HR teams are dealing with a fragmented and restless workforce thanks to a combination of post-pandemic burnout, political polarisation and weaker emotional connections.
Speaking at a roundtable this week, Brian Kropp, distinguished VP of research at analyst company Gartner, described how organisations were “entering a period where things outside and inside the organisation are pulling us apart from each other” – a trend that was making it harder to collaborate and creating a build-up in conflict at work.
Gartner cited research showing that 57% of companies expect some form of hybrid working going forward, but Kropp explained that this was not without its challenges.
“Even in a potentially slowing economy, we’re not seeing turnover slow down,” he said. “I think this will be a permanent reality of the post-pandemic workplace. It’s easier to change jobs because with remote or hybrid work, you don’t have to move, so the cost of changing these jobs is less.”
The company predicted that turnover would be 20% higher than it was pre-pandemic – so if an organisation previously experienced around 20% attrition, it could now expect 24%.
One of the driving factors behind this is the way remote working has led to weaker emotional connections, making it harder for colleagues to understand each others’ needs. High burnout levels mean workers are also more likely to be harsher with each other in email communications, said Kropp, increasing that sense of fragmentation.
We spend so much time talking about bringing your whole self to work, but part of that sense of self is your religious or political belief” – Brian Kropp
At the same time, Gartner found that increasing numbers of employees were actively avoiding certain colleagues because they disagreed with their politics. Forty-four percent of workers felt this to be the case, according to the company’s research.
“We spend so much time talking about bringing your whole self to work, but part of that sense of self is your religious or political belief,” Kropp added. “But this extreme period of conflict externally has permeated into the workplace.”
The combination of these factors meant organisations needed to focus on “healing” their workplaces and become more human, he advised. They could do this in three ways: through rest (allowing employees time for breaks or to prepare for busy periods through “pre-covery”); by growing skills such as empathy rather than focusing on hard skills; and through building better connections.
Review employee wellbeing packages
Reviewing wellbeing and benefits packages can help with this healing process, according to Gus Vickery, senior principal.
“The changes we’ve seen from the pandemic have been significant,” he said. “We’re experiencing big changes to our patterns of work and lifestyle, and stress has increased.”
Over the course of the pandemic, workplace benefits offerings went up from an average of 12 to 20, according to Gartner’s research. However, this was in large part reactive, or “helping employees fix a problem”, said Vickery.
“The strains on workers now are just as significant as they were pre-pandemic,” he added. “So the mandate now is to move from reactive to preventive wellbeing, addressing the root causes of these wellbeing issues before they get worse.”
To do this, organisations should offer tools that help employees manage their own mental and physical health needs, while communicating better about the full range of benefits on offer.
Creating employee personas could help leaders understand the differing needs of people in the workforce, he said. “All employees could use tools to manage stress, but their needs will be different if they’re a single parent, for example, or are neurodiverse.”
Taking action on mental and physical wellbeing, as well as focusing on developing better connections, meant “we can support each other in ways that help us to respond to these fragmenting forces”, Kropp concluded.