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Flames In The NZ Workforce: Employees Are No Longer Just ‘Smouldering’

Last month, AUT research showed that New Zealand employees were reporting high rates of burnout, with 11% reporting being “burnt-out”, the most severe level of job burnout.

Twenty per cent of the 1000 participants surveyed in May 2020 fell into the next category – at high risk of becoming burnt-out.

Now, additional AUT research conducted in December 2020 shows Kiwi workers are at even higher risk of being burnt-out.

The December study surveyed 1042 New Zealand employees (51.4% male). The study found 18% – an increase of seven per cent – of the cohort could be classified as burnt-out.

What’s going on?

AUT Business School Professor Jarrod Haar, who conducted both studies, says the data show clearly worsening experiences in the NZ workforce. That’s particularly worrying because of the strong link between being burnt-out and having serious mental health issues. Professor Haar says that statistically, the odds are staggering:

2422% for job anxiety (e.g., feeling worried)

2530% for job depression (e.g., feeling gloomy)

1406% for psychological complaints (e.g., can’t sleep)

1748% for psychosomatic complaints (e.g., chest palpitations)

“My research shows burnt-out workers are anywhere from 14 to 24 times more likely to have severe levels of mental health issues – this is a critical concern that must be addressed,” says Professor Haar, who calls the latest findings a “rallying cry” for human resource departments. “Organisations need to be aware that their workforce is likely feeling serious pressure, and any way to relieve this pressure will benefit workers and organisations.”

So, who is more likely to be burnt-out? Several variables were tested, finding:

Workers who are managers were 141% more likely to be burnt-out

Younger workers (aged 29 years and under) were 163% more likely to be burnt-out

Māori employees were 163% more likely to be burnt-out

New Zealand Europeans were 51.9% less likely to be burnt-out

Firms with a strong culture around employee wellbeing were 82.7% less likely to be burnt-out

Those who work more than 55 hours a week are 416% more likely to be burnt-out

Those who are most insecure in their job are 641% more likely to be burnt-out.

The findings showed no difference by gender, firm size, sector (private/public/not-for-profit), parental status, or marital status.

Are you burnt out or smouldering?

Professor Haar cautions there are four key signs to watch for: emotional exhaustion, feelings of indifference to work, trouble staying focused and a lack of emotional control. While most employees feel tired or “burned out” at times, only those who scored highly across all four factors are considered burnt-out. A good proxy is: if you are consistently tired before the day starts, you may be burnt-out.

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