Nearly four in five Australians working from home suffered from burnout last year. Here’s why

New research suggests almost 80 per cent of workers burned out in 2020. And it has sparked calls for change.

New research suggests almost 80 per cent of workers burned out in 2020. And it has sparked calls for change. Photo: Getty

A global study analysing how white-collar workers managed working from home has revealed nearly four in five Australians suffered from burnout.

With employees also found to have worked nearly twice as many late hours as the year before, the findings have renewed calls for fresh rules and protections to combat work-related stress.

The report, commissioned by work management app Asana, found that of the 2103 Australian and New Zealand workers surveyed, 77 per cent suffered burnout, which was 6 per cent above the global average.

The average worker’s overtime increased from 236 hours to 436 hours in 2020, but they nonetheless missed one in four deadlines.

Overcoming burnout is critical to productivity

Asana general manager APAC Adam Chicktong said the high burnout rate boiled down to three main factors:

  • Employees working more overtime
  • Reduced clarity over how workplace tasks are distributed
  • Snowballing amounts of “work about work” (i.e. administrative tasks) and “unnecessary” workplace meetings.

Mr Chicktong said unless bosses tackled the root causes behind worker fatigue, workplace productivity and employee wellbeing would diminish.

“In 2020, work about work has increased, creating chaos, confusion and rising levels of burnout [and] this misalignment has made it difficult for everyone to do their best work,” he told The New Daily.

“Organisations [have] an opportunity to make meaningful changes to how we work, requiring fresh thinking and a framework for ongoing adaptation – beginning with employee wellbeing.”

On a brighter note, Asana’s research found 57 per cent of workers felt optimistic about the year ahead.

Mr Chicktong said it should be a catalyst for employers to find more “meaningful job engagement and opportunities to accelerate” their workers’ careers.

Burnout, unpaid overtime highlight need for new rules

The new research follows a report from the Centre for Future Work last year, which found the average employee worked 5.24 hours of unpaid overtime per week, up from 4.6 hours the previous year.

Australians collectively accumulated $98.6 billion of unpaid overtime – the equivalent of seven weeks of full-time work for every worker – as boundaries between work and home responsibilities blurred in 2020.

That same study, which cited ‘time theft’ as an urgent issue that required addressing, also found that 21 per cent of workers felt a greater weight of expectation by their bosses to be more available.

Centre for Future Work director Jim Stanford told The New Daily that working from home was unsustainable, as many employees required special equipment or face-to-face meetings with customers.

Dr Stanford said it was “too early to tell” if the fall in workplace productivity was the result of working from home or broader shocks related to the pandemic.

But he said remote work systems were by design “not very conducive” to improved workplace output.

“[These include] the solitary nature of the work, the undercapitalised nature of home workspaces, and the overlap between working from home and various forms of independent contractor-style work arrangements,” Dr Stanford said.

Employees exposed to new workplace issues

Unless governments, employers and unions took action, Dr Stanford said workers would continue to be exposed to longer working hours, ballooning work-related costs, the “double burden” of juggling work and family tasks, and greater safety risks, such as increased vulnerability to domestic violence.

“Clear standards must be established regarding continual observance of normal working hours, payment for overtime, and ability of home workers to “turn off”,” Dr Stanford said.

“The risk is a creeping expectation by employers of constant availability, including out of regular hours, on weekends, and even on holidays.”

The Boston Consulting Group found in June 2020 that nearly 60 per cent of workers wanted to permanently work from home two or three days a week.

And separate research from jobs portal Indeed found roughly the same number of employers were eyeing more flexible working arrangements this year.

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