Workplace burnout seems to be getting worse – here are five stats that could explain why

70% of people say they have experienced burnout at work in the last 12 months, according to an MHR poll

There has been a positive transformation in the conversation about burnout over the past five years.

With mental health historically a taboo topic leading to employees suffering in silence, it’s been reassuring to see employers are eager to explore how they could help nurture a happy and healthy workforce.

Companies are running their own events and resource groups dedicated to exploring mental health. Boardrooms are beginning to see the irrefutable link between wellbeing and business success. The World Health Organization has even officially recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon, including it in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

But despite progress to smash this stigma, burnout remains prevalent. In fact, it could even be getting worse.

Even by the search volume of ‘burnout’ alone over the past five years, it is clear that more individuals than ever are completely exhausted and likely at a point of near overwhelm as they balance demanding jobs with the battle of day-to-day financial health, family or social relationships, and physical wellbeing.

Recognising this concerning trend and understanding the need to know one’s enemy, MHR – creator of the 2024 Mental Health At Work Guide – has been eager to learn more about the rising issue of burnout and consider what more employers could do.

Polling hundreds of individuals on X, formerly Twitter, MHR found that 70% of people have experienced symptoms of burnout at work in the last 12 months, such as exhaustion, irritation, or isolation – a staggeringly high number.

But why so high? From the same poll, here are five statistics that could explain the rise, and how they could shape the way companies tackle burnout.

1. 49% of people say a lack of support contributes to burnout

While there has been progress in implementing various systems of support for workers edging toward or experiencing burnout, it seems many employees still lack the help they need. This could both be due to a mere lack of resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), mental health services, and leave of absence policies; but could also be explained by a culture that discourages the adoption of this support, such as an unlimited time off policy that goes unused by company leaders prompting others to avoid taking advantage of the scheme.

What each workforce, team, and employee needs will be different, pushing HR teams to continuously listen and interact with workers to understand what support is still lacking, and whether there are any cultural barriers in place. More broadly, organisations must upskill and empower line managers to be better prepared to offer support, building a culture where check-ins with workers becomes an embedded norm.

2. 55% of people wouldn’t go to anyone if they experienced burnout

This is, perhaps, the most alarming finding from MHR’s poll. With over half of people saying they’d be most likely to not to talk to anyone if they experienced burnout, it is clear that many are still attempting to resolve this issue single-handedly.

Employers must educate their staff on the importance of talking to someone when they are suffering from burnout, but also create safe channels for workers to share their struggles without fear of retribution.

Finally, given that even in a psychologically safe environment people may still struggle to speak up when they experience burnout, HR teams should make sure they have the necessary skills, processes, and tools to identify and act on the warning signs of when an employee may be suffering.

3. 18% of people would first turn to their line manager if they experienced burnout and only 7% to HR

Continuing from the point above, this figure shows that burnout may be growing in prevalence as workers don’t feel confident turning to arguably their most important ally in the business.

With less than one in five people saying they would turn to their manager first if they experienced burnout, companies have to do more to equip managers with the capabilities to deal with mental health difficulties, including spotting warning signs and signposting to the appropriate support channels.

Moreover, the fact only 7% of people would turn to HR suggests they are not a trusted partner to employees. Employees require greater support from HR, their managers, and company leadership so they refrain from attempting to deal with burnout on their own, or else placing it solely on the shoulders of colleagues who may also be struggling.

4. 37% of people named Gen Z as the most susceptible generation to burnout, the highest of any generation

There is an argument to suggest that the growing prevalence of burnout as an issue may be because the conversation and education around the issue are rising. As more people become aware of the issue, more report it.

As younger generations who are far more open about mental health – such as Gen Z – enter the workforce, the conversation will grow. While this may initially lead to more cases of burnout being reported within the organisation, in the long-term it can facilitate a cultural shift in which all employees, managers, and leaders recognise the need to create a healthy workplace.

5. Only 23% of people think HR would overlook their own wellbeing to focus on the wellbeing of others

On the face of this finding, it seems many people believe HR professionals are invested in looking after their wellbeing, or even feel they cannot trust their HR teams to look out for them. However, 2024 HR Grapevine research finds 48% of over 300 surveyed HR professionals say their own wellbeing has declined over the past twelve months, pointing instead to a possible misconception.

It’s positive that many believe HR professionals take their wellbeing seriously, as HR must lead by example. However, with the reality showing a different story of burnout and mental health within the profession, HR teams must remember that to help others, they must first help themselves.

The cost of burnout

Of course, behind every statistic are countless stories that are far more personal and powerful than any number can reflect. Individuals struggling to cope with insurmountable pressure are pushed to the limit of poor mental and physical health. No doubt as an HR professional reading this you are aware of employees or peers who are or have faced burnout—or perhaps you have experienced it yourself.

The cost of burnout, not just to businesses but also to people, must be addressed. To do your part, read the 2024 Mental Health At Work Guide, or get in touch with MHR to see how they could help your company and its employees.

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