Snowed Under and Burned-Out: Falling Productivity Under COVID

Blaise Radley
Snowed Under and Burned-Out: Falling Productivity Under COVID

It’s 2019 — early December to be exact. You’re in that last snug sweet spot before 2020. Maybe you’re dreaming of the prospect of a snowy festive period. When a mask-less Santa coming down the chimney was charming rather than a breach of social distancing. 

A year on, things look very different. 2020 has been incredibly taxing, whether due to the financial and physical toll of COVID-19, the burden on our mental health, or the unerring boredom of being locked up. Is it any surprise productivity has slowed?

According to our 2020 Holiday Click-Off survey, 82% of over 8,000 employees globally felt their productivity was likely to fall during the holidays. More than any other year, we all deserve a break (and perhaps a pint of eggnog). 

The Holiday Click-Off isn’t a new concept. That’s the time each year when workers decide enough’s enough and slow down. But has coronavirus dampened yuletide spirits? Or is there a greater need than ever to get misty-eyed under the mistletoe?

Millennials and Gen Z are the most affected

Most people admitted their productivity would dip this holiday period — a massive 82% of employees globally. Hidden behind that figure, however, is a generational gap that reveals how different the world of work is for different age groups. 

The percentage of those saying their productivity would fall either “a lot” or “a little” varied accordingly: 88% (age 18-34), 83% (age 35-54), and 74% (age 55+). That means 18-34 year-olds are over 18% more likely to lose productivity during the holidays than those 55+.

Productivity in the Holidays statistics

Clearly, there’s a clash here. More cynical older workers might suggest that their younger cohorts are softer and less motivated to work up to the wire. It’s the sort of narrative solidified by harmful rhetoric around “millennial snowflakes” — a reductive term, albeit one fitting for this time of year. But instead of work ethic, we should look to changing attitudes around work and mental health.

Gen Z workers and, to a lesser extent, millennials have come of age in a workplace where the psychological safety of employees is paramount. Saying you feel unproductive in the winter months no longer means managers giving you the cold shoulder.

When we query why employees are feeling unproductive, it shouldn’t be from a place of criticism, but rather a place of compassion. There’s no point asking the question if you’re not prepared to listen. 

24% of those furloughed feel less productive 

It’s natural for people to wind down as December draws in. The days are shorter, the nights are colder — and who can stay focused with Bublé blaring out of every available speaker? Behind the twinkling lights this year is a different narrative, however. Are we really in the mood for a ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’?

Nearly one in five of respondents (19%) said they suspected their productivity would decline faster this year as a result of the pandemic. Notably, that figure rose to 24% amongst employees who were on furlough. Far from a chance for respite, furlough led to greater disengagement for nearly a quarter of respondents. 

Productivity during the pandemic statistics

2020 was defined by uncertainty, an uncertainty that people on furlough felt most. With so many unprecedented events this year; from the rate of infection, to the scale of each country’s lockdown, a lack of job security had an even more pronounced effect. Even for those back in work, that precariousness is still having a rolling impact on motivation.

Nearly 1 in 10 lose productivity before December 1st 

A common observation this year has been that time has felt distorted, with some months appearing unending, and others disappearing rapidly. Perhaps that’s why 9% of employees said they’d already lost productivity before December 1st. 

Part of the reason is simple: the human mind doesn’t work to a calendar. It’s easy to get locked into a Western Christian-centric view of the year, but that paints a narrow picture. While the end of the year is a common time for festivities, that’s not always the case — in the traditional Chinese calendar, the new year doesn’t usually arrive till February. Perspectives differ across the board. 

Falling productivity before December COVID-19 statistics

Americans were the most likely to lose productivity before December, with 12% reporting they were already lagging in November. While the US may be the face of Christmas (German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast actually established Santa Claus’ modern look in an illustration titled — wait for it — A Christmas Furlough), there’s another cause for celebration just before: Thanksgiving. For many Americans, the festive period starts on the fourth Thursday of November each year. 

It’s important to recognise that employees don’t set a date that their productivity will drop and stick to it. Instead, we have to acknowledge the many reasons behind such predictions. For some, it’s the excitement of seeing their families — maybe for the first time in months — and for others it’s a more pervasive fatigue. In either case, listening to why your people are struggling is essential. 

Almost a third of us are on the brink of burnout 

Whether employees never stopped working during the pandemic, or faced being furloughed and redundancy; whether they were working from home or on rotating shifts in a consumer-facing role, the end result is the same. People have been worn down. 

29% of respondents said they predominantly felt burned-out. Regardless of reasoning, that’s not a figure to take lightly.

Burnout after COVID-19 statistics

If we break that figure down by gender, 34% of women feel that they’re on the cusp of burning out versus 25% of men. That gender gap — a 36% increase from men to women — foregrounds one of the most overlooked struggles of the pandemic: the disproportionate impact it’s had on women. 

A UN policy brief titled The Impact of COVID-19 on Women from April stated:

Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women

Women are often burdened with additional stressors on top of their jobs, whether that’s child-care or household management. When we consider burnout, we must recognise each individual’s needs, and give them the space and time to be heard. That space will be essential if we want people to avoid feeling snowed under in the new year. 

Tackling employee burnout in 2021

With December half-way done and the prospect of a widespread vaccine inches closer to reality, many of us are just holding out for the end of the year. However, that doesn’t mean employers can afford to become complacent in 2021.

Earlier this year, Peakon data revealed that businesses using our platform had actually increased employee engagement scores in the midst of COVID-19. By taking action on a variety of common employee issues, ranging from mental health support to remote working options, employers were able to reduce the heavy loads weighing on their people.

More than anything, you need to listen to the people driving your business forward. 

With Peakon, you get responsive, actionable insights about how your employers are feeling. To discover the power of intelligent listening, book a demo today

Auteur - Blaise Radley