Pandemic-Related Burnout Is Real and Mental Wellness Benefits Are Key to Treating It

    Posted by TASC Large Markets on Apr 20, 2021 2:13:19 PM


    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental and emotional stress on the job was becoming a public health emergency, with more than 200 million workdays lost each year because of mental health conditions.1 In one pre-pandemic study, 50% of all Millennial workers and 75% of all Gen-Z workers said they had either left or lost a job due in part to mental health challenges.2 Across all generations, 61% of workers said mental health had an effect on their productivity.3

    COVID Made a Bad Problem Worse

    The pandemic added significantly to that problem. A study conducted in 2020 found that 67% of employees—and, in particular, women and workers making a lower income—were feeling more stressed because of the pandemic.4 Another survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2020 found that more than one-fourth of all workers (29%) considered themselves depressed as a direct result of the pandemic.5 A poll conducted prior to Labor Day 2020 found that 58% of the U.S. workforce felt “burnt out”—an increase of 13% in less than a year.6

    Depression, loneliness caused by working remotely and with limited social interaction, anxiety about health, and worries about money—all of these things have gotten worse during the pandemic, contributing to a growing epidemic of employee burnout.

    How Employees Get Burnt Out

    To understand how to address burnout, it’s important to understand how the job itself can contribute to it. Although an excessive workload is often part of the equation, it’s not the only factor. A recent study found that 39% of workers who felt burnt-out attributed it to the stress of trying to balance their work and personal lives, something that many employees have found much more difficult during the pandemic.7 Lack of communication, feedback and perceived support on the job—challenges made greater by the move to remote work—are the key contributing factors cited by 37% of self-described “burnt out” workers.8 There are also factors like “Zoom-fatigue” from too many hours spent in virtual meetings, and the encroachment of work time on family and personal time. (Forty percent of remote or partially remote workers say the length of their workday has increased over the past 12 months.9)

    One of the biggest dangers posed by burnout is that it can be contagious. Executives and managers who are burnt out can create conditions where burnout becomes more likely for their reports. It can cascade downward and infect an entire organization.

    What to Look For

    A first step in addressing burnout is effective monitoring of its presence in your organization. Mental and emotional wellness aren’t easy to gauge in a remote-working situation, but there are things to look for. For example, an employee who has begun attending video meetings with the camera off might be feeling overwhelmed. The same goes for someone who seems to be having trouble processing information they would normally be able manage. Are they uncharacteristically confused? Repeating the same questions? That might be an indicator of burnout. The same goes for a normally communicative employee who has gone silent or a conscientious employee who is suddenly struggling with deadlines. Encourage managers to watch for these burnout indicators. Meanwhile, you can help monitor overall trends by taking regular employee surveys and hosting focus groups.

    What Other Companies are Doing

    Many companies aren’t waiting for burnout to become a problem before they act. In one study, over half of employers—including high-profile companies like Starbucks and Target—have already implemented special emotional and mental health programs for employees as a result of the pandemic.10 According to a survey of midsized and larger companies, 69% were offering teletherapy, 50% were offering stress management, and 49% offered were offering help building emotional resilency.11 And more companies are following suit. In planning their 2021 benefits, 25% of companies said they planned to enhance benefits for mental health support, including (but not limited to) Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).12 Giving your EAP offerings more prominence, and encouraging employees to utilize them, can be one way of helping improve mental and emotional wellness.

    Incentivizing Mental Health and Wellness

    Increasingly, companies are also offering financial incentives for improving mental and emotional wellness similar to the ones traditionally offered for enhancing physical wellness.   Currently, 15% of financial incentives are reserved for employees who act to maintain or improve their mental, financial, and emotional health. These generally take the form of either direct payments, premium reductions or contributions to a health savings account.13 Ask TASC how you can add benefits like these quickly and in a way that works for both employees and the company.

    Mental wellness efforts and benefits are likely to continue growing even when the pandemic is over. Why? In part because the effects of the mental and emotional strain caused by COVID-19 won’t just disappear when the virus does. It will take a dedicated effort by employers to help heal the emotional and mental damage, and to reverse levels of stress and burnout that were already unacceptably high before the world ever heard about COVID.

    It comes down to this: statistics show that a sense of mental wellbeing makes employees more productive and less likely to leave their employer.14 For companies to be successful and resilient, they need employees who are also successful and resilient. And that means recognizing the importance of mental wellness and fostering it in your organization.

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


    1. “Research: People Want Their Employers to Talk About Mental Health,” Harvard Business Review, October 2019:
    2. “Half of millennials and 75% of Gen-Zers have left jobs for mental health reasons,” CNBC, October 2019:
    3. Ibid.
    4. “Well-Being Programs, Voluntary Benefits Help Stressed Employees Cope,” SHRM, July 2020:
    5. “Workforce Depression High Due to Pandemic,” EHS, March 2021:
    6. “Employee Burnout from COVID-19 on the Rise….,” CISION PR Newswire, September 2020:
    7. Ibid.
    8. Ibid.
    9. “Hybrid workers are stressed out, but ‘empathy-based management’ could help,” TechRepublic, March 2021:
    10. “How companies are preparing employees for long-term work-from-home,” CNBC, August 2020:
    11. “Wellness Programs Show Modest Benefits, as Efforts Pivot to ‘Well-Being’,” SHRM, June 2020:
    12. “Planning 2021 Benefits Changes for the COVID-19 Era,” SHRM, July 2020:
    13. “Wellness Programs Show Modest Benefits, as Efforts Pivot to ‘Well-Being’,” SHRM, June 2020:
    14. Ibid.