Managers fear employee burnout upon return to office

Yo-yo productivity levels during lockdown is causing a decline in mental health and wellbeing and managers fear potential burnout when offices re-open, Walters People Ireland warns.

The Irish workforce experienced ‘boomerang’ productivity levels during lockdown – where at its peak 44pc reported an increase in productivity, and at its lowest 28pc reported a decrease in productivity.

A quarter of professionals (23pc) stated that their ‘yo-yo’ productivity levels during lockdown led to a decline in their mental health or wellbeing.

“The challenge will be for managers to maintain that level of autonomy, freedom and flexibility with staff once offices re-open”

By definition, a significant proportion of the Irish workforce may have suffered from workplace burnout during lockdown – with almost half of managers (47pc) fearing a similar boomerang-style productivity levels once offices are able to reopen.

What burnout looks like

According to the findings from Walters People Ireland, 52pc of professionals have suffered from workplace burnout symptoms at some point in their career, with the World Health Organisation characterising burn-out by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy or efficiency.

Social isolation (37pc), lack of communication with colleagues and co-workers (28pc), and working longer hours (27pc) have been the primary contributors of causing workplace burnout symptoms during lockdown.

“Pre-lockdown a culture of ‘the harder you work, the more successful you’ll be’ was really beginning to gather momentum,” said Sarah Owen, director of Walters People Ireland. “We’d see successful and high-profile business owners talk about their 4am alarm-clock and how they’d do a day’s work before anyone around them had their first sip of coffee.

“Over-working became a glamourised notion – yet having a lie-in or taking extra walks during your working day were not being equated to success in the same way.

“Lockdown has highlighted to employers and employees alike that increased flexibility, working less hours, and including more ‘me time’ into your working day can actually increase productivity, creativity, and overall work-ethic.

“The challenge however will be for managers to maintain that level of autonomy, freedom and flexibility with staff once offices re-open. In order to move away from such high figures of burnout we need to appreciate that an empty desk does not mean employees aren’t working.”

By John Kennedy (

Published: 23 March 2021