The Rising Danger of Burnout
Burnout is nothing new; it has been steadily on the rise for the last decade. The arrival of COVID and the resulting switchover to remote work had to be executed suddenly with little time for employers or employees to prepare. As a result, burnout numbers have gone up significantly, leading to the so-called “Great Resignation.”
Reportedly, 75% of workers are experiencing burnout, and the risk for depression has risen 102% for workers of all ages and 305% for workers aged 20–39. This is indeed alarming and approaching a crisis. If everyone - individuals, employers, and governments - do not take immediate steps to address the issue of burnout in the workplace, then turnover rates will continue to rise and the workforce, along with GDP, will weaken.
Let’s take a look at some of the government-mandated labor regulations around the world, and how they impact local workforces and burnout rates.
Regulated Paid Leave Around the World
According to the International Labor Organization, most European countries are guaranteed by law an average of three weeks of paid vacation time, with some countries offering up to four or five weeks. Most countries in South America, Africa, and Asia compare, otherwise offering roughly two weeks.
In North America, Canada offers the most mandatory vacation days, between 10-20 days depending on the province, followed by Mexico, which offers only six days of paid vacation. The United States takes a vastly different approach from the rest of the world, offering zero paid vacation days mandated by the government. These numbers do not even factor in paid holiday days, which most countries provide in addition to paid vacation days. When it comes to paid holiday days, the U.S. government again offers none.
Parental Leave Around the World
Similarly, most countries offer a minimum of parental leave for new mothers (and often fathers). The government typically pays this leave, but individual employers may offer additional time as an attractive perk. Aside from offering minimum leave, many regulations also allow for extended leave with a reduced percentage of pay. For example, Austria provides a minimum of 16 weeks at 100% pay, then an optional 44 additional weeks at 73.1% pay.
On average, most countries offer a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave. However, some offer more; similarly to paid holidays, countries that offer the longest minimum leave are in Europe, such as:
- Bulgaria - 58.6 weeks
- Greece - 43 weeks
- The United Kingdom - 39 weeks
- Slovakia - 34 weeks
- Croatia - 30 weeks
In addition, most countries with substantial paid maternity leave also offer paid paternity leave (although generally much less). Most developed countries have government-paid maternity leave in addition to what is offered by individual employers.
However, one country which stands out is the United States, which offers zero weeks of paid parental leave. Though some state governments have their own regulations, such as California, New York, Washington D.C., etc., the federal government only allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave - and even that has some exceptions.
What does parental leave have to do with burnout rates? Quite a lot. Parents with young children are a demographic that is highly susceptible to employee burnout. One recent survey found that 9.8 million working mothers, and 1 in 4 working parents, say they are currently experiencing workplace burnout.
How does a lack of mandatory paid leave affect working culture?
In the U.S.’s case, paid leave is left to the discretion of employers and is generally provided to salaried employees only. In the U.S., paid leave is typically granted as a reward for years of work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to achieve the same amount of paid vacation that most of Europe guarantee for all employees, an employee must work for a company for 20 years.
This positions paid vacation days as a luxury rather than a right. In addition, this “privilege” is generally afforded only to full-time salaried employees. Hourly employees, positions often held by those with lower socioeconomic status, are not granted paid leave. This differentiation compounds the stress of preexisting economic anxiety with the added risk of burnout and can further jeopardize the well-being of marginalized and vulnerable segments of society.
Unlike government-mandated leave, employer-provided leave is typically not mandatory. In fact, employees may even be incentivized not to take it, and this can shape the working culture in very negative ways. For many countries, paid leave is not just an option but a requirement; this prevents an environment of unhealthy competition between colleagues and helps to support the well-being of all working citizens.
Despite the evidence that time off would help workers avoid burnout and perform at the levels their organizations require, most workers have not been taking it. In fact, in 2018, American workers left behind 768 million days of unused paid time off, or more than 27% of their earned paid time off, a 9% increase from 2017.
Employees don’t take advantage of time off because they want to appear more dedicated, less replaceable, and fear their work will be unmanageable upon their return, risking further workload burnout. Additionally, many employees report that they feel their company culture “discourages” taking time off.
Regulated Working Hours
Regulation surrounding the maximum hours employees can work per week, and the maximum amount of overtime allowed is common in many countries. This regulation helps to protect employees from exploitation and overworking, allowing them to stay healthy and productive. Long hours are one of the number one contributors to employee burnout.
Employees who work more than 40 hours per week are at a higher risk of burnout, and the risk is even higher when working over 60 hours per week. Limiting working hours to 40 weekly has been proven to be highly effective at helping to prevent burnout.
Again, most countries in Europe have regulation that dictates that a working week be no more than 48 hours per week. German employees, for example, work the least amount of hours per year, averaging 26 hours per week. In contrast, Mexican employees work the longest, averaging 41 hours per week. Of course, these numbers are also connected to the paid leave offered by these countries, which is substantial for Germany and minimal for Mexican employees. It’s also important to note that despite their limited working hours, German workers are among the most productive in the world.
In the U.S., there is no federal limit on the number of hours an employee can work. However, a standard work week is designated at 40 hours a week; anything over that is considered overtime, in which employers must pay 150% of their usual hourly wage. This is quite different from most countries, whose overtime rates tend to be low enough not to be motivating. But in the U.S., this incentivizes employees to work as much overtime as possible due to the substantial extra income they can earn - further increasing their risk of burnout.
Societal culture and government regulation can have a significant impact on burnout rates. In the U.S and many Asian countries, labor laws are not so strict. This is why organizational burnout is especially a problem in countries like the U.S. Japan, South Korea, etc., highly competitive capitalist cultures are at risk of burnout due to the stress of knowing that someone else will go the extra mile if you don’t. This creates an unhealthy competitive atmosphere rather than a healthy one.
This leaves the workforce's well-being in the hands of individual companies, which must be responsible for creating a healthy company culture to mitigate the risk of burnout. Companies need to step up to the plate in countries like the U.S., where labor regulations aren’t put into place to ensure fundamental employee well-being.
To get a better idea of what countries are more protected by labor laws and which are more vulnerable, consider which cities have some of the highest and lowest burnout rates.
Cities with lowest burnout rates:
- Oslo, Norway
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Frankfurt, Germany
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cities with the highest burnout rates:
- Tokyo, Japan
- Mumbai, India
- Seoul, South Korea
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Los Angeles, USA
How Employers Can Step Up and Help Fight Burnout
In countries where workforces are more susceptible to burnout due to a lack of labor regulation, there are steps companies can take to ensure a happy and healthy workforce.
To combat the unhealthy, highly competitive work environments resulting from a lack of mandated paid leave, some organizations have begun implementing mandatory, minimum, collective, and incentivized time-off policies to address workers’ hesitance to take time off. Some companies have even implemented artificial holidays and mental health days to reinforce a work culture focused on the importance of well-being.
Employers can launch awareness campaigns on the topic of stress and burnout in the workplace and provide training on how managers can help employees avoid burnout. Coaching, combined with employee wellness programs, can help identify and prevent job burnout.
Furthermore, there exist digital tools that employers can leverage to minimize the impact of burnout in the workplace. Computer monitoring software like Insightful is a perfect example. Though not explicitly designed for burnout prevention, computer monitoring software provides valuable data to help companies identify poor working habits that may signify burnout risk.
With features that allow employers to monitor computer activity, productivity, and time and attendance, employers have insight into their employees’ working habits to better keep a finger on the pulse of their workforce. Not to mention, flexibility not built into a country's labor laws can be offered and managed directly by the company, thanks to computer monitoring software like Insightful’s ability to help managers easily manage remote and hybrid teams.