Why studies show burnout is getting worse: ‘Employees are exhausted’

Click to play video: 'Almost half of Canadian workers say they feel burnt out in new survey'
Almost half of Canadian workers say they feel burnt out in new survey
WATCH - Almost half of Canadian workers say they feel burnt out in new survey – Jun 8, 2024

After losing sleep and developing an eye twitch from work-related anxiety, Dhwanil Kshatriya says he decided it was time to tell his employer he felt overworked.

But instead of being met with compassion, Kshatriya says he was told by higher-ups to “find a way” to deal with the workload. Kshatriya says he hoped HR would support him, but he was ultimately laid off.

“I felt like they could have handled this much better,” Kshatriya told Global News.

The 26-year-old was a senior business analyst for about a year and a half before receiving a severance package from his agency on May 14 — his birthday.

“My boss’s boss said to me, ‘If you have any problem or if there’s some work that’s not within your scope, you should not say no. You should never say no. Your reflex has got to be you will do it.’… So I was pretty thrown off hearing that from him,” Kshatriya told Global News.

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A new survey suggests Kshatriya is far from the only Canadian worker feeling burnt out.

More than four in 10 (42 per cent) of Canadian professionals reported feeling burnt out in the findings by HR consulting firm Robert Half, released Wednesday.

Millennials (ages 27 to 42) reported burnout at work more than any other generation, at 55 per cent. Generation Z (ages 18 to 26) followed closely at 51 per cent, then generation X (ages 43 to 58) at 32 per cent and baby boomers (ages 59 and above) at 24 per cent.

The most reported contribution to burnout among respondents was heavy workloads due to understaffed teams, at 52 per cent. Forty-two per cent felt a lack of communication and managerial support contributed most to their burnout, while 39 per cent pinned it on missing tools/resources required to perform properly at work.

The new survey by Robert Half, a U.S.-based firm, was conducted between Oct. 27 and Nov. 17, 2023. It includes responses from 765 workers aged 18 and older in multiple industries.

The findings point to a growing trend of worsening burnout among Canadian workers.

Similar polls by the agency from previous years saw slightly lower levels of burnout, with a rate of 36 per cent last year. In 2022, 38 per cent of respondents said they were experiencing more burnout than a year ago.

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Millennials and gen Z have reported the highest rates of burnout year after year.

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Katharine Coons, the national associate director of workplace mental health with the Canadian Mental Health Association, works with organizations to improve well-being in the workplace. She says she’s not surprised by the survey’s results.

“I think the numbers are shocking … but it’s not different to what I’m hearing. The burnout levels are high. Employees are exhausted, they’re detaching from their jobs,” Coons told Global News.

“Especially when we are in an always-on culture, we’re expected to have our phone in our pockets, which is an extension of our jobs, we can much more clearly see the relationship from checking that email at 9:30 or 10 at night and that feeling of stress or exhaustion.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian women report experiencing high levels of burnout'
Canadian women report experiencing high levels of burnout

Coons says organizations have been reporting high levels of burnout, employee exhaustion and high turnover rates. Workers have also been expressing difficulty with keeping up with job demands as many organizations struggle with understaffing.

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Data from Statistics Canada released last year raised similar concerns, and found that more than 4.1 million Canadians, or 21.2 per cent of all employed people in the country, reported high or very high levels of work-related stress.

“The most common causes of work-related stress included a heavy workload, which affected 23.7% of employed people, as well as balancing work and personal life (15.7% of employed people),” the report from Statistics Canada said.

Those between 25 to 54 years of age were most likely to report feeling work-related stress.

Coons says organizations have a responsibility to address systematic and cultural issues leading to burnout, which doesn’t include blanket “one size fits all” approaches.

“Definitely there are some things that we can do to take care of ourselves, but if somebody is experiencing burnout, that’s an organizational challenge and something that managers and leadership should be working alongside the employee to solve,” she said.

“If you feel like your workload is unmanageable or you feel like you don’t have a supportive community … a week-long vacation isn’t going to solve those problems.”

Click to play video: 'Workplace mental health and reducing burnout'
Workplace mental health and reducing burnout

The role of generational work expectations on burnout

Judith Andersen, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, says burnout can have a harmful effect on the whole body.

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She says accumulated burnout can lead to physiological and mental health issues and impact job satisfaction and performance.

Like Coons, Andersen also says the survey’s results are “not surprising.”

She says a lot of job burnout in young people arises from mismatched expectations about the workforce compared with their older counterparts, which would explain some of the generational findings in the survey.

The last few years in particular created shifts in workplace culture in Canada after the COVID-19 pandemic normalized remote work, more flexible working hours and better work-life balance.

She says gen X and baby boomers in higher-up positions likely struggle to portray this new reality that differs from the “daily grind” they’re used to.

“There wasn’t an expectation that you could work from home or have a more flexible schedule … so in trying to then communicate with the millennials and gen Z, there can be a disconnect there,” Andersen told Global News.

As a result, Andersen says some in the younger generations may not feel as though they’re having their needs met in the workplace.

“The good news is that research has shown for decades that if you are in a job environment that isn’t ideal … if you find agency or teamwork or camaraderie outside in your own life … that can actually combat the effects of job burnout,” she said.

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However, if your workplace is toxic and causing you harm, Andersen says it’s worth considering finding a new job.

“If you want something done, you’ve sometimes got to do it yourself. But if that’s not working, you tried to build camaraderie, teamwork, and there’s still such a toxic work environment, that’s what tells me that it’s maybe not the right job fit for you.”

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