Kitchener-Waterloo

Working adults are burned out, and they need more than meditation apps to cope, says YMCA survey

Working adults in the region are not OK – and they need more than meditation apps and lunchtime yoga to feel better. That’s according to the latest community well-being report from YMCA WorkWell, a branch of the YMCA of Three Rivers.

Reducing employee workloads is key, says YMCA WorkWell director Kate Toth

A new report from YMCA WorkWell has found heavy workloads are burning employees out. (Shutterstock / Warpboyz)

Working adults in the region are not OK – and they need more than meditation apps and lunchtime yoga to feel better. 

That's according to the latest community well-being report from YMCA WorkWell, a branch of the YMCA of Three Rivers.

The report is based on survey responses from 1,851 working adults gathered between September and October 2021. 

It found that 73 per cent of respondents had experienced burnout at some point in the previous three months – and that, when asked to rate their overall well-being, 45 per cent gave themselves a score that put them in an "unhealthy" category.

"People are depleted. They're exhausted and they are burning out, if not already burned out," said Kate Toth, director of learning and development at YMCA WorkWell. 

And while many companies have been pushing "downstream" solutions – like employee assistance programs and meditation – Toth said those services aren't cutting it this time around. 

"It's important, but it's not addressing the primary drivers of burnout, which are really around workload, not feeling appreciated, needing more work-life balance and flexibility," she said. 

Heavy workloads a main driver of burnout

Kate Toth is director of learning and development at YMCA WorkWell. (Submitted by Kate Toth)

When asked what their employer could do to support their mental health at work, the most popular response people gave was "reduce workload."

That's not surprising to Toth. 

Freed from their typical commute during the pandemic, many people have simply been working more and more, she said. In some cases, she said, they've also been picking up tasks that would have previously been done by coworkers who left the organization during COVID-19. 

In other cases, their workload may be the same, but it's become harder to manage due to stress in other areas of their lives.

"Even carrying the same workload that you would have before, when you're exhausted and depleted, it feels heavier," she said. 

Employers need to cut tasks

Toth said employers should think carefully about what high-priority tasks are adding the most value to their organization, and let everything else take a back seat for now.

"Organizations are complex organisms, and we do many things inside them that don't necessarily add value, they're just building the bureaucracy," she said. 

"Just getting really clear on priorities is a good place to start."

They should also make sure their employees have access to mental health days, Toth said, with the caveat that these need to be days they can actually use. It doesn't count if the workers are shamed for using their time off, or worried about work piling up while they're away. 

Finally, she said, a little recognition can go a long way. 

"Appreciation is so incredibly important, and it's a simple thing to do, in terms of it doesn't cost a lot of time or money," said Toth. She noted that the survey found people who felt valued at work were less likely to be thinking about changing jobs. 

These actions will take work, but it's in employers' interests to do so, Toth said, because a burned-out workforce isn't a productive one. 

The WorkWell survey was distributed through social media and sent out through the YMCA's mailing lists. Forty per cent of those who responded were working from home at the time of the survey, 35 per cent were working in-person and 25 per cent were in a hybrid arrangement. 

The most industries that respondents most commonly worked in included education, technology and health care. 

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