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50% of ‘prime aged’ workers burned out, report shows

By Zarah Torrazo | |5 minute read

The Great Resignation that swept the world at the height of the pandemic largely missed the Australian shores, but with burnout rising and low unemployment, a seismic shift in the labour market could be coming.

A new report from the University of Melbourne and YouGov surveyed 1,400 Australian workers — the majority of whom held tertiary qualifications — regarding their experiences at work since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report found the majority of surveyed employees expressed they felt exhausted, in poorer mental health and at risk of quitting.


Burnout, the report found, was on the rise, with around 50 per cent of “prime aged” workers aged between 18 and 54 reported feeling exhausted at work. Worryingly for employers, a third of workers in this age group are considering quitting.

In the US, 2021 and 2022 were marked as the years of the “Great Resignation”, with significant numbers of workers quitting their jobs.

So far, the effects of the labour trend in Australia have been marginal, with researchers coining the term “Great Reluctance” to describe the sentiment among Australian workers.

But the sentiment is shifting, with the report citing the “greater public debates” not only in the news media but also within organisations about working conditions and the workplace as the world enters a post-pandemic era.

“As governments moved away from lockdowns and a significant majority of workers have been forced back to the office to have returned to face-to-face work, initial reports suggested that there would be a ‘Great Resignation’,” the report noted.

This shift in sentiment about work is particularly felt among younger workers, who feel that there are fewer opportunities for advancement and are more likely to feel time-poor.

A further look into the data showed 40 per cent of all young and middle-aged workers are less motivated about their work compared to just one-third of older workers.

Notably, young and middle-aged workers (33 per cent) are also three times more likely than their older counterparts (11 per cent) to report that they are experiencing difficulty concentrating at work because of responsibilities outside of work.

Data also showed that prime aged workers are two times more likely to feel like they don’t have enough time at work to do everything they need to do compared to older workers, while 40 per cent of prime aged workers report fewer opportunities for advancement.

Furthermore, the report found that 40 per cent of all young and middle-aged workers are less motivated about their work, compared to just almost 30 per cent of older generation workers.

Co-author of the report and sociologist, Dr Brendan Churchill, said it is not unexpected that more than one-third of Australian workers in their prime age group are contemplating resigning from their jobs due to the high levels of fatigue and exhaustion experienced by younger and middle-aged employees.

In light of the concerning data, the expert said that “Australian workplaces must prioritise workers’ wellbeing into the recovery to provide greater support in addressing burnout and mental distress.”

The report recommended several measures that could help tackle the issues faced by their employees, including prioritising workplace mental health, offering flexible work arrangements or remote work options, and providing access to mental health services.

Recent studies and reports have shone a spotlight on how providing flexible working options can be an effective tool in combating the negative effects of burnout and boosting mental health among employees.

A separate study published by Future Forum in February showed burnout among employees has reached an all-time high, with almost one in three Australian workers reported experiencing the condition. Notably, the study also highlighted flexibility as the key to staving off burnout.

Earlier this month, the Empowering Women in the Hybrid Workplace Report commissioned by IWG showed 53 per cent of women believe hybrid working has had a positive impact on breaking the glass ceiling.

Another report from the IWG also showed that hybrid working arrangements have drastically improved the overall health of employees, as well as their professional performance.

This article was originally published on HR Leader's sister brand Real Estate Business (REB)