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August 20, 2021 | 5 min read
How Employers Can Support Employees to Avoid Post-COVID Burnout


Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, which is caused by prolonged and excessive stress. Burnout has become a powerful topic in the post-COVID era because the pandemic has caused more stress than ever.

Many lost their jobs, lost loved ones, had to care for sick family members, or watch others do the same. Even if you did not directly go through those things, you still have been affected whether you realize it or not. How it has affected you should not be ignored because it can lead to burnout.

Signs of Post-COVID Burnout

Mental health issues have been on the rise since the pandemic. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the pandemic and the economic recession that followed it negatively impacted the mental health of many people. It also created new barriers for those suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders. The Foundation also cites that during the pandemic approximately 4 in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, an increase from 1 in 10 adults in January- June 2019.

In addition, the KFF cites research from previous economic downturns, which show that job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and distress and could lead to elevated rates of substance abuse disorder and suicide.

As we continue to evolve through this everchanging time, it is important to have an awareness of what signs and symptoms to look for in ourselves and those around us.

Post-COVID stress can cause:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Angry outbursts
  • Changes to your eating patterns, such as not eating or over-indulging
  • New or increased substance abuse (tobacco, alcohol, or recreational drug use)
  • Worsening chronic health problems
  • Worsening pre-pandemic mental health conditions

However, burnout is characterized as experiencing chronic stress. The pandemic caused job loss, businesses to close, parents to have to learn how to balance working from home while homeschooling their children, and caring for sick and aging family members.

So, what are some signs that you are burning out? According to Forbes, they are:

  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Frustration, cynicism, and other negative emotions
  • Slipping job performance
  • Declining cognitive performance
  • Interpersonal problems at home and at work
  • Not taking care of yourself
  • Being preoccupied with work when you are not at work
  • Decreased satisfaction
  • Health problems

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, you need to take relaxation seriously. Be sure to carve out a non-work life and make the effort to unplug. Getting enough rest regularly is also especially important because sleep can be restorative for your body— helping boost memory and productivity, increasing your motivation, and enhancing your mental function. Pay attention to your body so you can be in tune with any signs or symptoms.

How Can Employers Help?

As employers have started slowly bringing their employees back to the workplace, they need to consider how to help with burnout. Employers can offer and expand mental health solutions to support employee wellness. Some of these options can be virtual to accommodate employees’ wishes and needs. FlexJobs suggests adding some creative solutions in addition to PTO and offering additional vacation time, such as:

  • Scheduled virtual exercise and mediation programs, as well as trainings during the workday.
  • Free subscriptions to mental wellness and/ or mediation apps, such as Calm or Headspace.
  • Company-wide, management-initiated exercise, wellness, and healthy eating challenges and groups.
  • Access to webinars about stress management and other mental health and wellness topics.

In addition, employers should maintain a flexible work environment and remind employees to take their breaks when necessary to allow for time to stretch and look away from the computer. Employers can schedule virtual happy hours, coffee hour, and game nights.

Employers can also help their employees by encouraging them to disconnect by creating policies and taking active steps to enforce them. Moreover, employers also need to ensure that managers are modeling the behavior and following the policies to make it easier for employees to do so as well. Help employees by minimizing multitasking, breaking down tasks, celebrating successes, taking regular breaks, signing off after the workday, and resisting working while on vacation.

Another way employers can help is by letting employees having control over their workday. This will improve their productivity and motivation. A rigid work schedule can exacerbate work-family conflict and lead to mental exhaustion. By allowing employees to have more control, they stay healthier and more balanced.

Employers should also remind their employees that they can receive a free, confidential mental health screening from Mental Health America if additional professional support is needed.

This article was contributed by guest author, Valerie Martinelli, MPA.

Valerie Martinelli is the CEO of Valerie Martinelli Consulting (VMC). VMC helps mid- and senior-level executives land new roles, cultivate careers, and earn salary increases between $15K- $60K using 1:1 and group coaching strategies. VMC has been recognized by CIOReview as one of the 10 Most Promising Leadership Development Training / Coaching Companies. VMC is committed to ensuring clients are equipped with the structure, tools, and strategies needed to receive equal opportunities, compensation, and advancement opportunities to help achieve professional goals and desired outcomes.

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