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The Rise Of Post-pandemic Exhaustion

As COVID wanes, tensions remain high

The panoply of upheavals that 2020 brought, from existential and economic to social and environmental, was a rollercoaster of storm clouds and silver-linings. The shift to remote work that stirred chaos and left many feeling isolated simultaneously created flexibility in how, when and where people worked, giving them space back to care for themselves and their loved ones. The decrease in smog and traffic that brought back wildlife and blue skies contrasted raging wildfires and orange haze. The openness and vulnerability between people catalyzed by shared existential threat existed against a backdrop of heightened social tension and police brutality.

Just when many leaders are starting to feel out of the woods, a “great burnout” appears to be on the horizon. The unpredictable and unprecedented challenges and changes of the last two years contribute to vast levels of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy—three key dimensions of burnout. And with that burnout, we have seen worsened employee health, increasing absenteeism and greater interpersonal conflicts in the workplace.

The pandemic created a context in which many people experienced increases in all three facets of burnout, with grave effects on people and organizations alike. In the United States alone, effects of workplace stress account for about 8 percent—or up to $190 billion—of our national spending on healthcare, according to a 2015 analysis. A more recent study estimates this number might be closer to $300 billion, when combining health costs and lost revenue due to absenteeism and poor performance.

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