Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2021. For the latest insights on addressing employee burnout, visit our Work Wellbeing employer hub or download Indeed’s Work Wellbeing Playbook.

Key Takeaways

  • Employee burnout has only gotten worse over the last year: more than half (52%) of respondents are feeling burned out, and more than two-thirds (67%) believe the feeling has worsened over the course of the pandemic. 
  • Those who work virtually are more likely to say burnout has worsened over the course of the pandemic (38%) than are those working on site (28%); other notable differences can also be found in each group’s ability to unplug and the availability of perks.
  • Based on our survey data, we’ve found that three best practices can help employers prevent burnout.    

Does it seem like your team or coworkers are more tired, less motivated or struggling to stay focused? You’re probably right: These are just a few of the hallmark signs of employee burnout.

The causes and impacts of employee burnout, however, are evolving. What was once discussed as a phenomenon largely afflicting millennials seems to have become much more pervasive, impacting all ages and types of workers as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its second year in the U.S.

While the future remains uncertain, one thing is clear: Employee burnout is a reality employers can’t afford to ignore. To gauge the current state of burnout, Indeed surveyed 1,500 U.S. workers of different age groups, experience levels and industries and compared our findings against existing survey data from January 2020 — just before the pandemic struck the U.S. Based on these insights, we’ve compiled a few best practices employers can use to curb burnout before it’s too late.

67% of all workers believe burnout has worsened during the pandemic.

Source: Indeed

Two-thirds of workers say the pandemic has worsened employee burnout

When comparing year-over-year data, we find that burnout is on the rise. Over half (52%) of survey respondents are experiencing burnout in 2021, up from the 43% who said the same in our pre-COVID survey. 

FIfty-three percent of millennials1 were already burned out pre-COVID, and they remain the most affected population, with 59% experiencing it today. However, Gen Z1 is now neck and neck: 58% report burnout, up from 47% who said the same in 2020. 

The pandemic’s toll is also more apparent among older generations: Baby boomers1 show a 7% increase in burnout from prepandemic levels (24%) to today (31%). And at 54%, more than half of Gen Xers1 are currently burned out — a 14% jump from the 40% who felt this way last year.

Graph: How feelings of burnout have changed during COVID-19 according to Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Among all respondents, 80% believe COVID-19 has impacted workplace burnout, though how and to what extent vary. A 67% majority say burnout has worsened during the pandemic, though 13% believe it has gotten better.

Whether employees are working remotely versus on site also seems to impact perceptions of burnout. Perhaps counterintuitively, those who work virtually are more likely to say burnout has worsened over the course of the pandemic (38%) than are those working on site (28%). Similarly, on-site workers are more likely than their virtual counterparts to say COVID-19 hasn’t affected burnout (25% and 13%, respectively). 

This is likely a reflection of workers’ struggle to find work-life balance during the pandemic: 27% of all respondents are unable to unplug from work, whether due to an inability to take time off or a lack of clear boundaries between the workplace and home (more on this in the next section). Various stress factors also contribute to feelings of burnout during the pandemic, from finances, with 33% worried about paying monthly bills, to health concerns, cited by 25%. 

Here, too, we see differences based on generation and worker type: Gen Z, Gen X and boomers all cite difficulty paying bills as their top reason for feeling burned out, while for millennials, it’s the lack of free time (mentioned by 40%). A lack of paid time off (PTO) also plays a role: 30% of on-site workers say this is their main reason for burnout, compared to only 20% of remote workers.

27% of all workers are unable to unplug from work.

Source: Indeed

Fifty-three percent are working longer hours, making unplugging that much harder

Looking deeper at the impact of the pandemic on employee burnout, more than half (53%) of virtual or work-from-home (WFH) employees are working more hours now than they were in the office: Nearly one-third (31%) say they are working “much more” than before the pandemic. Figures are similar for on-site workers: 27% are working more on a daily basis, and 34% are doing the same on a weekly basis. 

Reasons for the increase in hours also vary by job type. Of those who WFH, 38% say they feel pressure from management to work more hours, while 21% say it’s a toss-up between pressure from managers and customers or clients. For those working on site, the majority say the pressure is self-imposed (43%).

This data counters the myth that remote employees don’t work as hard or as much as those working in the office. Besides, technology that makes work accessible anytime, from anywhere, can virtually eliminate the boundaries between work and personal life. 

Sixty-one percent of remote workers and 53% of on-site workers now find it more difficult to “unplug” from work during off-hours. Nearly 40% (39%) of all workers say they check emails outside of regular work hours every day. Troublingly, only 6% of virtual workers say they “never” check emails after hours.

While the pandemic has exacerbated these workplace challenges, it has also highlighted areas where employers can focus their efforts to improve working conditions. We’ll look at some of these next.

36% of all workers say more PTO could help reduce burnout.

Source: Indeed

Preventing employee burnout for the duration of COVID-19 (and beyond)

Many workers have taken matters of burnout into their own hands by focusing on self-care and mental health, finding better work-life balance and exploring new hobbies. But simply waiting out the pandemic is no longer a viable strategy for employers who want to retain talent; they’ve got to address burnout at the source.

Here are a few ways to stop workplace burnout in its tracks:

1. Create more flexibility in scheduling and encourage time off. 

The ability for employees to take time off is critical to wellbeing — and to your bottom line — and it’s only more important during difficult times. Yet 16% of workers haven’t taken any time off during the pandemic, while 14% have taken less time off than they did before. 

Employees say that more flexibility in scheduling and working remotely, or simply more PTO, could help to reduce burnout (36% each).  Employees also behave in accordance with company culture, so it’s important that managers model the behavior they want to see. Ensure leaders are taking time off, too, and encouraging direct reports to do the same. If they’re not, use this opportunity to address the issues holding them back.

2. Emphasize the importance of work-life balance.

Some 70% of all respondents say they have access to work communications on their phones, making them 84% more likely to work after hours. This spread is surprisingly even between virtual and on-site workers.  

Encourage employees to turn off work communications during PTO, holidays and off-hours. Reassure staff that it’s okay to have other priorities outside of work and to take breaks when they need to. Make sure managers are modeling those positive behaviors, too, and that your workplace culture supports it.

3. Reevaluate employee perks and benefits.

Many employers adjusted benefits over the last year, from the addition of health benefits such as virtual mental health support to more casual dress codes and extra company holidays. The most popular COVID-era perk is flex scheduling, with 90% of virtual and 77% of on-site workers taking advantage of the offering.

Chart: 90% of virtual workers use the perk of flex scheduling compared to 77% of on-site workers.

Source: Indeed

The majority of workers say these types of perks have been at least “somewhat effective” in helping them combat COVID-related stress (82% of virtual and 70% of on-site employees respond this way). 

This suggests that the right perks can help combat workplace burnout — but what makes a perk the right fit may differ by organization. Collect employee feedback through surveys or other coordinated communications, and use those findings to improve the workplace experience and to retain and attract top talent

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Nearly three-quarters of workers we surveyed feel employee burnout has gotten worse since this time last year. No doubt, COVID-19 has fanned the flames of some troubling workplace trends, from burnout to ghosting and the erosion of workplace culture

Luckily, employers can take steps to change course and provide employees with much-needed support. Awareness of the employee experience can help you develop an action plan to mitigate feelings of burnout, prevent costly churn and protect workers from burnout in a post-pandemic future.

1According to Pew Research data: “Gen Z” includes anyone born between 1997 and 2012; ”millennials” includes anyone born between 1981 and 1996; “Gen X” includes anyone born between 1965 and 1980; and “baby boomers” includes anyone born between 1946 and 1964.