Close to one third of Asia Pacific’s workers are facing burnout at work

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

Workers in Asia Pacific are facing increased burnout due to lack of separation between work and personal life as well as worry of contracting COVID-19, according to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index report, focussing on employee wellbeing.

On average, close to one third of workers in Asia Pacific cited increased rates of burnout over the past six months, with the lack of separation between work duties and personal obligations as negatively impacting their wellbeing.

Surveying over 6,000 information and first-line workers across eight countries globally including Australia, Japan, India and Singapore, the study found that Singapore and India were the top two countries in the region with workers facing increased burnout, at 37 percent and 29 percent respectively.

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In addition, close to 34 percent of Asia Pacific respondents cited worry about contracting COVID-19, due to the lack of tech or protective equipment provided by businesses to effectively socially distance, resulting in increased stress levels.

“In the last 6 months, we have seen how COVID-19 has contributed to the evolution of the workplace — from a physical space to one residing in a virtual world. As businesses adapt to a new way of working, it is important to examine the multifaceted impact these changes are having on employees and provide relevant and timely solutions,” said Rosalind Quek, General Manager, Modern Workplace, Microsoft Asia.

Key Findings from the research include:

  1. The pandemic increased burnout at work — in some countries more than others.
  2. Causes of workplace stress differ for Firstline and remote workers.
  3. Six months in, there are more communications and fewer boundaries.
  4. No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity.
  5. Studies show meditation can fight burnout and stress during the workday.

1.     The pandemic increased burnout at work — in some countries more than others

In Asia Pacific, 29 percent of respondents cited that the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout at work. However, Microsoft’s research showed that everyone is experiencing this differently.

For instance, Microsoft found that 37 percent of workers in Singapore are experiencing higher rates of burnout than those in Australia, India and Japan.

While burnout can be attributed to many factors, longer workdays were one factor. For example, workers in Australia saw the highest increase in workday span in Microsoft Teams at 45 percent, with a medium increase in burnout while workers in Germany saw very little change to workday span or feelings of burnout.

2.     Causes of workplace stress differ for firstline and remote workers

The report also revealed that the top stressor shared globally was worry about contracting COVID-19, followed by lack of separation between work and life, feeling disconnected from co-workers, and unmanageable workload or hours.

In Asia, the study found that over 34 percent of workers have not been provided the tech or protective equipment they need to effectively socially distance by their company, resulting to increased stress levels.

This was higher than the global average by 4 percentage points. In addition, among the stressors reported by remote workers, the lack of separation between work and life and feeling disconnected from co-workers ranked highest.   

Countries across Asia also had cited differing factors contributing to work stress. In Australia and Singapore, the lack of separation between work and life was the top stressor with 24 percent and 31 percent respectively, with the feeling of isolation coming closely behind at 22 and 28 percent.

However, in countries such as India and Japan, 42 percent and 26 percent respectively cited the inability to socially distance and the worry about contracting COVID-19 while on the job as a top stressor.

3.     Six months in there are more communications and fewer boundaries

Having identified lack of separation between work and life, along with unmanageable work hours, as top workplace stressors, Microsoft turned to usage patterns in Teams for more insight.

Data showed that globally, even six months past the first work-from-home orders, people are in significantly more meetings, taking more ad hoc calls and managing more incoming chats than they did before the pandemic. As people adjusted to remote working, after hours chats, or chats between 5pm and midnight, have also increased.

4.     No commute may be hurting, not helping, productivity for remote workers in Asia

For years, Microsoft’s research group has been studying how commute has helped maintain work-life boundaries–and worker’s productivity and wellbeing. A 2017 study helps us understand the productivity benefits of commute time. As part of the study, a digital assistant used chat conversations featuring task- and emotion-based questions to help participants prepare and detach from work through the day.

The study found that 6 in 10 people (61 percent) globally felt they were more productive when the digital assistant helped them ramp up to and down from work. On average, productivity increased between 12 and 15 percent.

5.     Studies show meditation can fight burnout and stress during the workday

Of those surveyed in Asia, 73 percent said meditation could help decrease their work-related stress. External research backs this up — consistent meditation with Headspace can decrease stress and burnout and improve your ability to react to negative feedback.