Job insecurity drives Aotearoa New Zealand workforce to highest burnout risk

Friday 3 May 2024

With new research revealing one in two workers are reporting severe burnout, the rate of burnout experienced in the workforce has risen to a record high, surpassing levels seen at the height of the pandemic.

The ongoing wellbeing@work research, led by Massey Business School’s Professor Jarrod Haar, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta, focuses on understanding the challenges of job burnout in New Zealand’s workforce.

The research defines job burnout within four dimensions, including emotional exhaustion, mental distancing, cognitive impairment and emotional impairment. Professor Haar has been tracking the burnout rate tri-annually since 2020, with each wave including over 1000 representative New Zealand employees.

The most recent data from April 2024 reveals that one in two employees, or 57 per cent of the workforce, fall within the high burnout risk category. This indicates a doubling since December 2023, when the rate was 25 per cent, and exceeds the previous highest score of 43 per cent reported in November 2021.

Professor Haar says the doubling of burnout risk across the general workforce is not only shocking, but also a critical and dangerous issue for individuals and employers.

“Those in the burnout risk category are far more likely to experience mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as higher levels of insomnia. Employers should also be concerned, as burnt out workers are 16.5 times more likely to seriously consider quitting their job. They are also 28.5 times more likely to engage in poor work behaviours often, including slacking off and not trying. Both of these issues can translate into high costs for employers.”

Professor Haar’s research across industries has revealed not all professions are experiencing the same level of burnout. As of April 2024, the highest reported professions experiencing burnout are clerical workers (87.9 per cent), educational professionals (86.6 per cent), office managers (70.7 per cent) and health professionals (63.5 per cent). On the other end are business professionals (22.2 per cent), salespeople (23.1 per cent), office support workers (23.3 per cent) and information and communication technology professionals (25 per cent).

Professor Haar says the biggest reason for the massive increase in job burnout is the rise in job insecurity.

“Those who perceive their job as most under threat have increased from 22 per cent in December 2023 to 48.4 per cent in April 2024. The changed job market has truly struck the workforce, and those in the high job insecurity group are 14.5 times more likely to be in the burnout risk group. The workforce is feeling massive strain due to the fear of job losses, leading to incredibly high levels of job burnout.”

For the first time within the research, employees have a higher rate than managers, with rates of 60.7 per cent and 52.2 per cent respectively. Both are sitting at dangerously high levels, according to Professor Haar.

While no gender differences were found, which is consistent with earlier data, there are significant differences by sector, with the private sector topping the list at 59.8 per cent, followed by public at 48.7 per cent and then not-for-profit at 40 per cent.

Significant differences were found between regions, with the South Island reporting the lowest numbers (Nelson at 14.3 per cent and the West Coast and Otago both at 33.3 per cent), while Gisborne reported the highest at 81.1 per cent, followed by Bay of Plenty at 71.9 per cent and Waikato at 67 per cent. There were also differences shown via ethnicity, with Pākehā at 65.1 per cent, followed by Māori at 43.3 per cent and Asian at 17.6 per cent. There was also significant differences by working environment, with full-time home workers reporting the lowest levels (15.4 per cent), followed by full-time office workers (31.8 per cent) then hybrid workers, who report the highest productivity levels but also the highest burnout rate at 72.4 per cent.

Professor Haar says this is a warning sign for employers and individuals.

“This will require some major steps by employers and leaders to better understand and alleviate the stressors that workers face. Making job restructures clearer and faster, with an emphasis on a human touch, is needed. I encourage employers who have made changes to remind their workforce that the change is completed. Such communication can alleviate worries about job insecurity.”

Related news

Exploring the current drivers of workforce turnover

Wednesday 19 July 2023

A recent study has revealed some surprising insights relating to turnover in Aotearoa New Zealand’s workforce while exploring the continued effects of the Great Resignation.

Higher frequency bullying remains significant in workforce

Thursday 18 May 2023

Over 90 per cent of the workforce in Aotearoa New Zealand has reported experiencing intermittent bullying in the past year, according to research led by Professor Jarrod Haar, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta.