Mar 27, 2023

Half of the workforce experiencing the post-pandemic ‘great burnout’

A new study out of the University of Melbourne has found that workers are exhausted and less motivated at work, leading to what they’re calling the ‘great burnout’ – a common sight within aged care. 

After the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic helped ignite the ‘great resignation’ in the United States, a group of researchers from the Work Futures Hallmark Research Initiative (WFHRI) were curious to see if similar patterns had emerged here.

They surveyed 1400 employed Australians in 2022 and despite the widespread impact of COVID-19 they found that workers didn’t resign in their droves, but rather, many continued working through the lows. 

In aged care that included constant mask and PPE wearing, witnessing resident deaths and experiencing regular lockdowns.

Three years later and those workers now have poorer physical and mental health across all demographics, particularly our ‘prime-aged workers’ between 25 and 55.

According to the 2023 State of the Future of Work, 1-in-2 workers aged between 18-54 are exhausted at work, 40% are feeling less motivated than they were before 2020 and 33% struggle to concentrate due to external responsibilities like caring for children or elderly parents.

As a result, 33% of workers also reported they’re considering quitting their jobs, an eerie pattern to see when it’s previously been revealed that half of the aged care workforce is thinking of leaving the industry. 

Working caregivers, which includes many aged care workers in the female-dominated sector, are also now working harder due to additional responsibilities.

“The pandemic, particularly lockdowns, took a significant toll on the mental health of the Australian workforce. Although we’ve been desperately waiting for life to return to “normal”, pandemic-related disruptions remain,” Leah Ruppanner, WFHRI Co-Director, said

“Our previous research during the pandemic showed women and parents were particularly vulnerable. 

“We found mothers stepped into the added childcare and housework driven by pandemic lockdowns. We discovered fathers also did more housework and child care over the first year of the pandemic.

“The consequence of all of this added work was poorer mental health – worse sleep, less calm, more anxiety.”

With a workforce that features almost 90% women, aged care is full of workers that are juggling caregiver commitments, yet the report also highlighted how 56% of the decrease in hours worked during COVID-19 involved women. 

But it’s not all bad news. Workers supported by flexible work – whether that is remote work or flexible hours to suit external caregiver needs – were less exhausted and more motivated. 

Almost half of all flexible workers reported feeling more productive since the start of the pandemic compared to a third of non-flexible workers.

“In our study, we found flexible workers had more energy for their work and a greater motivation to do their jobs,” Ms Ruppanner said.

“They reported more time to complete their tasks. And 75% of workers under the age of 54 reported that a lack of flexible work options in their workplace would motivate them to leave or look for another job.

“Flexible work is working for many in the Australian workforce. Australian employers would do well to identify ways to expand its reach to a larger segment of the workforce or risk suppressed productivity and loss of their workers.”

Meanwhile, as aged care adopts new technologies to support workers and enhance the delivery of care, it’s likely that aged care workers aren’t alone in being a little cautious.

Over half of those surveyed said they do adopt new technologies at work, but only when they see others have used them successfully. 

Just 1-in-5 adopted new technologies when they were forced to, meaning it’s always beneficial to show just how helpful something can be before making it mandatory for staff use.

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