Job burnout among U.S. employees has reached crisis proportions. It was a problem long before COVID-19, but pandemic-related stress and anxiety have brought burnout to a fever pitch, creating issues in the workplace along with significant mental health and medical issues.

Burnout has a staggering human cost – and it’s also a major driver of healthcare spending. A Stanford Business School report revealed that workplace stress causes additional expenditures of $125 to $190 billion each year in medical costs – and the expenses are likely rising as burnout continues to rise. 

Burnout Defined

Work-related burnout results from chronic, unresolvable job stress. It is characterized by overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, a sense of ineffectiveness at work and diminished job performance. Burned-out employees report they work too many hours for too little pay. They don’t receive enough support from management, feel they are treated unfairly and say they carry an unmanageable workload with unreasonable time pressures.

In today’s 24/7 business climate, burnout has become a near-universal occurrence: Gallup reports it now affects as many as 80% of American workers.

COVID-19 is Compounding the Problem

The groundhog-day nature of the pandemic, a divisive political and cultural environment and the constant spring of alarming news are intensifying burnout along with anxiety, stress and a host of other mental and emotional challenges.

Remote work, too, is driving burnout. Before the pandemic, it was hailed as a solution for work/life balance, as it provided more flexibility and autonomy than the standard office environment. But that changed in 2020, when working from home became a mandate vs. an option.

A survey from Robert Half, a Los Angeles-based staffing firm, reveals nearly 70% of employees who transitioned to remote work now work on the weekends, and a full 45% say they regularly work more hours each week than they did before the pandemic. In other words, work/life boundaries have blurred. It’s hard for employees to disconnect from the office, and one day simply bleeds into the next.

The Impacts of Burnout

In the Workplace: Gallup reports that burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and are 2.6 times as likely to be hunting for a new job.

What’s more, 95% of HR leaders said burnout is sabotaging workforce retention according to Kronos Inc. and Future Workplace.

Beyond high rates of absenteeism and turnover, employees suffering burnout also experience low morale, demonstrate a lack of commitment to their work and feel dissatisfied with their performance.

On Mental Health:

Among numerous other consequences, job burnout erodes mental and emotional health, negatively affects workplace and personal relationships, disrupts sleep, causes overwhelming exhaustion and creates detachment and depersonalization. The data leaves no doubt:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 employees report workplace stress affects their mental health (Mental Health America)
  • Depression alone accounts for $44 billion in lost workplace productivity. (Tufts Medical Center and One Mind at Work)
  • An employee with depression has an annual average healthcare cost of more than $10,000 – more than twice the cost of an employee without depression ($4,584). (Tufts Medical Center and One Mind at Work)

On Physical Health:

Chronic stress wreaks havoc on all systems of the body, leading to short- and long-term medical problems. Stanford Business School linked workplace stress with at least 120,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and a study in PLOS ONE showed:

  • Stress itself deteriorates physical health, but the issues are made worse by the indirect impacts of burnout-related behaviors like poor diet and low physical activity.
  • Work stress impairs immune function, increasing susceptibility to flu-like viruses, the common cold, gastroenteritis and other infectious conditions.
  • Multiple studies have linked burnout to a host of serious and even life-threatening conditions including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Addressing Burnout in the Workplace

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution for addressing burnout among U.S. workers, but two things are certain:

  • Burnout in the workplace must be addressed from the top down.
  • Behavioral healthcare is a proven method for helping employees deal with burnout.

According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, thousands of clinical studies have shown that mental health therapy is highly effective for mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment and relapse prevention.

In fact, a full 80% of employees who received treatment reported improved workplace productivity and satisfaction.

With access to effective mental health services, employees can:

  • Establish appropriate boundaries
  • Work through interpersonal challenges at home and at work
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms
  • Make necessary lifestyle changes to improve mental and physical health

Virtual Care is a Solution

The business benefits of providing behavioral health services are clear, but a chronic shortage of providers, extremely narrow networks, lengthy wait times and prohibitively high out-of-pocket costs create major obstacles to care – even with the most robust health plans.

Virtual care has emerged as a solution for burnout and other mental health concerns. Not only does it overcome the barriers of traditional care, but its efficacy is well-proven: The American Psychological Association reports the virtual model is just as effective as in-person care in treating common issues like depression and anxiety – issues that pummel productivity and often affect physical health.

What’s more, telehealth is now an accepted – and even preferred – platform for mental healthcare. Patients reported feeling more comfortable talking to a provider via video or the phone than in person, and utilization has followed suit. A Milliman and Well Being Trust report showed that prior to 2020, 1% or fewer of all behavioral health visits were virtual. The number has leaped dramatically:

As of July 2021, a full 50% of psychiatry visits are virtual, according to McKinsey & Co.

MeMD’s Telebehavioral Health Solutions Meet Business Needs

Designed with the demands of today’s businesses in mind, MeMD’s suite of telehealth solutions give companies a simple, low-cost way to improve employees’ mental health and boost the bottom line while providing workers with the services they want most.

Learn more about MeMD’s teletherapy, teen therapy and psychiatry services.


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