Workplaces can no longer afford to ignore employee well-being: Jennifer Moss

The pandemic has shifted the workplace landscape and is having ripple effects. That includes employees considering a new job if they don't feel their employers care about their well-being, writes happiness columnist Jennifer Moss.

Companies may find transactional-only relationships with employees won't work

The pandemic has caused big changes in may workplaces and one change in particular is employees are starting to notice whether their employer cares about their well being, writes happiness and well-being columnist Jennifer Moss. (Shutterstock / Warpboyz)

The early days of the pandemic caused a major disruption in how we work and those ripple effects are still being felt today.

Multiple surveys continue to warn of a mass departure across the Canadian workforce. According to one survey by the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation, 42 per cent of Canadian employees say they're considering changing their job or entire career in the next year.

Recruiting firm Hays, in their annual salary guide found that half of Canadian employees are "seriously considering leaving" their jobs. 

Health care has been particularly threatened with massive attrition. In an issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), job vacancies in Canada's health-care sector were up more than 56 per cent from the previous year, while vacancies in the nursing sector increased by 40 per cent to a shortage of 98,700 nurses. 

These national polls mirror global data. A Microsoft survey of 30,000 global employees found that 41 per cent are planning to quit or change jobs in the next six months.

In an already competitive market for talent and a skills shortage, this could have a huge effect on the economy. Plus, when it comes to the shortages in healthcare, the community impacts would be catastrophic.

But data shows that more pay isn't the answer; only four per cent said that compensation was the reason they were planning to quit. 

Workforce has burned out

After 18 exhausting months of working under extreme stress, the workforce has burned out.

As employers ask people to keep up the pace, plus return to the office in part or full-time, employees are pushing back. With nearly half of the Canadian workforce planning to quit or change their jobs in the next six months, it appears they're choosing well-being over work. 

The themes coming from all of these surveys continue to point to a mishandling of employee well-being during the pandemic 

The Hays survey showed that 43 per cent of the respondents believe their companies have failed to provide measures that support their well-being throughout the pandemic, even as they faced challenges like:

  1. The lack of social interaction (45 per cent).
  2. Isolation/loneliness (27 per cent).
  3. Increase in workload (25 per cent).

In healthcare, the amount of overwork increased to extreme levels. Unable to sustain the amount of overtime, constant fear and anxiety that physicians and nurses face each day on the front lines, they've determined that quitting is the only solution to the problem. 

On the flip side, a study from researchers at Stanford University in California analyzed data across 354 large employers and found that during the pandemic, companies that exhibited better financial flexibility — meaning they didn't just lay everyone off — had better governance, and better pre-pandemic treatment of workers, reduced the likelihood of employee's leaving by almost half. 

People's priorities have changed during the pandemic and that includes people's willingness to keep sacrificing their health for a job, Moss writes. In a year where burnout and chronic stress is at a historic high, many people have hit the wall. (Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley / Shutterstock)

Has the pandemic tipped the scales?

As I mentioned in recent columns, our priorities have changed. And so has our willingness to keep sacrificing our health for a job. And in a year where burnout and chronic stress is at a historic high, many of us hit the wall. 

Burnout is a reaction to chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: 

  • Exhaustion.
  • Cynicism (emotional/mental distance from one's work).
  • Feelings of reduced professional ability.

Basically, 18 months of prolonged stress on the job has not only completely exhausted us, but it's made us feel like the values and mission we were driven by are no longer there, and even worse, we've stopped feeling effective. 

Can leaders end the exodus? 

If employees are choosing to leave because they feel unsupported, employers need to give them better resources and make them feel cared for. 

In my recent article for the American Management Association, I discuss how organizations are not creating a hygienic environment for their employees. This is the table-stakes stuff like manageable workload, appropriate compensation for those extra hours worked, people feeling safe both physically and mentally at work, a commitment to fairness and equity. 

Motivation includes stuff like perks: the bonuses, the gym memberships, wellness apps, an extra vacation day, etc. These are all the downstream tactics that are really just band-aids. 

Right now – employers just need more hygiene. This means addressing the problems that are plaguing the workforce way further upstream, like:

  • Unsustainable workload.
  • Micromanagement and lack of trust.
  • Appropriate compensation — all those overtime hours people are working and not getting paid for it.
  • Loneliness and isolation.
  • Always on cultures.
  • Lack of diversity. 
  • Individualist – highly competitive cultures. 

The only real way employers can get a sense of how their employees are feeling is to ask. I tell the leaders I support with their burnout strategies to get prepared for the answer because it won't be what you're expecting. But it's imperative that if you ask, you must then act. 

Can't ignore worker well-being

It's now pretty much compulsory for companies to invest in their employee well-being strategies. Turnover is costly. At a rate of 50 per cent, that can be financially catastrophic.

It takes six to nine months to onboard someone to be fully effective. Companies that lose a big chunk of their workforce could be struggling with this for the next 18 months, and maybe much longer. 

As a burnout and well-being expert, I'm personally thrilled to see this shift. Organizations that still believe they have a transactional-only relationship with their employees are witnessing their obsolescence. As a human being, I believe that it's worth it. I promise you; your list of death bed regrets will never include: I wish I'd sent that last email. 


Jennifer Moss

CBC Happiness and Well-being Columnist

Jennifer Moss is an international public speaker, award-winning author, and UN Global Happiness Committee Member. She is based in Kitchener, Ontario.