The Great Resignation continues unabated. Deloitte’s latest annual mental health report, found that 28 per cent of employees had left or planned to leave their jobs, with 61% citing poor mental health as the reason for leaving.
This, on the back of two years of uncertainty, is leading many senior decision-makers to not only radically rethink traditional working patterns – but also to acknowledge the central role mental health support plays in increasing staff wellbeing and fulfilment and therefore, retention.
In this article we look at six common mistakes some organisations are making in the battle to attract and retain talent.
We’ve all heard of the ‘Great Resignation’ and seen how life after lockdown has shaken job markets globally.
Resignations, vacancies, and job-to-job moves remain high and the competition for talent continues to intensify as the UK’s workforce shrinks.
There are several reasons behind resignations, and not all of these fall at the feet of the employer. Some industries have been naturally more affected, and many people are simply changing direction or have new life commitments. Workers in the emergency services are at the sharp end of the burnout spike which is also driving issues like absenteeism, presenteeism and resignation.
Research shows lack of wellbeing support is playing an overwhelming role; Benenden Health found that a worrying 55% of people would seek a new job if their mental wellbeing wasn’t supported by their employer.
It seems mental health support and the notion of psychologically safe workplaces are at last gaining their rightful currency in a market driven by job-seekers looking for more than free fruit or a duvet day.
So, what can employers do to compete? What are the common pitfalls they should avoid in shaping their approach to employee wellbeing?
- Looking backwards
Renamed the “Great Reflection” by some, the pandemic has given time for people for introspection, and 65% of employees are re-evaluating the place work has in their life (Gartner, 2021).
According to Harriet Cresswell, Talent Acquisition at Kooth, some organisations are failing to meet employees where they are now: “People have had a chance to reflect and are wanting flexibility, fairer conditions, and more purpose at work. Many have also experienced trauma in the past few years, and more of us are experiencing poor wellbeing.
“We can’t expect people to continue working in the same manner and within old frameworks when the needs, situations, and expectations have changed.”
The pandemic hasn’t caused the Great Resignation – it’s just given people a chance to realise work wasn’t or is no longer satisfying. So, instead of clutching on to how things were, enlightened companies are seizing this opportunity to drive positive change.
- Restricting flexibility
Some organisations are restricting employees to marginally flexible policies, such as allowing home working twice a week or restricting flexibility to certain hours. Of course, many businesses will have good reasons for doing this, but for employees who have valued flexibility at work, it may feel like an unwelcome return to old practises that no longer suit them.
Cresswell explains: “We strive to create diverse workforces and then expect all sizes to fit into certain policies that aren’t always justified. To reap the benefits of diversity and have a great section of society working for you, you’ve got to allow for flexibility in many forms. Not everyone can be available (or productive) nine-to-five in the office, in the same way that not everyone wants home working.”
Of course, certain hours or locations are needed for some industries. But many employers are finding advantages in enabling people to discover how they work best.
- Overlooking “stayers”
Many companies are focusing on hiring, attempting to fill gaps and appeal to the overwhelming number of job searchers.
But Cresswell warns against doing that at the expense of your existing workforce: “The mistake companies can easily make is spending too much time on that [recruitment], and not enough on satisfying those who actually work there.
“Some companies have been massively successful in listening to, caring for, and thus retaining their staff. Focusing on this is paying off more, because they can retain and grow their workforce, rather than work to an equilibrium of losing and gaining.”
- Reducing trust
Cresswell suggests that some employers are building barriers to this trust by not letting their employees be autonomous post-pandemic.
“You hire people because you value their skillset and trust them to do the job. But by telling them they must come into the office, or telling them how or when work is completed, you instantly tarnish this trust.”
Instead, Cresswell argues that employers must strive to create a culture of trust by giving their employees more autonomy and flexibility. This could include hybrid working for office-based employees, training managers to lead with compassion, and having regular anonymous employee surveys to ensure all voices are heard.
- Ignoring long-term
To cope with changing demands and shortages, many employees temporarily took up new responsibilities or higher workloads, which have trickled into their “new normal”.
But just because employees have shown that they can manage a heavy workload doesn’t mean that they should. It’s not durable long term and likely contributes to the 76% of employees who’ve experienced burnout and work-related stress (Gallup, 2020), a forerunner to resignation.
Staff shortages have also left many desperate to fill roles, with some employers offering over-zealous starting bonuses, salaries, and benefits, or attempting to sell people an unrealistic dream.
- Leading with uncertainty
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that companies not only need to mitigate workplace stressors, such as toxic environments and inequitable opportunities, but need to create a culture revolving around wellbeing.
However, the heat on leaders to improve employee wellbeing has left some feeling like they need to be counsellors or professionals, understandably leading to uncertainty or avoidance when approaching mental health. This could have huge repercussions for employees, including withdrawal and indeed resignation.
Cresswell adds, “Leaders aren’t meant to be mental health experts, and that is why it’s so crucial to have external specialised services. It’s about filling leaders with confidence and training in, for example, spotting the warning signs, adapting workloads to suit individual needs, approaching the conversation and being clear on boundaries.”
Taking a fresh look at your workforce, starting with gaining a clear understanding of the issues staff are experiencing – and which are impacting their wellbeing and performance at work – is the first step to building back better. Many employees may appear well, but may form a large proportion of the ‘missing middle’ who would benefit from early support.
A positive and healthy culture takes time and commitment to achieve, but in this (almost) post-pandemic age, you can expect a rich and long-lasting return on your investment.
If you want to know more about how Wellbeing Leaders can support their company’s talent strategy, read ‘Don’t Leave! Your Guide to Beating the Great Resignation’.