2022 is the worst year on record for employee stress, according to research from Gartner.
The analyst firm’s study of 3,500 workers found that 58% are stressed and 48% are worried about work. 41% are also working nine extra, unpaid, hours of overtime a week.
Piers Hudson, research leader at Gartner’s HR practice tells UNLEASH: “Many business leaders are convinced that employee stress has reduced from the traumatic days of the pandemic – they are entirely mistaken.
“The fact is employees have never truly recovered from the pandemic and continue to suffer from ongoing fatigue. At the same time there has been an economic crisis, political uncertainty and meanwhile employees have had to adapt to the challenges of working in a hybrid environment.”
Not only is this an issue for productivity – stressed, burnt out and distracted workers are unlikely to be able to perform at this best – it is feeding into sky-high quit rates, dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. As a result of burnout, 68% of employees told Gartner they are less likely to stay at their organizations.
How to tackle employee burnout
While employers are more concerned about burnout than ever before, they are still stuck in a traditional mindset. 72% of 250 HR leaders surveyed by Gartner said that they believed higher performing employees work longer hours.
In fact, the opposite is true. Brent Cassell, vice-president of advisory in Gartner’s HR practice, shared: “Simply put: More hours worked does not equal more results. Instead, organizations must rethink how they approach rest – rest should be embedded into the workflow to prevent burnout rather than being used to recover from it.”
Gartner recommends that employers embrace ‘proactive rest’ – this is where employees are given the tools and the space to rest and recharge, with the ultimate aim of avoiding burnout in the future.
Hudson shares with UNLEASH: “Progressive organizations are looking at limiting virtual work time, whether that be by timeboxing, where employees are expected to be available for synchronous work only during a limited period in the day or implementing meeting-free days – some even going as far as meeting-free weeks.”
Gartner’s data shows that proactive rest leads to a 26% increase in performance, as well as a significant reduction in burnout – 22% of employees without proactive rest are burnt out, compared to 2% for those implementing these changes.
Hudson concludes: “It’s important that organizations begin to normalize activities for rest and recovery, with leaders becoming role models of this behavior. They also need to take steps to incentivize it.
“Progressive organizations are communicating the importance of rest and taking active steps to disassociate time spent working in relation to performance, which involves measuring performance based on outcomes achieved rather than hours logged”.
Employees want to learn and grow
Gartner’s research further found that the pandemic did not just impact employee stress and wellbeing, but it fundamentally changed workers’ priorities. Of the 3,500 workers surveyed, 65% said COVID-19 had made them re-consider the role of work in their lives.
One change has been a focus on development, both personally and professionally. Workers expect organizations to provide them with these development opportunities, otherwise they will seek it elsewhere.
75% of workers looking for development opportunities will do so outside of their current organization, and just 25% are confident about their career at their current organization.
Vitorio Bretas, director in Gartner’s HR practice, commented: “Employees are leaving their current employers for better professional development opportunities (45%) at similar rates as they leave for higher compensation (48%).
“35% of employees surveyed said they left their employer for better career trajectories.”
Therefore, if employees want to thrive in the ‘Great Resignation’ and beyond, they don’t just need to prioritize rest but also think about their learning and development offerings.
According to Gartner, 94% of workers want to develop skills outside their roles, and one in three don’t know how to progress in the next three years. So employers need to empower managers to have conversations with their direct reports on their learning and development priorities.
The time for business to act is now “if they are to prevent employee departures and talent gaps opening up in what is a difficult economic climate. They need to make the workplace a secure and fulfilling place for staff,” concluded Benjamin Loring, senior principal in Gartner’s HR practice.
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