Reducing burnout while working during the pandemic

Job demands and resources available to employees can impact turnover intention and burnout during during pandemic conditions.

Story by Rei Fortes.

Working during COVID-19 has changed the attitude of many employees around the world and the need to constantly adapt to changing work conditions has taken the toll on people today.

High work and stress loads have caused more than 24 million people to leave their jobs in the United States since September 2021, focusing on their mental health and families or pursuing independent business careers.

For employees continuing their jobs, COVID-19 has introduced many new factors such as adapting to a ‘work from home’ dynamic for occupations who are able to work remotely. People working in the education, administration, IT and business sectors had to be content balancing work and a domestic lifestyle in a shared home environment.

Dr Leila Afshari, a Senior Lecturer and Program Director of the Management and Human Resources Courses at La Trobe University, conducted a research study called ‘Threat or opportunity: accelerated job demands during COVID-19 pandemic’ exploring how increased job demands during COVID-19 impacted the perception and response of employees to their individual workloads. The foundation of the study works around the job demand resources(JD-R) model which helps states the relationship between an employee’s job demands and resources while under stress.

“I was researching on the job demand resources model and was interested to see how employees’ perception of job demands and resources available to them can impact the outcomes such as turnover intention and burnout” says Dr Afshari.

“Employees have been exposed to an increase in job demands and shortage of resources during the COVID-19 pandemic and we can see this happening in every single organisation.”

Dr Afshari collaborated with a global network of academics including Dr Aamir Hayat from COMSATS at the University of Islamabad in Pakistan, Dr KK Ramachandran from the GRD College of Science in India, Professor Timothy Bartram from the School of Business at RMIT in Australia and Dr Bamini KPD Balakrishnan at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah in Malaysia to collect data via an anonymous online survey sent to professionals who were affected by COVID-19 but continued working at that time.

The study took a granular approach to analysing the data from the 600 surveys completed by professionals in the hospitality, tourism, healthcare and manufacturing industries. Submissions were received from several regions, including India, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Middle East.

Dr Afshari ‘s study focused on three specific areas: job demand work intensification(JDWI), job demand learning(JDI) and job demand decision-making(JDDM).

“Our findings showed that adverse effects of increased job demands can be alleviated if demands are perceived as valuable resources by employees. For instance, in situations where  employees are expected to learn new skills or are given extra decision-making authority due to elevated work demands, they may perceive those situations as opportunities for growth and autonomy despite the extra effort to fulfill the demands,” says Dr Afshari.

“Our research showed that employees’ intention to quit their job due to increased work demand can be lowered, when demands present learning opportunities and is combined with required organizational support. ”

The study acknowledges the negative effect on employees when they face intensified job demands. Work intensification depletes employees’ mental resources leading to their burnout. However, the effect of work intensification differs for employees with different levels of positive affectivity.

“Positive affectivity was very useful in moderating the relationship between work intensification and employee burnout.  Positive affectivity can maximize employees’ psychological resources through enhancing their social relationships. So, employees with higher level of positive affectivity are more capable of dealing with work intensification and less likely to develop burnout in response to elevated job demands ,” says Dr Afshari.

“When an organisation offers its employees opportunities for development, growth, autonomy and independence they are likely to see this as organisational support. Employees perceive this as their organisation caring about their welfare.”

Dr Aamir Hayat says that the study provides practical implications for the human resource management sectors, and data to develop protocols dealing with increased job demands, burnout and turn over intention.

“Employers should take steps to minimise job demands by reducing the workload on staff and providing their employees with training that enables them to deal with different types of job demands. An organisation’s survival depends on its employees,” says Dr Hayat.

“Employees can only survive in a crisis situation like COVID-19 if they continuously update their knowledge and learn new skills to perform their job efficiently.”

In the future Dr Afshari aims to extend her research and explore how increased job demands affects different professions and management levels in organisations and what can be effective in reducing the negative impact of increased job demands on employees.