Pandemic is Causing Record Level Burnout Among Essential Workers

5 min readMar 6, 2022

After two years of COVID and risking their own health, essential workers are burned out.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

At the beginning of the pandemic many people were outside clapping in support of essential workers across the political spectrum. Frontline workers, medical professionals, teachers, contract workers for Amazon, and others that continued despite no vaccine at the time. Although these workers have incredibly thick skin and have gone above and beyond sacrificing their own health to provide essential service for the human good, it’s beginning to take a physical and emotional toll on them resulting in increasingly levels of anxiety and PTSD. And there appear to be no substantial changes in place to help them. These essential workers prevented our economy from completely collapsing when the U6 unemployment rate in the US reached an astonishing 22.4% in April 2020. That’s 5.3% worse than the peak of the Great Recession in April 2010, exactly ten years prior.

While some in the news media are consistently downplaying the idea the burnout is contributing this labor shortage, that does not match with reality. We’ll take a look at some of the main occupations that have been suffering high rates of burnout as COVID enters its third year in the United States.

Frontline Workers

CNN published an opinion piece by a frontline worker who describes in great detail some of the main issues that is leading to burnout and resignations. Ms. Ghazal describes how while the public is largely feeling a sense of normalcy inside the hospitals “the reality is much different.” She describes a lack of public investment in nursing schools to provide more essential workers for a profession that pays less than $20,000 a year has led to staffing shortages. On top of that she has been dealing with denialism from patients denying that the coronavirus is even real which leads to a lot of frustration in the workplace. Similar to denialism to the fact that the earth is round.

“Since the start of the pandemic, nurses and other frontline workers have been called heroes. I often balk at the hero title; it perpetuates the idea that nurses’ self-sacrifice is acceptable and no help is needed. But in fact, we do need help, and we need it quickly.” — Ms. Ghazal, nurse practitioner

In other words that article is pointing towards nursing schools not being high on the priority list, staff being screamed at by misinformation about the coronavirus, the lack of adequate pay for frontline workers, all contributing towards feelings of mind-numbing fatigue and burnout. This mental health crisis needs to be addressed through adequate funding of institutions and compensation for these individuals. These guys deserve at least one year of therapy free of charge and a two-month vacation paid for by their employer. We’re all human and have suffered, but they have sacrificed the most for us and deserve a break from all this shit.

Amazon Workers

Amazon earned so much money during the pandemic they could give each employee a one-time $100,000 bonus and still be profitable.

The second biggest group that would be considered essential workers include contractors and warehouse workers for the most profitable companies in the world: Amazon. While many sectors of the economy shut down in April 2020, Amazon did the right thing by offering workers hazard pay to continue working in the event they contracted the virus before any vaccine was available. But that didn’t last long. By July, six months before a vaccine became available the trillion-dollar company ripped hazard pay away from their essential workers. And this comes from a company that reveals less of their data to the public than North Korea does to the international community.

Reports from workers from inside the company revealed three months in the pandemic where management threatened to fire their employees if they didn’t show up to work despite showing symptoms of COVID. A report by Vox highlighted a story of warehouse workers were forced to show up despite being ill vomiting all over the floor and violating safety protocols by having workers work within two feet of each other instead of six feet recommended by the CDC. Any employee who offered minute criticism was fired instantly, which explains why Amazon’s turnover rate was 150% in a New York Times piece. And numerous reports of contractors and warehouse workers being consistently underpaid may have contributed to that high turnover rate.

Amazon management treats it hundreds of thousands of workers like toilet paper they can wipe their rich asses with. No suicide booth from Amazon as a PR stunt will fix that, paying their workers a higher wage and relaxing ridiculous barriers that cause workers to piss in bottles might though. Amazon a few months ago got into deep shit when they refused to let their workers go home while a tornado siren was blaring outside moments before it slammed into the warehouse. That tornado killed six workers because the company didn’t care about safety for the people who helped grow Amazon.


The third group that needs to be looked at are teachers who have gone about and beyond adapting to this pandemic. And right now, they are beginning to show signs of burnout with 55% considering quitting over the next year and it’s not hard to see why.

Increasingly people are beginning to show up at school board meetings as a political platform to promote bizarre conspiracy theories such as CRT being equated to “Marxism” and screaming like petulant children over mask mandates that the board has no control over. And despite some high school students telling them that CRT does not currently exist in the school system they notice the anger and rage being directed at administrators is beginning to take a toll on them. The schools were shut down for 2020 in many areas and there has been a lot of fear that schools could shut down again due to localized outbreaks. The uncertainly and being threatened by violence may be contributing to feelings of not being appreciated or supported by a community that used to support them until it was politicized by the right.

Other Mentions

Some of the most underappreciated people you have to give credit to are grocery store employees and sanitation workers. These guys bared through it somehow during the lockdown in April 2020, were screamed at by ungrateful customers, belittled by bosses for adapting to a changing environment, and had to stay six feet away at all times which is very difficult to do at Fred Meyer. Sanitation workers the people that cleaned the floors, public facilities, wiped down tables, and cleaned up businesses are another forgotten profession we never once thanked during the pandemic. And the final one I want to mention are United States Postal Service workers who adapted to the changes by Trump appointed DeJoy who has financial ties to private postal service companies. They continued delivering your mail during the pandemic, delivered ballots on time during the 2020 Presidential election, and pushed through despite radical restructuring under the Trump administration.




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