Can your organization survive The Great Resignation? Is burnout getting the best of your employees?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.53 million people joined The Great Resignation in November of 2021, an all-time high. 

Quit rates were highest among workers whose fields experienced increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare industry was particularly hit hard, experiencing a record high quit rate of 3%. 

The facts are clear, workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers, and there is no sign of this trend ending any time soon.

This situation raises two important questions:

  1. What are the causes?
  2. What can employers do to retain employees during this tidal wave of resignations?

What Caused The Great Resignation?

One of the leading causes of The Great Resignation is burnout. Stress and burnout are an inevitable part of the business world. However, the current environment has exacerbated the problem. 

Here are some startling statistics. According to a recent survey, 67% of employees felt increased levels of burnout during the pandemic. In addition, 53% of remote workers and 34% of on-site employees are working more hours than pre-pandemic. More work equals more stress. And more stress leads to increased burnout resulting in an increased rate of resignation. The increased attrition rates in organizations result in an increased workload for the remaining employees. And this leads to more hours, increased stress, more burnout, and an even higher turnover rate – an endless loop.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 52% of remaining employees reported an increase in responsibilities due to workplace attrition. In addition, 30% felt they could not adequately keep up with their workloads, and 27% reported a decrease in loyalty to their employers. These are statistics that no organization should be OK with hearing. 

Turnover is a drain on a company’s productivity and profits. It is estimated that the cost to replace an employee is 50% – 75% of their annual salary. And with nearly 50% of U.S. executives reporting a significantly increased turnover rate over the last half of 2021, this does not bode well.

There will always be attrition in any organization. People will always come and go. But the question every leader should ask is, “Am I creating an environment that encourages people to stay or a culture that pushes them away?”

How Could You Not See This Coming?

Most organizational leaders found themselves blindsided by The Great Resignation. Why? Because very few people foresaw the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating effect that it would have on our personal and organizational wellbeing. But similar to viruses finding and attacking the weakest part of the body, the pandemic found and attacked a critical pain point for most organizations – stress.

Stress and burnout have always and will always be an issue. In fact, stress is a necessary ingredient for productivity. (This is a topic I covered in-depth in a recent piece on stress management) The problem is created when it’s the wrong type or the wrong amount of stress. When an environment is already “stressed to the max,” any added pressure creates a breakdown.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 57% of US and Canadian workers feel stressed on a daily basis. That is more than anywhere else in the world. And 62% of the ultra-stressed are working women. Granted, while there was an eight percentage point increase due to the events of 2020, that still puts pre-pandemic numbers at 49%. 

This means that almost half of our workforce was already battling excess stress on a daily basis. That number is in no way acceptable because the situation is entirely manageable. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added “burnout” to its International Classification Of Diseases, defining it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The WHO has gone on to implore employers to take concrete steps to improve the mental health of their employees at work.

But many organizations are reluctant to spend money on stress management initiatives. Instead, some choose to throw money at the problem instead of the solution.

“The increased attrition rates in organizations result in an increased workload for the remaining employees. And this leads to more hours, increased stress, more burnout, and an even higher turnover rate – an endless loop.”

Jose Johnson

Burnout in Healthcare

An area where we see this scenario playing out is the healthcare sector. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and short on staff. Their solution is to offer insanely high bonus payments to entice the remaining workers to pick up extra shifts. While this does address the immediate symptom, it doesn’t address the deeper problem. Instead, it actually compounds the problem. 

As staff work more hours in an already stressful environment, they, in turn, become more stressed. This additional stress causes them to burn out faster and quit sooner, further draining an already depleted workforce and creating an endless cycle of attrition. This strategy is like putting a Bandaid on a gunshot wound. Until the underlying causes are adequately addressed, the organization will continue to hemorrhage staff.

So what can be done? A simple solution is to give your employees the tools to manage stress better and feel happier.

Ways To Prevent Burnout

For any organization, the best resource is its people. An organization with engaged and happy employees is more productive, leading to increased profitability. 

According to a study conducted at Warrick University, happy employees were 12% more productive than their contemporaries. And just as important, dissatisfied workers were found to be 10% less productive. 

When tech giant Google decided to invest in creating a culture conducive to employee wellbeing, they saw a 32% increase in employee satisfaction. Research from the University of Tennessee shows the link between employee happiness and profit, the latter of which is the ultimate measure of any business. According to the data, organizations with high “employee friendliness” scores had superior performance in returns on assets, higher sales-to-assets ratios, and lower expenditures.

Unfortunately, many executives view employee wellness initiatives, particularly those focused on mental and emotional wellbeing, as unnecessary expenses instead of what they are: an investment with a huge upside.

Nevertheless, the numbers tell a different tale. In terms of increased productivity and better health, the WHO estimates that the return on investment for every $1 invested in mental health strategies is $4. That’s a 400% ROI!

The stress that we are all experiencing is the signal that change is necessary – change in both individual behaviors and corporate cultures. To survive The Great Resignation, we must individually and organizationally take responsibility for our holistic wellbeing. 

Jose Johnson

Corporate Culture

There is a Buddhist saying that “change comes from within.” Therefore, if businesses want their employees to handle stress better, it must start with a change in the corporate culture.

Organizations with a “win at all costs” mentality tend to create an environment lacking empathy. Working through lunch is a sign of commitment; taking a daily meditation break is not. Until leadership recognizes the importance of positivity and calm as an integral part of the productivity cycle, creating an environment conducive to high productivity and lower burnout will be impossible.

But it is not enough to just talk the talk. Leaders, by definition, must be the example. If your team or organization is crumbling under the weight of excess stress, ask yourself this simple question: “Am I overworked?” 

Making a visible commitment to your mental wellbeing sends an important message to your organization. If you want your employees to be happier and healthier, make sure you model the behavior and showcase the results.

A Holistic Approach To Corporate Wellness Programs

Instituting corporate wellness initiatives is nothing new. However, wellness is about more than physical health. 

I have a concept at the heart of my book, “Mindfulness Secrets,” forming the foundation of my coaching and consulting. It is called “The Five Pillars Of Holistic Wellness.” This idea results from my study of Chinese martial arts, healing arts, and philosophy. 

In Chinese culture, a concept exists called the “Wu Xing” or “Five Phases/Elements.” This theory has been used for centuries to explain the relationship and interactions found in nature – everything from the changing of the seasons to the changes in the socio-political climate. There is even an entire method of Chinese medicine devoted to using the Five Phases theory to diagnose and treat illness.

 The Five Pillars of Holistic Wellness is my way of looking at the relationship of the major parts of life. The pillars support who we are and what we are able to do. They are:

  • Physical Wellness 
  • Mental Wellness 
  • Emotional Wellness 
  • Spiritual Wellness 
  • Financial Wellness 

Why holistic? Because life is not simply a series of unrelated events. Every aspect of our lives affects the other. To live your life to its fullest, you need to understand how each part supports or detracts from the others.

If an organization wishes to create a corporate culture that values employee wellness, leaders must consider all five pillars. Offering your employees perks like exercise classes and a kombucha bar are great, but attention also needs to be given to their mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial wellness. When crafting your wellness initiatives, consider adding things like staff mindfulness training (addressing the mental, emotional, and spiritual pillars) or workshops on building credit scores (improving the financial pillar.) 

Stress Management Techniques

While it is beneficial to hire a consultant like myself to create a custom solution for unique organizational challenges, leaders can share some easy-to-implement techniques with their team members.

  1. Encourage your employees to take regular breaks. Our brain’s ability to focus is limited. So while you may be working non-stop for 12-hours, you probably are not being completely productive the entire time. Regular breaks allow the brain to “rest and reset” so that your creativity and productivity reserves are replenished.
  2. Be considerate of others’ time. Before you schedule that next meeting, ask yourself is it really necessary? Could your problem be as quickly addressed in an email? Do you need to discuss the matter now, or can it be scheduled later? And if a meeting is necessary, set clear boundaries about the length of time and personal expectations.
  3. Start and end each meeting with a “moment of silence.” Instead of rushing headlong into tackling your agenda items, allow the attendees (and yourself) a moment to clear your minds before having to process or present new information. (Here is one of my favorite techniques that only takes 90-seconds to do!)
  4. Reward healthy habits. Let your people know that you value their commitment to healthy habits by offering rewards or incentives. One of my favorites is the Water Challenge, where team members track how many ounces of water they drink during the day. The winning person or team wins a special prize, and maybe a seat closer to the bathroom.

Will the Great Resignation ever end? Probably. But until it does, organizations must be willing to adapt. According to Hans Selye, stress is “the nonspecific response of the body to any demand for change.” The stress that we are all experiencing is the signal that change is necessary – change in both individual behaviors and corporate cultures. To survive The Great Resignation, we must individually and organizationally take responsibility for our holistic wellbeing. 

If your organization is looking for practical ways to stave off The Great Resignation and keep your workers happy and satisfied, give me a call for a free initial consultation or fill out the form on my contact page

Remember, it is what it is, but it becomes what you make of it. So make it great!

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2020 will go down in the history books as one of the most traumatic times in recent history. First, we experience a global pandemic that resulted in most of the world as we know it shutting down as stay at home orders were implemented, resulting in our economy teetering on the verge of collapse.

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