Stemming the tide: managing a tsunami of turnover and burnout. But does the great resignation give us a great opportunity?

The great resignation

The news is now full of the The Great Resignation – statistics everywhere detailing a mass exodus of employees from their jobs whilst we’re still in the throes of a global pandemic.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August.  In the UK, job vacancies soared to an all-time high in July, with available posts surpassing one million for the first time.

So, what is behind such a mass movement of employees?  We’ve had years of stagnant pay in many sectors, but amidst the economic uncertainty that the pandemic has thrown our way, is this tsunami of turnover really all about money?

Pre-pandemic research tells us that 52% of employees would choose a company that cared about their wellbeing over a company that pays 10% more1 with 86% of Millennials willing to take a pay cut to work for a company whose mission aligns with their own2.  Among the six workplace factors examined as part of the Glassdoor research, compensation and benefits were consistently rated among the least important factors of workplace happiness.  

Since the pandemic there has been a noticeable shift in mindsets in relation to employee’s expectations.  More recent research by EY suggests that more than half (54%) of employees surveyed from around the world would consider leaving their job post-COVID-19 pandemic if they are not afforded some form of flexibility in where and when they work3.

The great burnout

The Gallup World Poll finds that 2020 was officially the most stressful year in recent history, with a record-high 40% of adults worldwide saying they experienced high stress levels. This five-percentage-point jump from 35% in 2019 represents nearly 190 million more people globally who experiencing high levels of stress.  Prior to the pandemic in 2019-2020, the UK had 17.9 million days of recorded absenteeism which is highest level ever recorded.  A recent Deloitte report tells us that 41% of millennials and 46% of Gen Zs shared that they feel stressed or anxious ‘most’ or ‘all of the time’ and 48% report feeling more stressed since the start of the pandemic4.

But what we need to pay attention to is that the causes of mental ill health at work are consistently linked with factors intrinsic to the job. These accounted for 42% of workplace mental ill-health cases reported to the GP network5.  And with an average increase of 12.5 working hours a week during 2020, are we also heading for the great burnout?

The grass is greener where you water it

Employees increasingly want to feel valued and want to know that their wellbeing and mental health will be prioritised.  However, if organisations don’t respond to the psychosocial needs of employees, another organisation will and as we are finding out, employees are increasingly willing to vote with their feet. 

New research from Persinio6 showed that 44% of respondents who were planning to quit wanted to do so because of a worsening work-life balance or a toxic workplace culture.  The study also highlighted a worrying disconnect between employers’ perception of what will encourage their staff to leave and the employees’ reality.  HR hugely underestimated the pushing power of a toxic workplace culture and over-estimated factors such as pay and benefits.

Reasons for resignations
Based on 500 HR decision makers and 2,002 workers in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

All of this evidence points to a real need to formalise our organisations approach towards wellbeing, taking responsibility for the fact that organisations may be expecting employees to work in toxic environments. 

What if your job was good for you?

A recent report7 released in June this year by Business in the Community (BITC), focuses on this exact concept – citing our current situation as a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform mental health and wellbeing at work. The report sets out how business leaders can create an environment in which employees feel supported to thrive at work.

As outlined in our previous blog, ISO 45003, the first global standard giving practical guidance on managing psychological health in the workplace, was released in June 2021.  Adopting a framework for managing psychological health and safety will help to provide a roadmap for businesses to navigate the route out of the pandemic.

Pscyhosocial risk factors including workload, job control, line manager relationships and working environment are among the key reasons cited for why employees are leaving their jobs.  They are also consistently the reasons provided for workplace stress and poor mental health.  It stands to reason that if work factors are part of the issue when it comes to stress and turnover then good job design must be part of the solution.

A great opportunity?

As with many aspects of the pandemic, this situation presents us with a huge opportunity.  Those organisations that put their employees first will be the ones that thrive coming out of the pandemic.  It is a clear way to improve productivity and address issues of absenteeism and presenteeism, turnover and retention.

As organisations consider hybrid working arrangements following the pandemic, it is crucial that they consider the impact of psychosocial risk on employees. We need to create work environments that offer positive work-life balances and reduce the toxic workplace culture we have come to accept as the norm.

Lakeland Capabilities are working alongside DMA Safety Management to help businesses adopt the new ISO 45003 standard.  If you are interested in completing our PsychSafeTM risk assessment survey to identify the specific risks that might be present in your organisation, please contact us for more information.

1: Reward Gateway report, 2019:   

2: Glassdoor, 2017

3: EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey.

4: Deloitte: Millennials and Generation Z—making mental health at work a priority, June 2021

5: THOR(GP), data 2013-2015

6: Counting the Cost: How Businesses Risk a Post Pandemic Talent Drain, Persinio and Opinium, March 2021

7: BITC – What If Your Job Was Good For You? June 2021