Work burnout: Aussies need a workplace ‘reset’

Australians have reached breaking point at work and it is hinting at a huge shift coming for workplaces across the country.

Burnt out Aussies are looking for a “reset”, with research from Allianz Australia revealing new issues brewing within the workplace that’s impacting job satisfaction and mental health.

The survey highlighted that 33 per cent were feeling burnout and fatigue, along with 24 per cent stating that they felt underpaid at work. A further 28 per cent of people revealed that they’ve felt exhausted over the last 12 months.

For Peter* who is no stranger to burnout, these statistics aren’t a surprise, having worked in labour heavy industries like hospitality, along with admin roles in the education sector.

Speaking to news.com.au, the 24-year-old actor spoke about the highly stressful and toxic work environment he experienced working in the hospitality industry.

“It was an absolute nightmare,” he told news.com.au.

“I worked in a couple of different roles [such as] floor staff, bartender, cocktail manager and duty manager in pubs.

“Friday, Saturday and Sunday I’d work 14 hour shifts with no break and [was] expected to be in the bar the next day, 8 hours later. Lots of worker’s rights things ignored. Pay was less than it should’ve been legally.”

The breaking point for Peter came after having been lied to and denied the full amount agreed bonus after becoming a duty manager.

“After my six-month probation, I would receive the bonus in full. I completed my job, completed my probation and was doing very well,” he said.

“They brought me in for a sixth month review and told me ‘we’re only going to give you half of your signing bonus. You have to do another six months’ probation and you’ll get the second half. And we’re going to lower your pay.’

“And that was when I was like ‘this is ridiculous. I’m done.’”

Peter transferred into admin work afterwards and was left in disbelief as managers treated him well and that his “human needs were heard”.

“People actually let you breathe and it was a very stress-free situation,” he said.

“If I needed time off, it was always a conversation and not a request and a denial. It was just a far better area to be in.”

Aussies in need of workplace ‘reset’

In 2021 and 2022 the US was hit by the “great resignation”, which saw large numbers of people resigning from their jobs as the increased pressures of the pandemic mounted.

There was speculation that Australia was going to undergo its own version of the great resignation, but this situation never eventuated on the mass scale seen overseas.

The University of Melbourne’s report 2023 State of the Future of Work, noted that instead of the great resignation, Australia has experienced more of a “great reluctance”.

So, while the proportion of people quitting has so far been “marginal”, exhausted employees have been pushing back in other ways.

“In its place, there has been intense discussion generated by young users on TikTok about ‘quiet quitting’ or putting the bare minimum into work,” the report found.

However, because many Aussies have chosen to stay in their demanding jobs, the country’s prime aged workforce is suffering major burnout, with researchers warning businesses “may face declining productivity and workforce attrition if they do not attend to these issues”.

It is clear that Aussie workers are looking for a reset of some kind – and they need it now.

As a result of their own research into burnout at fatigue, Allianz Australia is now spearheading a Workplace Realignment movement, which focuses on leaders and organisations creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Understanding the expectations on employees, employee sentiment and the wider elemental impacts on workplace mental health are the keys goals, as those who don’t adapt run the risk of losing employees, according to Chief General Manager of Personal Injury, Julie Mitchell.

“This disconnect continues to have a serious impact on workplace satisfaction and employee retention, and in turn, is continuing a worrying trend of increasing mental health claims in the workplace,” she told news.com.au

“Monolithic approaches to supporting mentally healthy workplaces aren’t sustainable. Organisations must address changing employee expectations, by acknowledging their concerns and offering mental health and wellbeing programs aligned to expectations.

“This demands a holistic view of an employee’s workplace experience, including mental health support, engagement, culture, remuneration, career progression and retention activities.”

One way of achieving this is for business leaders to show empathy, according to psychiatrist Dr Mark Cross.

“Displaying empathy and establishing meaningful connections with employees is the first step to develop trust and to spark The Workplace Realignment,” he said.

“In this environment, employees are more likely to feel heard and that their concerns are being addressed by their workplace. Business leaders must take a nuanced approach to modernising workplace mental health support, tailoring policies to the evolving needs of employees across all generations.

“This goes beyond just the control of direct workplace mental health risks, it also encompasses initiatives around employee engagement, culture, attraction and retention.”

Aussies overworked and stressed

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne confirmed that Australians are overworked, stressed and severely burnt out.

It showed that half of prime-aged workers (aged 25-55) felt exhausted at work and 40 per cent felt less motivated about their work prior to the pandemic.

It comes as no surprise that 33 per cent of the respondents had reportedly thought about quitting their job.

According to the University of Sydney’s Professor John Buchanan, there are several factors that contribute to this issue.

“It’s not a matter of individuals waking up one morning and deciding ‘I want to leave’ or waking up one morning and saying ‘I’ve got a mental health problem,’” he told news.com.au.

“The problem is there’s been a relative to the demand, and a relative complexity to the service, under resourcing for what is required to deliver on our requirements for care, education and health.

“And that manifests itself in both the resignations and the mental health claims.”

This sentiment is shared by Ms Mitchell, said there’s been a rise in people lodging mental health claims.

“The two primary reasons someone would launch a mental health claim in the workplace come down to workplace factors [which] include being work-related bullying and harassment and work pressure or workload pressure,” she said.

“They’re the two primary factors that we tend to see as primary mental health and psychological claim come in through our business.”

Ms Mitchell said that one of the reasons that prompted Allianz Australia to research workplace mental health was due to employees being fearful for speaking up, something that Dr Cross agrees with.

“People’s inability to be able to talk about difficult things at work is one of them,” he told news.com.au.

“And when people feel stressed at work and they don’t have an outlet, so they don’t have somebody they can talk to — that’s a big problem.”

*Name has been changed for anonymity purposes

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