3 May 2024

More than half of workers report severe burnout, driven by job insecurity

9:46 pm on 3 May 2024
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Education professionals had among the highest burnout rates. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

More than half of New Zealand workers are reporting severe burnout - worse than at the height of the pandemic.

A survey in April by the wellbeing@work project at Massey Business School found 57 percent of employees fell into the "high risk" category for burnout, more than double the rate in December - which was 25 percent.

Lead researcher, professor Jarrod Haar (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta), said the doubling of burnout risk was "a critical and dangerous issue" for both workers and employers.

"Those in the burnout risk category are far more likely to experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as higher levels of insomnia.

"Employers should also be concerned, as burnt out workers are 16.5 times more likely to seriously consider quitting their job.

"They are also 28.5 times more likely to engage in poor work behaviours often, including slacking off and not trying. Both of these issues can translate into high costs for employers."

Highest burnout rates:

  • clerical workers (87.9 percent)
  • educational professionals (86.6 percent)
  • office managers (70.7 percent)
  • health professionals (63.5 percent)

Lowest (though still very high) burnout rates:

  • business professionals (22.2 percent)
  • salespeople (23.1 percent)
  • office support workers (23.3 percent)
  • information and communication technology professionals (25 percent).

Professor Haar said the biggest reason for increased burnout was the rise in job insecurity.

"Those who perceive their job as most under threat have increased from 22 percent in December 2023 to 48.4 percent in April 2024."

Those in the "high job insecurity" group were 14.5 times more likely to be in the burnout risk group.

"The workforce is feeling massive strain due to the fear of job losses, leading to incredibly high levels of job burnout."

For the first time since surveys began, employees had a higher rate of burnout than managers, with rates of 60.7 percent and 52.2 percent respectively.

Burnout rates varied between sectors, with the private sector topping the list at 59.8 percent, followed by public at 48.7 percent and then not-for-profit at 40 percent.

The South Island reported the least work-related stress (Nelson at 14.3 percent and the West Coast and Otago both at 33.3 percent), while Gisborne reported the highest at 81.1 percent, followed by Bay of Plenty at 71.9 percent and Waikato at 67 percent.

Pākehā workers were the most burned out at 65.1 percent, followed by Māori at 43.3 percent and Asian at 17.6 percent.

There was no discernible difference between genders.

There was also significant differences by working environment, with full-time home workers reporting the lowest levels (15.4 percent), followed by full-time office workers (31.8 percent) then hybrid workers, who report the highest productivity levels but also the highest burnout rate at 72.4 percent.

Professor Haar said the survey results should be a warning sign.

"This will require some major steps by employers and leaders to better understand and alleviate the stressors that workers face.

"Making job restructures clearer and faster, with an emphasis on a human touch, is needed. I encourage employers who have made changes to remind their workforce that the change is completed. Such communication can alleviate worries about job insecurity."

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