Pandemic Burnout, Part One: By Extending the Pandemic, the Delta Variant Has Worsened Employee Mental Health

    Posted by TASC Large Markets on Oct 1, 2021 2:22:38 PM

    At the beginning of the summer, many businesses and employees were planning for a post-pandemic return to normal. But the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant upset many of those plans, both by delaying a return to the office and by creating new stress and uncertainty for workers already exhausted by the challenges of living and working through 19 months of unprecedented disruption to their lives.


    The light at the end of the tunnel hasn’t gotten brighter

    When companies pushed back the dates of their return to onsite work, employees found themselves scrambling to change childcare and dependent care arrangements, knowing those arrangements might need to be changed again if and when the return actually happened. Workers already back in the office or the plant also faced new stressors because of the delta variant. Those who were vaccinated had to worry about the possibility of a breakthrough infection and about bringing the virus home to children too young to be vaccinated, while unvaccinated workers had to worry both about getting sick and the possibility that they would face a vaccine mandate from their employers. For everyone, the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, pandemic fatigue continues to worsen and place an increasing strain on mental health. Worry and stress over COVID has been shown to lead to difficulty sleeping, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, nervousness, worry, a significant increase in alcohol consumption and substance use, and in feelings of hopelessness.1 And, as the pandemic drags on, the risk of employee burnout continues to increase.

    Mental Illnesses are becoming the #1 pre-existing condition in the country

    As discussed in an earlier post, Pandemic-Related Burnout Is Real and Mental Wellness Benefits Are Key to Treating It, mental health in the American workplace was a growing concern before COVID. Pre-pandemic, about one in ten U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.2 But by early July of this year that percentage had risen to four in ten.3 One study found that cases of depression have tripled over the course of the pandemic.4 More than half (53%) of adults in households where someone has lost a job or suffered a reduction in income have experienced symptoms of mental illness.5 Meanwhile, 49% of women with children have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, and more than one in four of these women say they are considering leaving their jobs or reducing their hours.6 Others affected disproportionately include health care providers and other essential workers, Black adults and Hispanic or Latino adults, and people with lower incomes (less than $40,000 a year).7

    Given statistics like these, it’s not hard to believe that mental health illnesses are poised to replace obesity as the number one pre-existing condition in the United States.8

    The delta variant and employee burnout

    In addition to undermining the quality of an employee’s life, stress and depression also compromise that person’s job satisfaction and effectiveness. The CDC says that mental health challenges and stressors can hurt job performance and productivity, employee engagement, communication with coworkers, and, in some cases, physical capability and the ability to function on a daily basis.9 Employee burnout, which includes symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and lack of motivation, is a threat to your company’s retention efforts and to the gains in productivity you might have experienced during the first year of the pandemic. One survey found that 2/3 of workers said poor mental health had hurt their job performance during the pandemic, and 40% admitted they were currently struggling with burnout.10 In March of this year, 67% of employees said feeling of burnout had worsened over the course of the pandemic.11

    Many employees are thriving as remote workers. But even among workers who prefer to work remotely there can be long-term emotional challenges, including feelings of social isolation and loneliness, which can contribute to poor physical and mental health.12 More than half of all workers (53%) say they are working longer hours and having more difficulty putting work aside at the end of a day.13 Millennials, which now make up the biggest proportion of the American workforce, have reported the highest incidence of burnout.14

    Mental health experts say that the mental health consequences of the pandemic are likely to continue long after the pandemic itself is over. But with no clear end point in sight, organizations can’t afford to delay mental health benefits and assistance until that time.

    Addressing the growing mental health crisis

    If you’re concerned, you’re not alone. Eighty-five percent of employers report they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about employee mental health and wellness.15 And eight in ten employers believe the pandemic will continue to adversely affect employee wellbeing throughout the next six months.16

    Addressing this challenge means helping employees address mental health issues directly. But it also means helping them deal with outside forces that can significantly affect emotional wellbeing, such as health and physical wellness concerns, financial concerns, and family concerns. Now, with so many people working remotely, the line between work life and personal life has blurred, and benefits need to reflect that reality.

    In part two of this post, we’ll look at some of the strategies leading companies are employing to address their employees’ mental wellness needs and to combat a related phenomenon that has become known as “The Great Resignation.”

    Editor’s Note: TASC offers an Employee Achievement / Award Account, Wellness Reimbursement Arrangement, a Wellness Rewards Account, a Pet Insurance Reimbursement Account and a Pet Care Reimbursement Account from more than 50 benefit offerings that can be configured into custom plans that meet employee needs – where they are in life.


    1. “The implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse,” KFF, February 2021:
    2. Ibid.
    3. Ibid.
    4. Ibid.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Ibid.
    8. “COVID-19 and employee mental health:What employers can do,” JD Supra, April 2021:
    9. “Mental Health in the Workplace,” CDC, 2018:
    10. “Pandemic Burnout: The Toll of COVID-19 on Health Care Workers and Children,” Physicians for Human Rights, May 2021:
    11. “Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and 3 Strategies….” Indeed, March 2021:
    12. “The implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse,” KFF, February 2021:
    13. “Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and 3 Strategies….,” Indeed, March 2021:
    15. “Holistic approach to employee mental health recommended as pandemic drags on into fall,” Benefits Pro, September 2021:
    16. Ibid.