The pandemic has brought many long-term realizations to the forefront. While employee well-being programs and strategies have been implemented to address health threats, a new, hybrid work model meant to address immediate health risks brings with it new considerations: remote work, flexible schedules, and a sudden reliance on collaborative technology. It also reveals where we are most vulnerable: crammed meeting schedules, longer workdays, caretaking of others, financial uncertainty, and isolation.
How we perceive resources is the key to how we respond to such conditions. In doing work, we invest our own resources – time and talent. We also expect our employers to provide additional resources for meeting our work responsibilities and goals – the built environment, tools, and an appropriately supportive culture. Could these resources contribute to employee resilience? What is the role of the workplace in building employee resilience? In the long run, organizations that can meet their employees’ resource needs will have healthier, higher performing, and future-ready workforces—whatever stressors may come their way.
Being resilient is the ability to withstand, respond to, and rebound from adverse events. Being future-ready implies anticipating problems and preparing to meet them. Learning from how the workforce is changing due to the pandemic is imperative to future-readiness. It’s teaching us what conditions stimulate and support our resilience when we’re faced with adverse events. If we pay attention, we can build resilience in our workforce so there is less of a price to pay when world events cause major disruptions.
What’s the Problem?
Pre-pandemic, the “problem” within the knowledge workforce revolved around achieving peak performance. It’s the key to innovation. Why was peak performance for the workforce elusive? It was looking like the culprits were more like stress and subsequent burnout than a lack of collaboration. Fast forward to living through a pandemic –
organizations feel even more pressure to innovate, and peak performance appears to be as elusive as ever amongst seismic shifts in the way we do work.
Burnout was a concern before 2020. The pandemic is depleting much of our resources in the form of illness, grief, loss, anxiety, trauma, and depression. Experts predict it will take months to years for the population to recover.
Many of us have experienced trauma, grief, and illness ourselves during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Why can some employees cope well while others struggle? Is it because they get to work at home? Is it because they have the latest technology? Is it because they can exercise during the day? Perhaps. The answer is straightforward, but not simple. It’s all about resources. Let’s take a look at the problem—stress, before we get to the solution—resources
The Bottom Line to Organizations
Poor work performance, turnover, loss of productivity, and health-related costs also take their toll on the organizations for which these individuals work. The financial impact to organizations, if left unaddressed, has been significant in the past.
Over 20 years ago, the financial burden of US work-related stress was seen in the following ways:
• 40 percent of job turnover was due to stress.
• Healthcare expenditures were nearly 50 percent greater for workers who reported high levels of stress.
• Job stress was the source of more health complaints than financial or family problems.
• Replacing an average employee cost 120 to 200 percent of the salary of the position affected.
Likewise, the European financial cost of stress at work and related mental health problems in the early 2000s was
estimated to be on average between three and four percent of the gross national product.
The WHO’s announcement in 2019 declaring that burnout is an occupational phenomenon illustrates that the state of stress in the workplace has not improved and acknowledges the role of the organization in perpetuating employee distress.
Previous research, however, provides incentive for investing in programs, such as access to mental health resources, to support a resilient workforce. Every US$1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$4 in better health and ability to work.
Amidst the pandemic, much of the population is experiencing chronic stress, and there is an increasing incidence and risk for burnout if the status quo from before the pandemic prevails.
What might the workforce look like if the entire workplace was considered a resource for mitigating stress rather than a source of causing it?