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Positive employee experience expected to decline significantly as ‘a new burnout’ looms pre-vaccine

 

“We already are in the ‘new normal,” says Kincentric, global engagement, leadership and HR advisory firm

Kincentric, a Spencer Stuart Company, today announced the results of a survey representing over 130,000 employees across 100 companies globally. The research reveals high levels of positive employee experience, but the scores are artificially high due to the extraordinary circumstances and will decline significantly within nine months, to levels similar to those seen in the immediate aftermath of the financial crash of 2008/9, says Ken Oehler, Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader at Kincentric.

Responding to the survey conducted by the global engagement, leadership and HR advisory firm, Kincentric, Ken Oehler said: “We must not take the current positive rates of employee experience for granted. They will not last.”

The survey reports that 78% of respondents have had a positive experience of wellbeing, connection and caring, senior leader response, and virtual work support. The number-one factor driving this upbeat reaction is respondents’ perception of senior leadership care and concern. However, the results also reveal the likely difficulty in maintaining high levels of positivity, with respondents citing increasing levels of stress. The principal concern of respondents is workload-related stress, with 25% of the most negative comments relating to anxiety and health concerns. A further 39% report either mixed or neutral feelings about their stress levels.

Ken Oehler continued: “We are not living in a straightforward pre- and post-Covid world, but a pre- and post-vaccine one. We already are in the ‘new normal,’ and fear will inevitably rise on a par with the levels of uncertainty.” With the anticipated steep decline in positive employee experience, pending an effective vaccine, Oehler also believes there is a risk of widespread burnout.

Ken Oehler

Women are reported to be experiencing higher levels of stress, with 28% indicating some challenges managing Covid-related stress, compared to 22% of men – a six percentage points difference. The 35 – 44 age group reports the highest levels of stress, with men and women citing different experiences, drivers of anxiety and priorities for support. Ken Oehler observes the reasons for the increased stress levels and risk of burnout for this group are longer working hours, juggling middle management roles with significant responsibility and the added economic pressure. However, women in particular are twice as likely as men in this age group to mention family, childcare and homeschooling as significant area of concern.

Ken Oehler added: “Many are not only putting in longer hours to make themselves ‘indispensable’ in insecure times, but discovering that working with colleagues and clients remotely, only on screens, is a greater strain and much more tiring than face-to-face interactions. And remember, no matter how hard they work, people may constantly have at the back of their minds the very real worry that their jobs could disappear anyway, with all the attendant financial implications that will bring. This could leave them feeling powerless and wondering whether going the extra mile is a fruitless exertion”.

“Combine deep fatigue with all the stresses of their working-from-home circumstances and the potential health fears of returning to their workplace and we have the making of an unprecedented perfect storm – ‘the new burnout’ – a real prospect.”

Oehler reports that, at the outset of the Coronavirus outbreak, most companies did a very good job of moving rapidly into crisis mode and reassuring their workforce that health and safety were paramount. With the likelihood of considerable staff reductions in the coming weeks and months, and the prospects of increased workloads for those who retain their roles, a slump in positive employee experience is not only likely, but may also be prolonged.

“Quick employer reactions were reassuring in the short term, but now what we are really talking about is “pre-vaccine” and “post-vaccine.” There will be no return to how things used to be and this long-term uncertainty, for which leaders do not have an answer, runs the risk of burnout becoming an additional epidemic for employers and society to contend with,” Oehler added.

Kincentric believes there are multiple variables to consider in relation to burnout associated with the pandemic. These include the fear of job losses, the blurring of work/life balance, isolation, adequate and reliable technology and a suitable home-working space. The impact on those not accustomed to virtual work is also considered more severe than for those who had prior remote work experience. The importance of extraordinary leadership as companies and their workforces face up to a long period of uncertainty ahead, is essential to managing the prevention of employee burnout. Enhancing the employee experience will require organisations to adopt a more ‘employee-centric’ approach by identifying which segments of the workforce have the greatest impact on business outcomes – then understanding the moments that matter to them. Leadership teams will not be able to ‘go back’ to the pre-Covid normal as the pandemic eases. The research demonstrates the impact and necessity for compassion, empathy, empowerment and transparency, as well as visibility and agile decision-making.