a major concern for organisations and needs immediate attention.

“Employers must understand the root causes of burnout and work on creating jobs and environments that focus on overall employee well-being and sustainable performance.”

International SOS offers expert insights and advice to address burnout among the workforce:

Recognise the signs

Implement regular check-ins with employees to gauge their well-being and identify early signs of burnout.

Train managers to recognise signs of burnout and provide them with resources to support their teams effectively. Encourage open dialogue about mental health and destigmatise seeking help for stress-related issues.

Proactive measures

Take proactive steps to address burnout by providing access to mental health support programmes, including counselling services or employee assistance programmes.

Organise stress management workshops to equip employees with coping strategies and resilience-building techniques.

Enhance resilience

Foster a culture of resilience within the organisation by promoting work-life balance. Provide resources for employees to seek support if needed.

Establish clear protocols for managing stress-related absences and create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges.

Strategic planning

Develop comprehensive crisis management plans that specifically address burnout and stress-related challenges.

Include protocols for managing workload distribution during times of increased stress and establish mechanisms for monitoring and addressing employee wellbeing.

Collaborative efforts

Foster collaboration with external experts and organisations to leverage their expertise in addressing burnout and supporting employee well-being. Share best practices and learnings to collectively strengthen resilience and enhance support systems.