A post-lockdown study of burnout risk amongst New Zealand essential workers

Soc Sci Med. 2022 Aug;306:115157. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115157. Epub 2022 Jun 18.


Background and rationale: Job burnout is an essential topic for researchers and a pressing issue for employers and employees. However, the most popular tool has become widely critiqued, and a new measure of burnout - the Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) - is used here. The BAT is helpful because it provides a cut-off threshold score representing high burnout risk. This study provides one of the first BAT studies post Covid-19 pandemic and focuses on comparing high burnout risk rates between essential and non-essential workers after the first lockdown in New Zealand (May 2020).

Methods and results: Using representative data from 955 employees across a wide range of occupations, sectors, and industries, we calculate an overall burnout risk of 11.1%, with essential workers higher (14%) than non-essential workers (9%). The odds ratios of burnout risk and having high levels of mental health complaints were 10-20 times higher for burnout risk workers. For essential workers, they were significantly higher for high job depression risk (35 times). Building on these results, to develop a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to burnout risk, we report on a qualitative analysis of comments (n = 213) provided by essential workers on their lockdown work experiences.

Conclusions: Findings provide evidence that while a range of (1) health-related concerns (i.e., increased risk of getting and spreading covid) and (2) employee- and employer-specific pressures related to challenging lockdown work practices contribute to essential worker burnout risk, an unwavering sense of pride and purpose in the value of their essential work serves to reduce this risk. We discuss the implications, highlighting the unique issues facing essential workers.

Keywords: Burnout assessment tool; Essential workers; High burnout risk; New Zealand; Qualitative insights; Wellbeing.

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • Burnout, Professional* / etiology
  • Burnout, Professional* / psychology
  • Burnout, Psychological / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Humans
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Pandemics