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Large numbers of burned-out workers lack workplace support: study

Worker facing psychosocial hazards in the workplace
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic one in three employed Canadians report burnout, while one in four say work is having a significant impact on their mental health.
This is a cause for concern, explains Mary Ann Baynton, director, collaboration and strategy at Workplace Strategies for Mental Health who commissioned the recent poll. “It’s not surprising though – considering we’re once again faced with extreme uncertainty as the pandemic rollercoaster continues. For so many of us, anxiety and exhaustion are at an all-time high.”
Five industries had burnout rates exceeding the national average with health and patient care leading the way (53 per cent) followed by: transportation; finance; legal and insurance; education and child care; and first responders. Within health and patient care, 66 per cent of nurses and 61 per cent of mental health workers report burnout. Also of note, more than 40 per cent of visible minorities in the Canadian work force and those in the LGBTQ2S+ community report burnout.
Burnout is officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as "A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Psychosocial hazards going unaddressed

The 5,500 Canadian workers polled between November 25 and December 8, 2021 provided significant insight into the many ways employers are failing to “successfully manage” the psychosocial hazards responsible for chronic workplace stress. In most instances, 50 per cent or less report necessary workplace preventative actions. To put it another way though, 50 per cent or more feel their employers are not taking steps necessary to protect them, particularly from psychosocial harm.
To be specific, the following are just a few examples to illustrate the inadequacy of workplace efforts to combat burnout and stress:
  • 40 per cent are committed to minimizing unnecessary stress at work
  • 47 per cent promote work-life balance
  • 39 per cent prepare employees to deal with the psychological demands of my job
  • 50 per cent make efforts to prevent harm from traumas including discrimination, harm from clients, customers or patients and bullying,
  • 49 per cent have effective ways of addressing inappropriate behaviour by customers or clients,
  • 60 per cent take appropriate action to protect physical safety of workers, and
  • 35 per cent offer programs or policies to prevent burnout.

Other findings include only about half of employees believe their workload is manageable, and less than one in three feel comfortable talking to their supervisor about mental health issues. Fewer still would feel comfortable talking to co-workers or higher-level management. Furthermore, only half say they get sufficient training to help protect their physical safety at work.

These findings reflect previous similar findings uncovered earlier in the pandemic.  Although this latest study suggests as the pandemic drags on the situation is escalating.

Pandemic adds to existing mental health crisis

The authors of the report summarizing these recent polling results note, "Some of the findings we have are systemic and pre-date any COVID-19 challenges. It's also likely that some pre-existing challenges were also made significantly worse during COVID-19."

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) concurs with the view Canada was already in the midst of a mental health crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for workplace interventions which will combat psychosocial hazards and lead to better working conditions are long overdue they say.
This includes actions to address workplace violence, harassment and abuse. A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal highlights the escalating violence against health workers and the need for enhanced precautionary measures. In fact, workers across many sectors, particularly those who are public-facing, are experiencing escalated incidence of violence, abuse and harassment driven by the pandemic. A recent article in Toronto Life magazine highlights the abuse faced by retail workers as the pandemic drags on.
Left unaddressed, the literature tells us burnout and stress can lead to several chronic health conditions including mental illness, musculoskeletal injury and cardiovascular disease.

Supporting healthier work

Employers have the greatest legal responsibility to “resolve” the psychosocial hazards responsible for chronic stress and burnout. Specifically, Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) mandates they take every precaution reasonable for the protection of workers. The OHSA also recognizes the rights and obligations of others to play an important role in pursuit of prevention, including workers, joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members, worker health and safety representatives and supervisors. 
Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) is helping workplaces better understand and address the many psychological hazards confronting workers by scheduling two popular and highly relevant training programs in our virtual classrooms — Psychosocial Hazards and Workplace Mental Health, as well as Workplace Violence and Harassment. Both programs consider the workplace as a source of potential harmful exposures, but also as the best place to seek lasting solutions. Our Certification Part II training program and Supervisor Health & Safety Training program also prepare key workplace parties to play their part in necessary prevention.

Need more information still?
WHSC Mental Health at Work Training
WHSC Workplace Stress Hazard Bulletin
WHSC Workplace Violence Resources

Contact a WHSC training service representative nearest you
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