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Work burnout: a psychologist’s advice for getting back to work

Changes to the workplace brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will cause “a revolution in the way that organizations operate,” Dr. Ron Friedman, social psychologist and author of “Decoding Greatness,” told Yahoo Finance Live. With the boundaries between home and the workplace blurred as the result of many people working from home, Friedman describes work burnout as a “pandemic within a pandemic.”

“It's quite natural to feel burnt out right now,” Friedman said. “And it's because of the decimation between work and life boundaries and the fact that we're all juggling our kids on top of our basic work responsibilities.”

Amid a nationwide labor shortage, many Americans are returning to work in person, with the CDC reporting that 52.6% of the population is inoculated with at least one dose and 43.9% are considered fully vaccinated. However, a recent study found that 73% of U.S. workers have some anxiety about returning to in-person work. And although some believe these concerns will ease over time, working from home has taken a mental toll on many in the workforce.

Friedman, who has consulted for Fortune 500 companies, political leaders, and global non-profits, describes burnout as a situation in which the requirements of an individual’s tasks consistently outstrip the amount of energy they have available.


According to Friedman, there are two main ways of alleviating burnout. One of the strategies is to reduce the demands of work, which may be difficult for many. Friedman admitted that a pitfall of this strategy is to attempt to cram more work into less time when trying to work less, which ultimately elevates stress levels in the end.

The better approach, he said, is to learn more rather than working less in order to increase your energy. Learning new things will provide a mood and confidence boost, while also fulfilling one’s “basic psychological need for growth.”

Cat on a work desk at home during quarantine
Cat on a work desk at home during quarantine (Michele Pevide via Getty Images)

As for how companies and other organizations should approach the issue of burnout among their staff, Friedman argued that leaders must take a more holistic approach to caring for employees. He stressed the need to care for the “entire employee,” rather than just the “sliver of them” who is in the office from 9 to 5.

“What we know from the research is that when you take care of the entire employee by fulfilling their basic human psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, they tend to be more productive,” Friedman said. “So this is something that should be top of mind for any leader hoping to motivate their staff.”

Fritedman cited realizations among workplaces that leaders must take additional steps to meet employees’ biological needs if they wish to fulfill their basic psychological needs. Because people have been doing things such as taking naps and going for walks during the day, he suggested that peoples’ biological needs have been better satisfied during the pandemic than they have been in generations. These things allow for better focus that would not be possible in an office setting, according to Friedman.

“[Employees are] having the ability to focus in a way that just isn't available to them in the office,” Friedman said. “And I'm heartened by the fact that I think more organizations are aware of those biological needs.”

Thomas Hum is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @thomashumTV

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