Wellbeing & Health

Staff Retention, Mental Health and the Great Resignation

8 Mins read

Call it what you want, the great resignation, the big quit, the great attrition or the big shuffle. It is the other pandemic of current times, with people quitting their jobs in the millions worldwide. When retention combined with staff and skills shortages becomes an issue for organisations, the outcome is always detrimental and costly.

This shift in the culture of the workforce has come about for a number of reasons, it is the train that is coming full speed at employers in the new normal. It’s time for organisations to pay attention or get hit by that train. Employers should not mistake this as a passing trend, but the ever changing and developing mindset of the current global workforce. The age of “bullshit jobs” is rapidly coming to an end and that’s good news for people in general and inadvertently for businesses too.   

Researchers Paint The Picture

A lack of job dignity may be why there has been and huge shift towards union membership both in the UK and the US over the pandemic. According to the US Labour Statistics in December 2020, the global employee talent shortage amounted to a shortage of 40 million skilled workers worldwide leading to potential losses of $8.4 trillion in revenue for businesses.

They warned that the great resignation has the power to blindside companies. This is also backed up by Microsoft’s global survey which found that 41% of the global workforce are considering leaving their employer in 2021. Microsoft reported that 37% of the global workforce says their employers are asking too much of them at a time like this.

Employees feel disconnected to their employer with out of touch business leaders saying they are “thriving right now”, whilst Gen Z’s, women and frontline workers reported struggling more than ever in 2021. Microsoft reported that leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call. The survey also found that those organisations where productivity was the same or higher during 2021, has been had at a human cost. 

One in five global survey respondents said their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance. 50% feel overworked, 39% feel exhausted and the digital intensity of workers’ days has increased substantially due to the shift to hybrid working which is taking its toll.

This overworking of employees was picked up all the way back in 2014 by Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C. They revealed that workers in the US worked an average of 47hrs a week with 18% working over 60hrs a week. They found that regardless of this “living to work”  type of life, full time minimum wage employees still couldn’t afford an apartment in any state of the USA without taking on a second job. Horrendous, I am sure you will agree and not many people wonder why organisations are struggling with recruitment and retention. 

If your organisation shifted to hybrid working it is important to consider how that has been managed, or is it even being managed? Organisations should not forget that they have duty of care towards their employees whether they are working from home or from the office. That duty of care has an equal standing in both environments.

Additionally, organisations should not get complacent when it comes to health and safety and people management within employees  homes. For any employer or manager thinking that staff working from home will automatically be OK, because they are at home, are setting themselves for some huge legal issues in the future. If organisations want to get staff retention right, they will need to get mental health and wellbeing in the workplace right.

The workplace in the new normal is both the office and an employee’s home. Employers will have to have face to face human conversations with their staff about their needs and wants.  It is not possible to get mental health at work and people management practices right without that human connection and effort. Talking with someone over Zoom or Teams is not ideal for creating human connection when it comes to managing people. 

Where Do We Start?

A good place to start when it comes to getting to know the needs and wants of employees is with managers. When you look at the root word and probable origin of the word manager, it comes from the Latin word “manus” which means  “hand.” So it is reasonable to say that a good manager is a “hand” or even a “helping hand” to the people they manage. Now take a look at your management team, whether you are a part of it or managed by it. Ask yourself, how many of the managers in your organisation fall into the category of a “helping hand”?  

Depending on that answer, you will know if your organisation has an issue with people management. 

The problem we have today is that managers have become delegators with too many targets, too much workload and objectives to achieve. This sets them up for failure as managers. A true manager will be given the freedom by their employer to spend 50% of their time managing people and 50% of their time getting tasks done. A 50/50 spilt is best practice for people management in the new normal. A loved manager spending 50% of their time managing their team will always get that much more out of their team, compared to a manager who spends 100% of their time delegating tasks and demanding results.

To nurture is one of the most fundamental elements of our human instinct. It’s vital in the new normal that organisations understand this, as it is very much the same when it comes to the relationship between employers and employees.

On the most basic level an employee who works for a company contributes to the growth and success of that business. The growth and success of the business is the dream and aspiration for the business owner or shareholders. The employee is helping to nurture and achieve that dream for them. So, why are so many organisations not doing the same in regards to hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations of their employees?

In the new normal, managers will need to know all aspects of an employee’s life. Employers and managers will need to look beyond the traditional of only being informed on what is happening in the professional environment with employees. They will need to know what is also happening in their personal lives and within their homes. This is because both personal and professional  circumstances have an impact on a person’s mental health continuum. One of the most important things to understand as manager and an employer/organisation when it comes to people management, is the Mental Health Continuum

The Mental Health Continuum

the mental health continuum

The mental health continuum shows how our mental health is fluid and changes over time. 

We can move around the continuum yearly, monthly and as frequently as weekly depending on what life is throwing at us. The important thing to understand is that our mental health is fluid and constantly changing.

We all exist somewhere on the continuum in one of the four quadrants. Without the knowledge of the continuum which the majority of managers lack worldwide, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that a person has lost interest, don’t care anymore or has given up. That type of management thinking creates a cycle of polarisation instead of a nurturing and supportive culture which is essential in the new normal.

In our new normal, the first thing an employer must be is mentally literate. In the UK, 1 in 4 adults experience at least one “diagnosable” mental health issue in any given year. In the US its 1 in 5. The reason I have used quotation marks on “diagnosable” is that most people will not get a diagnosis for many reasons. The Guardian in January 2021 reported that over 6 million people are currently on anti-depressants in the UK. The increase of anti-depressants in the UK is now at the highest figure on record. 

If you are a shareholder, sitting on a board, a CEO or a manager reading this right now, are you aware of how many of your staff are currently on anti-depressants or have diagnosed mental health issues this side of the pandemic? 

If you do not know, how can you possibly expect to manage and support them efficiently? 

If you cannot manage and support them efficiently, how on earth do you expect to keep them? 

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid training is the foundation of what organisations in the new normal will need in order to build any fit for purpose mental health and wellbeing support framework.

Mental Health First Aid Courses are training programs that trains the everyday person to help someone developing or experiencing a mental health problem. It trains a person on how to have a supportive conversation and how to signpost to professional help. Most importantly, it trains people how to look after their own mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aid training empowers employees to look after themselves, it provides a platform to gather data from employees that is specific and unique to an organisation which is invaluable. It is imperative for all organisations to understand that true organisational  stability is inextricably linked to employee wellbeing.

All new people management strategies and framework’s developed for the new normal must be shrouded in a cloak of mental health and wellbeing. Employers will need to understand that their true guidance and consultancy for success and sustainability, staff retention and workplace culture sits right under their noses. It’s called the workforce.

In the new normal organisations need to be even more aware of the value of the psychological contract. A good psychological contact is a place that is mutually beneficial, protective, supportive and nurturing between employer and the employee. Staff retention is not only about better pay and conditions.

The relationship between employer and employee has deteriorated to an all-time low in modern times, the great resignation is proof of that. Organisations need to understand this change in mindset of employees and put policies and practices into place to disapproves this mindset. According to organisational scholar Denise Rousseau, a psychological contract is more than the formal written expectations between an organisation and the employee. A psychological contract is made up of unwritten and intangible agreements between an employer and employee and evolves constantly based on communication.

The psychological contract will include informal commitments, expectations and understandings that underpin the formal contract. The psychological contract forms the backbone and the ongoing development of an organisations culture. It is based on how people work together, mutual understanding and respect. 

According to Visier, a software solutions company for workforce analytics and workforce planning based in Vancouver Canada, found that the top 6 reasons for people quitting their jobs in the great resignation were: 

  • Reason #1: They’ve gotten a taste for work hour flexibility
  • Reason #2: They’re burned out
  • Reason #3: They’re not feeling connected to the company culture
  • Reason #4: They want to continue working remotely
  • Reason #5: They don’t see a clear path forward
  • Reason #6: They want to spend their time focused on doing meaningful work

This list is not exhaustive and depending on the organisation and sector, the reasons will differ. Nonetheless this list highlights the changing nature in the mindset of employees in the new normal, the need for dialogue and the establishment of a “happy place” between employer and employee.  Most importantly it highlights a new era of people management that needs recognition and action, by employers in the new normal.

At this point as a reader, whether you are a manager or the managed, ask yourself how the organisation you work for are addressing these issues that have been raised by the great resignation. The answer to that question will let you know instantly whether you have the right leadership in place for the new normal. It will spell out how much work needs to be done in  regards to a new style of people management that attracts and keeps the best talent at your organisation.

Opinion article by Richie Perera

Further Reading

Company Culture at Google
Why Is Workplace Communication Important
Change Management Books
Employee to Employer Relations

1 posts

About author
The Founder of Mental Health and Life, an organisation that delivers Mental Health First Aid courses alongside HR consultancy, Race Equity and Suicide Intervention courses to individuals, organisations and businesses UK wide.
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