So many people are talking about the Great Resignation, as millions of workers leave their jobs and go…. well, where are they going, and why? Inc. Magazine published findings from a study conducted by Limeade, a consulting firm dedicated to employee well-being, which analyzed the reasons behind the labor force volatility of the last two years. According to Limeade, the top reason workers cite for leaving their previous job (over 40 percent) is burnout. Some workers are taking a break, and those moving to another position are looking for something where they will have less stress or can control it better.
Even stressed workers won’t quit if they don’t think they can find another job, and workers know as well as employers that there are more open positions than available employees. In fact, there are three million more jobs than available employees, making this a buyers’ market for workers for the first time recently. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as recently as December of 2019, shortly before the start of the pandemic, there were 5.8 million unemployed people and 5.9 million open jobs. That’s a very tight job market, which may have contributed to a reluctance to leave. Still, workers don’t leave without reason, and burnout can significantly contribute.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “feelings of exhaustion and reduced effectiveness resulting from chronic workplace stress.” By March 2020, barely the beginning of the pandemic restrictions, workers describing themselves in a Gallup Poll as very often or always burned out had spiked to 60 percent and 58 percent, respectively. The findings were mirrored in a survey conducted in 2021 by job site Indeed, which also noted that sixty-seven percent of respondents believe that burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic (thirteen percent say the pandemic has improved their stress levels.)
Step one is to recognize the signs, and recognition isn’t easy when you have limited “face time” with your staff. The irony is that your best workers are most susceptible to burnout—because they care so much. The most engaged, hardest workers are the ones that keep plugging away at their goals without complaint despite untenable conditions until they just can’t take it anymore. The same Gallup Poll noted that burned out employees use more sick days, are half as likely to discuss how to achieve their performance goals with their manager, and are more than two and a half times more likely than other workers to leave their job.
Managers can look for these signs:
But some companies are seeking to prevent rather than diagnose. Employers are looking for ways to support and reward workers, meeting their needs and encouraging them to take time for vital self-care.
Dating app Bumble gave almost all of its 800 employees a full mental health week off last summer (employees who couldn’t participate due to special responsibilities like IT security got a scheduled makeup) and is planning two additional closed weeks in 2022. Bumble is also organizing two days a month with no Slack messaging or email exchanges so workers can focus on accomplishing other tasks. Similarly, Boeing is promoting “meetingless Fridays” and flexible work schedules (although managers ultimately have the authority to opt-out of either for their team.)
While employees abruptly adjusted to working from home, some preferred the separation of work and home, while others benefitted from the blurring of the line. Whether due to eliminating a long commute or gaining the ability to use scheduling flexibility to help a family member, the home office became the first choice for some people. And for others, it’s still the only choice due to childcare instability or other pressure. However, for many workers, the option of working where and when they want (subject to meeting the business’ needs) is crucial to satisfaction and basic coping ability.
If companies can allow workers to choose to continue working from home or select a hybrid schedule that combines some days in the office with others at home, that step should assist in the reduction of stresses that can exacerbate burnout.
While it seems intuitive to take time off when you need to, sometimes overwork can cause dedicated workers to resist the impulse to relax. Managers should be on the lookout for hard workers who aren’t using their vacation time and gently suggest that they should. Senior managers can also help by modeling the appropriate behavior—taking time away from the office and refraining from engaging in work activities while scheduled to be on vacation.
More companies are adopting sabbatical policies, offering workers with long tenure the opportunity to take paid or unpaid chunks of time when they reach certain milestones like fifteen or twenty years. While the participation levels are still low, they are growing and now include significant employers like Adobe, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs.
Smaller firms may not be able to emulate the sabbatical model. Still, they can consider awarding extra days off to high performers or hosting end-of-week get-togethers for workers to relax and socialize. Again, recognition for a good job is a powerful incentive.
Not surprisingly, just adding some personal touches to your fringe benefits package can help improve morale and prevent burnout. Talk to your Taylor Benefits Insurance consultant about surprising workers with a weekly meal delivery, free healthy snacks, monthly dry cleaning, bring-your-pet-to-work-day, or other low cost (even no cost) mood-boosters. Small changes and perks show your workers that you care, and combined with some concessions to help them achieve that elusive work-life balance, may benefit both the company and the employees.
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