How organisations can be more relatable and minimise burnout risk

With employees feeling less energised, organisations need to adapt in a number of ways to keep a thriving workforce, a global study shows.

Fewer people feel energised at work, and more feel at risk of burnout than they did pre-pandemic. As employers battle for labour in an era of shortages, they must also adapt to changing employee needs. If they don't, they will lose the ability to attract talent and keep the workers they have, according to consulting firm Mercer's Global Talent Trends report.

In addition, the stresses of COVID-19 taught many employers that job reductions are not necessarily the most strategic way to survive a crisis, the report said.

The report, Rise of the Relatable Organization, found that employees reported feeling less energised at work in 2022 than they did in 2019, before COVID-19 brought a worldwide economic standstill. Sixty-three per cent of employees said they felt energised last year, the lowest level in the study's seven-year history and a decline from 74% in 2019, the report said.

This lack of drive from workers can be explained through a disconnect between leadership and the workforce, with only two in five employees saying that their company is meeting all their needs, the report says. "The physical and emotional energy required to ride out the waves of the pandemic has sapped people's reserves and left many feeling that they are running on empty," the report said.

Almost all organisations surveyed by Mercer — 99% — are facing talent challenges (including an increase in quiet quitting), and 81% of employees surveyed felt at risk of burnout in 2022, up 18 percentage points since 2019.

The study defines relatable organisations as those that "are finding their voice on what they stand for and setting standards for "good work" such as fair pay, equitable conditions, and flexibility for all." It represents the views of over 13,300 respondents globally in 15 industries. Most respondents are employees, followed by human resources (HR) leaders and C-suite executives.

Those executives say that when another economic downturn occurs, they "plan to make strategic investments, not only cut costs," the report said. Just 13% say that they would cut bonus pools, compared to 33% in 2019, and 23% say they would reduce headcount, compared to 30% three years earlier.

"This reflects a pandemic-era lesson — that companies can be more nimble in difficult times by retaining people who know the culture and are already committed to the journey — and acknowledges the unique challenges of a tight economic climate combined with a hot labour market," the report said.

Workers now, especially younger ones, are looking for careers rather than jobs. "Companies can take advantage of their enthusiasm by making it easy for them to find exciting internal opportunities and think about career movement not only tied to promotion, but also exposure to broader experiences," the report said.

Minimising burnout risks

Eight in ten employees surveyed said they were at risk of burnout, according to the report. Employees are speaking out in greater numbers about toxic work cultures and unbearable workloads, the report said.

When employees feel valued, they are less likely to experience situations that escalate burnout. Thriving employees are two times more likely to feel comfortable turning down unreasonable requests and to work for a manager who has their back, the report said.

Positive results continue to derive from flexibility. While HR leaders believe that remote working significantly impacts mental health negatively, employees feel the opposite. Over half of employees surveyed say that remote working has had a positive impact on their well-being (59% of men and 54% of women), and only 12% say the impact has been negative, the report said.

When employees were asked to describe the future of work, one in three said it was about equity, the report said. They expect employers to move from merely offering benefits to being active partners in people's health and wealth outcomes — such as ensuring access to high-quality healthcare.

Accommodating new expectations

The report said that high-growth companies have approached hybrid work differently than peers have. Some of the strategies:

  • 36% offered the option of a four-day workweek.
  • 47% adjusted talent strategies to attract freelance and other nontraditional talent.
  • 51% asked employees where they want to work and how they work best.
  • 52% repurposed facilities for more digitally led hybrid working.
  • 54% institutionalised flexibility into cultural norms.

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