Pandemic Burnout Is Only Getting Worse — 5 Ways Effective Leaders Are Fighting It

Pandemic Burnout Is Only Getting Worse — 5 Ways Effective Leaders Are Fighting It


Josh Knauer, General Partner at JumpScale
Josh Knauer, General Partner at JumpScale
May 20, 2024 at 10:17AM UTC

There's no doubt COVID-19 affected the physical health of millions. But it also wreaked havoc on our mental and emotional well being. We've all grappled with shock and fear while still trying to hold on to a sense of hope that it will end soon. But as we hit the six-month mark without those summer vacations happening, employees are experiencing rampant burnout. Thankfully, some influential business leaders are taking action to combat that pandemic fatigue.

Even before coronavirus, worker burnout hit record highs, with 20 percent of "highly engaged" U.S. workers saying they were experiencing some burnout symptoms. Add in a pandemic, and that number has skyrocketed. A study found that a third of Americans have high psychological distress levels, and burnout numbers increased 20 percent since early May. 

These numbers are not surprising. Businesses are struggling with revenues down 40 to 70 percent for most companies, diminishing a generally positive outlook on the future. And employees have added stressors like a lack of childcare. In fact, it's been proven women are taking the brunt of this psychological stress and may have their livelihoods derailed for a decade. 

With many long term ramifications still to come and a lack of direction from the very top, it comes down to individual leaders to help their workers avoid permanent mental scarring through the implementation of effective wellness practices. JumpScale has worked with leaders and businesses, large and small, during this time to identify potential burnout and make wellness-promoting changes. But we aren't the only ones taking action during this critical time. Here are five creative ways leaders are fighting that six-month burnout.

1. Covering The Cost of Pet Adoption

Pet adoption has increased since the pandemic began. Several companies, like insurance comparison site The Zebra, cover the costs to bring home a fluffy friend. Owning a pet is proven to help with mental wellness, spark physical activity, and relieve stress. Having leadership at a company acknowledge and support a wellness trend is key to ensuring employee happiness. 

2. Encouraging Flexible Hours and Work Arrangements 

It would seem like employees have it made working from home. But people are actually working 2-3 hours longer per day and feel the pressure of ignoring their personal lives. Companies that have implemented and encouraged flexible work arrangements show that they have faith in their employees to accomplish work tasks. For example, Goldman Sachs gave all employees an extra 10 days of family leave to manage "unique personal circumstances related to the profound impact of Covid-19." This support relieves stress and promotes confidence in the company and job security. That's the attitude you want in a workforce.

3. Adopting Group Mindfulness Practices 

Something as simple as taking a few moments at the beginning of a meeting to do a mindfulness exercise can make a massive difference in employees' attitudes. At my own company, JumpScale, we start every Zoom meeting with a few deep breaths and personal check-ins together as a group. The world is changing so much, and there is a lot unknown that these intentional moments can prevent people from feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness practices have been proven to reduce stress and promote a more positive mindset. Plus, personal check-ins show that leaders support their workers and genuinely care about them beyond the office. All of this boosts productivity.

4. Creating Accountability For Free Time

It's not always enough to say employees can take the time they need. A system of accountability for that free time needs to be implemented. Toronto-based investment management firm WealthSimple makes employees schedule lunch breaks and chunks of free time. Simultaneously, Volkswagen won't allow emails to be routed to individual accounts from 6:15 pm to 7 am. And to help with Zoom fatigue, sports tech company, Dream Sports created "No meeting Thursdays" and mandated 90-minute lunch breaks. These acts show leaders are serious about taking downtime and helps avoid working long hours. 

5. Providing Free COVID Tests

Most people are worried about contracting the coronavirus. And, unfortunately, many don't have easy access to a test. This could prevent people from seeing loved ones or stopping a potential spread. But companies could invest in providing their workers with at-home rapid tests for peace of mind. That's what Kroger Co. is doing for its employees and shows that they genuinely want to protect their workforce and relieve at least one worry in their lives. 

Every company has different capabilities, but leaders should all be looking for ways to address burnout. And one of the best ways of doing that is by asking the employees. Opening up that forum and listening could provide insight into solutions that might not have come up in a leadership meeting. All that's left to do is enact those changes, which will lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.


Josh Knauer is a serial entrepreneur who sold his market analytics company to Nielsen and served as a science and technology advisor for President Obama. Josh is currently an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University, an Executive in Residence at Columbia University Technology Ventures/NYSERDA and a General Partner at JumpScale, a wellness-focused responsible investment consulting firm that is offering pandemic response advisory and planning services to businesses, philanthropies and investors. JumpScale uses a unique, holistic approach to help companies improve impact and support financial and organizational wellbeing.

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