Emotional security is a vital component to leading a self-determined life. It enables people to make confident choices and plan for the future. Yet many employers are driving away employees by negatively impacting their mental wellbeing. As the Great Resignation continues to cause upheaval for businesses across the globe, now is the time to make wellbeing a reason to stay, not leave.
The Great Resignation is far from over yet, as employee turnover remains high around the world. In a McKinsey survey covering Australia, Canada, Singapore, the UK and the US, 53% of employers said that they are experiencing greater voluntary turnover than they had in previous years. The challenge for employers is twofold. First, they need to replace lost staff, and second, they need to create a stronger employee value proposition to retain their valued employees.
While businesses use this challenge to rethink their employee retention strategies, we believe it is vital that they assess the entire experience they offer, not just aspects like pay and paid leave. In another McKinsey survey, 44% of respondents said they had ‘little to no interest’ in going back into traditional jobs in the next six months. People want a completely different work experience – one that aligns more closely with their personal values and lifestyles.
On the one hand, this empowerment among employees to leave the traditional workplace could be seen as a victory for the self-determined life. People are choosing a career path that works best for them. However, research suggests that millennials and Gen Zs are leaving jobs to protect their mental health. Rather than forging a self-determined life, they are being forced to make career sacrifices for their own wellbeing.
Why mental health and wellbeing should be a priority
The pandemic has been a difficult time for people of all ages, but millennials and Gen Zs report some of the highest emotional after-effects. Recent studies show that millennials and Gen Zs are shown to have the least positive life outlook compared to baby boomers. It is thought that they are struggling due to ‘unmet social needs’, including access to employment, education, food and transport, and social support – the basic needs that people need to live with security and choice.
Sadly, the younger generation (Gen Z) is also less likely than millennials to reach out for mental health advice than older generations. They are also not likely to speak to their employer about the issues they are facing. Deloitte research found that 49% and 47% of millennials and Gen Zs who have taken time off work for mental health reasons have lied to their employer about their reasons for the absence.
These findings should be concerning for employers. Gen Zs are those born between 1997 and 2012, meaning they are currently aged between 10 and 25. They are now entering the workforce at pace and in just six years, all Gen Zs in the EU will be of employment age (this can vary between countries with limits on hours). If this is a generation that experiences mental health difficulties and does not feel they can speak to their employer, then businesses will face lost working days and, potentially, lost talent. That is why they should act now to create an environment in which employees feel supported in every aspect of their life, including their wellbeing.
Impacts of mental health on the workplace
The adverse effects that poor mental health has on the workplace are well documented. In the UK, for example, 70 million working days a year are lost due to poor mental wellbeing. Now, we are seeing an increased number of people recognising that their workplace is negatively affecting their wellbeing. In surveys conducted last year, millennials and Gen Zs ranked the top reason for leaving their role as: ‘my previous job was not good for my mental health’. These are not self-determined decisions – people are left without a choice but to leave their workplace because of the harm it is doing.
Employees are also becoming more aware of the role that their employer can take in supporting their mental health. According to Deloitte, around 30% of millennials and Gen Zs graded their workplace’s mental health and wellbeing support as inadequate.
Creating a positive wellbeing experience
Employers should view mental health support as more than an optional extra – it should be embedded into their organisations. We believe that businesses with a holistic employee experience that includes wellbeing will be the ones with the most engaged and productive workforce, meaning they will benefit from employees that are proactive in making the business a success.
There are a number of ways that businesses can create a positive impact with their wellbeing support. First, they can create a feedback loop to continually understand the challenges that their people face and address them effectively. Second, they should prioritise workloads in a way that ensures no one in the organisation is overloaded. Given that in a consumer survey almost half of respondents (44%) said feeling burned out would make them want to leave a role, making workloads manageable could significantly reduce turnover.
It is also important that leaders create a culture in which people feel they can flag difficulties they face. Regular one-to-ones that open up questions about wellbeing can help, but a more preventative measure is to instil an inclusive culture that enables people to bring their true selves to the workplace. This can be achieved through leaders who actively listen, share their own mistakes and do not punish failure. An inclusive culture removes stigma around mental health, making it easier for people to raise difficulties.
We recently wrote about the role that digital wellbeing tools play in the workplace. By offering support that is easy to access and does not require a conversation with a senior member of staff, businesses can encourage those more nervous about seeking help to do so.
The employee wellbeing revolution
It is a good thing that employees are empowered to leave workplaces that do not offer the wellbeing support they need, and indeed deserve. Although the choice is not made freely, they are helping to drive conversations around the importance of wellbeing in the workplace. While these conversations continue to gain traction, we believe that employers will use wellbeing support as a competitive advantage in the competition for talent. Those that do not will soon be forced to improve their offering if they want to keep valued employees.