Workplace burnout is a serious problem for employees and employers. It was a serious issue before the coronavirus pandemic, as “always-on” workplace cultures and pressures placed growing stress on employees. In fact, recent surveys by Gallup and CareerBuilder revealed that up to two-thirds of employees reported suffering from workplace burnout and that nearly one-third indicated feeling “highly stressed.”
These findings date from before the coronavirus seized the world and upended personal and professional daily lives. Since the shutdowns and disruptions, professionals across industries have been struggling to manage work, family-life, health, e-learning and more in a crisis. MetLife’s annual US Employee Benefits Trend Study, split into pre- and post-COVID-19 waves, captures the effect of this crisis on workplace burnout and employee wellness.
The study reveals that pre-crisis, 40 percent of employees struggled with an “always-on” workplace and 28 percent reported feeling very stressed. The picture changes in the April survey: two-thirds of respondents say they are feeling more stressed than before the pandemic; nearly 40 percent indicate an impact on their job or employment status; and 70 percent report that the pandemic has upended their daily routines.
Even before the crisis, employers had become aware of workplace burnout as a problem. According to the pre-COVID-19 portion of the study, 73 percent of employers had prioritized addressing workplace burnout and employee stress in 2020.
Clearly, increasing stress is widespread during this period of unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval. Employees are struggling as they juggle the demands of this new normal. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to progress from the crisis stage to those of flattening, recovery and beyond, employers must put into place an answer to the employee wellness benefit need.
A closer look at workplace burnout
In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized workplace burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” which was the first step in creating evidence-based guidelines on workplace mental well-being. It defined workplace burnout as an extension of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and noted it is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, a sense of mental distance from one’s job, and decreased professional efficacy. Workplace burnout can affect employees in any industry, though research has found that passion-driven and caregiving roles—those of healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses, for example—are most susceptible.
The cost of workplace burnout
Workplace stress and burnout come with a high price tag. Such stress is estimated to cost the US economy more than $500 billion annually, and it is estimated that stress on the job contributes to the loss of 550 million workdays each year (pre-pandemic findings). The MetLife study revealed that nearly 60 percent of employees do not feel that their employers’ benefit offerings include helpful mental health support. And that gap can hit companies’ bottom lines hard: a lack of employee wellness benefits can result in higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs.
Employee wellness benefits
Put simply, employers must find ways to reduce employee stress—especially now. Decreasing workplace burnout is not only financially smart, it is the right thing for employers to do. Employee wellness benefits can help to ease stress and address the causes and symptoms of workplace burnout to improve well-being now and in the future.
Because employee well-being is highly individual, employee wellness benefits programs must offer flexibility—not a one-sized-fits-all approach. This kind of flexibility can include benefits like access to mental health care and virtual well-being sessions to address the effects of workplace burnout and stress. In fact, access to mental health and wellness benefits was one of the top wants expressed by respondents to the MetLife survey. Employee wellness benefits, though, can go beyond mental health support to also include coverage for prescriptions and alternative wellness treatments, like acupuncture and massage therapy.
The healthcare plan cost-shifting that has taken place over the last 10 years, however, means that many primary health plans lack coverage for these mental health and well-being needs. This gap leaves employees without options just when coverage is needed most, in a crisis and beyond.
Employer-paid supplemental health insurance plans offer a solution—and the right ones can create the much-needed flexibility that employers and employees want. Employer-paid supplemental insurance plans can address the specific drivers of workplace burnout that are upping stress levels, especially now. They can offer valuable mental health support as well as coverage for alternative medicine, making them flexible enough to meet individual employee needs.
Flexibility on the employer side makes them the right fit, too. Because they are excepted benefits that are exempt from healthcare nondiscrimination rules, they can be offered to select employee groups or classes as determined by the employer. Plans can be layered on top of the primary plan and put in place on the first of any month, all year long.
As the economy reopens in stages, employers and employees are adapting to a new normal. Employers can offer support now to ensure that their talent is able to bring their best focus to the next stage.
ArmadaCare offers solutions for employee wellness benefits that address employee mental health, stress management and the effects of burnout. Learn more here.
 MetLife US Employee Benefits Trend Study
 World Health Organization
 Harvard Business Review
 American Psychological Association