More than 75% of Aussie and NZ workers experienced burnout in 2020, as COVID-19 takes toll on mental health

covid-19 mental health accountants

Source: AAP/Dan Peled.

Some 77% of workers in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) experienced burnout in 2020, highlighting concerns about mental health in the world of remote work.

Research from Asana found more ANZ workers reported burnout than the global average, and that just 15% feel ‘completely heard’ by their organisation.

The report largely puts the results down to COVID-19 and the shift to remote work.

Respondents cited the volume of meetings and phone calls, having too much work to do, and the hassle of chasing people for input, as the top three barriers to productivity.

The vast majority, 89%, said they work extra hours, up from 81% in 2019.

Elsewhere, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has released a statement on the number of serious workers’ compensation claims for 2018-19, reporting an increase in the number of claims for mental health injuries.

This is a trend ACTU secretary Sally McManus only expects to increase in 2019-20 and beyond, as the COVID-19 reflecting the myriad issues that have affected mental health and wellbeing.

“The pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings in our understanding of workplace health and safety around mental health injuries,” McManus said in a statement.

She called for more conversations about mental health in the workplace, and an evolution of workplace health and safety standards to reflect the risk here.

“Burnout and mental health is all inter-related,” Hema Kangeson, leadership coach and founder of InSpur, tells SmartCompany.

Mental health doesn’t only mean the absence of mental illness. It’s about wellbeing more generally, she notes.

When an individual is not able to work productively, or realise their potential, their wellbeing suffers.

For Kangeson, the number one thing a manager can do to support their team members is to have a simple conversation, asking how they can best help them unlock their potential.

It’s then about weaving those conversations into the everyday — making time for individual catch-ups, understanding each employee’s priorities and needs, and generally checking in.

“Everything needs to be personalised,” Kangeson says.

“It’s not imposing your views on what you think is great and what you think is mental wellness at work on your team members.”

Of course, in the work-from-home world, this becomes a little trickier, but all the more important.

But ultimately there’s a business benefit here. Employees with good mental health are more engaged and more productive, Kangeson stresses.

Those suffering from burnout or other concerns may be more inclined to leave the organisation, she notes. But they could also stay, leading to high absenteeism, poor productivity and disengagement.

Either way, “it’s got massive repercussions”, Kangeson says.

Disproportionate effects

In particular, the ACTU found women were almost three times as likely to sustain mental health injuries at work than men.

McManus that women are over-represented in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, and have been disproportionately affected by the crises.

Kangeson adds, however, that women are also disproportionately responsible for caregiving outside of work, whether that’s for children or older family members, or even just managing household chores.

“They bring those things to work,” she says.

But, more importantly, she notes that without an intersectional lens, this data doesn’t actually mean much.

Are women from a particular class particularly affected? Or women from migrant and refugee background, or from a particular age group?

ACTU tells SmartCompany it doesn’t have a more granular breakdown of this data. And for Kangeson, that’s a red flag in itself.

“It’s not all women,” she stresses.

She wants to see more research taking different groups of women into account, in order to consider the tailored action that can be taken to address inequality not only between women and men, but between different groups of women.

“We need to look at it with an intersectional lens,” she says.

“If we don’t, it’s going to further marginalise these underrepresented and marginalised communities that we want to help.”


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