Many of us hope that 2022 brings the beginning of the end to the COVID pandemic. Yet the effect it has had on the labor market and the world of work will linger for much longer. Sparked by the ‘Great Resignation’ that started last year, there has been a huge emphasis on employee health and workforce wellbeing. Workers are choosing to prioritize when and how they work over what they do, leading to them sacrificing employee loyalty for greater remuneration and personal health. This problem cannot be solved by a brute force method of deploying lots of traditional job adverts. Instead, as employers, we all must adapt to the workforce wellbeing trend and bring about a ‘Great Retention’ to improve employee happiness and loyalty.
The pandemic has heralded a new era of work. Personal health and wellbeing have been pushed to the forefront of employee demands. Instead of stability and loyalty, the pandemic has offered many the chance to self-reflect on their personal goals and pushed many more to look for better remuneration. However, it would be wrong to suggest that workers are simply following the money. Instead, many of us are all suffering from post-pandemic fatigue. Working from home and the lack of separation between work and home life has, for many, increased the amount of stress and anxiety they face at work.
Indeed, a UK government study found that in 2020/21 there were an estimated 822,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. This represents 2,480 per 100,000 workers and accounted for 50% of all work-related ill-health. More specifically, their data shows that young professional female employees, in the 25-34 age range, suffer by far the most stress and anxiety at work.
While the study did not look into the reasons for the causes of this stress and anxiety, it is clear that employers need to rapidly adopt workplace measures and safeguards to protect their workers. Luckily, a CIPD report found that the overwhelming majority of employers have reacted to this increase in stress. Just over three-quarters (77%) of respondents believe their organization actively promotes good mental wellbeing (up from 58% last year).
However, the figures are less enamoring for the action that their employers took as only half believed that their employers’ initiatives are effective in tackling workplace stress arising from COVID-19. Clearly then, while the desire to help and promote workforce wellbeing is ripe and widespread, more action needs to be taken to create positive programs and engagement with employees over their wellbeing.
The dreaded return to the office
With the pandemic looking to be on its last legs, many businesses are reshaping their working arrangements. 2022 will represent a turning point for many employers who had abandoned their traditional full-time office use in favor of working from home. For many, the big question remains whether they will continue a flexible and hybrid working approach or whether they will insist that employees make the dreaded return to the office.
Specifically, this brings new worries and stress over personal health as an increase of person-to-person contact goes against much of the government advice over the last two years. Despite the pandemic seemingly coming to an end, it will be hard for many employees to simply ignore and push aside the personal protections that they have relied upon over the last 2 years. Therefore, rather than making sudden and drastic changes to working arrangements, employers should ease employees back into office attendance. After all, we have all shown that flexible working has been, despite its flaws, a suitable replacement for full-time office use, and hybrid working offers a chance to disrupt decades-long working practices.
Workers are championing when and how they work
Another reason why employers need to champion workforce wellbeing is to be able to effectively respond to the ‘Great Resignation’. Instead of combatting employees leaving their jobs for better personal wellbeing, businesses should be looking to embrace it as a chance to truly address their employees’ shortcomings with their roles. Moreover, with many employees choosing to leave the workforce altogether, going on a recruitment drive isn’t the sole answer and retaining the talent you’ve already got is more important than ever.
While the reasons that employees are choosing to leave their jobs and the workforce overall are numerous and often personal to them, it is clear that many are choosing to prioritize when and how they work. For example, a study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found that, far from the dire predictions that were made during the middle of the pandemic, young people’s prospects for finding work have massively increased. Even more than this, they found that many young professionals were choosing to embrace the gig economy to find work as they valued greater flexibility and being able to choose what tasks they did and the variety of their workload.
What employers can do about this and why we need a ‘Great Retention’
But how can employers respond to this and what steps should we be taking to embrace workforce wellbeing? For a start, monitoring employee workload can be a simple way to ensure that your employees’ mental wellbeing is not being negatively affected. Similarly, concerns over disciplinary action may cause individuals to hide their issues with work, which could lead to mental health issues. Here, managers are also best placed to pick up when someone is starting to feel overwhelmed, so they need to be trained to conduct check-in chats. This can help to create a comfortable working environment for employees to devote themselves to the company.
Certainly, the pandemic and the huge shift to our daily lives it has caused has given us all food for thought. While the changes it has brought have undoubtedly increased stress levels for many, it has also changed the very priorities and outlook that employees have when considering their job position. This may seem at first like a rejection of employers and the benefits and remuneration that they offer their employees. However, it should be otherwise seen as a chance for all of us to champion workforce wellbeing. By doing this, we can turn the ‘Great Resignation’ into a ‘Great Retention.’