Today, work cultures of various countries are being questioned due to rising instances of mental health issues observed among the workforce. Several employees across Mexico, South Korea, Russia, Chile and the US, among others, have reported exhaustion from longer working hours that exceed 33.5 hours per worker per week.
According to a recent global study, 34 per cent of senior leaders reported change fatigue as quite prevalent in their organisations.
With ‘burnout’ officially recognized as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ this year by the World Health Organization (WHO), organizations need to really introspect about their work-culture and ethos. And since the problem is organizational, so is the responsibility of managing the mental and physical health of the employee.
The Risks And Cost Of Not Having an Employee-First Culture
We are living in an unpredictable world where digitization has forced real-time adaptation as the norm for companies. While it has advanced the world in radical ways, its pace of altering the fabric of our society has also created new challenges. In the face of multiple transformations, employees can quickly become overwhelmed and desensitized to what drove them to work at the first place. Which makes chronic workplace or change fatigue more than just a ‘quality-of-life’ issue. This kind of constant change-efforts can take a toll on employees, resulting in loss of productivity, burnout, frequent errors, and eventually, turnover.
When studying how workplace stress affects the cost of health and mortality in the US, Stanford researchers found that it led to collective spending of around $190 billion and almost 120,000 deaths every year. This is equivalent to roughly 8 per cent of US’ national healthcare spending. Even WHO itself has estimated that the world loses roughly $1 trillion in lost productivity per year.
No matter how serious, the problem of employee burnout and change fatigue is not unmanageable. Multiple solutions exist, if organizations choose to take onus and work towards employee happiness and imbibing an employee-first culture.
Work a Short While, Rest And Learn a Lot
This was what Microsoft Japan’s CEO, Takuya Hirano, noted when they rolled out the ‘Work Life Choice Challenge’ in August this year . For the whole pilot month, Microsoft gave the entire 2,300-employee workforce Fridays off, without any decrease in pay. Their short four-day work week experiment resulted in not only happier employees but also significant productivity boost by 40 per cent. As a bonus, their electricity usage went down 23 per cent, employees took 25 per cent less time off and printed 59 per cent fewer paper.
To address the growing workplace complexities due to digital transformation, leaders also need to develop something UC Berkeley’s noted senior lecturer, Homa Bahrami, brilliantly describes as ‘super-flexibility’. Given it is impossible to plan for and anticipate every eventuality, super-flexibility is potentially the only way to achieve real-time adaptation. The concept integrates several employee-first themes through individual leaders or ‘agents of change’ who hold key survival tools such as agility (ability to be quick to adapt), versatility (ability to wear different hats), hedging (ability to plan ahead and take calculated risks), robustness (ability to absorb shocks and remain viable), and resilience (ability to bounce back and recuperate from setbacks).
Coupled with AI and predictive analytics to iteratively understand the mood and sentiment of the organization, these agents can be effective in bringing about steady change and ensuring an adaptive workplace.
Be Resilient To Be Better Each Day
At the end of the day, each of us who work towards our passion also want to go home to our personal lives to be refuelled and inspired for the next day. While purpose-driven engagement is clearly preferable to boredom and monotonous work, it is important to be careful because it can also cause burnout.
In a practical sense, inculcating the ability to withstand turbulence will be crucial to balance out work-life harmony versus obsessive, harmful passion. Setting boundaries on workplace efforts is not selfish, it makes you more effective at what you do.
By Tanmaya Jain
McKinsey senior partner Mary Meaney joins IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and Unilever CHRO Leena Nair to discuss how companies can organize for the next normal.
One of the most important skills in the modern world is the ability to speak to an increasingly diverse set of people. One of the most powerful, and often overlooked, tools in accomplishing this is cultural intelligence.
Leaders don’t have to agree with their team members’ ideas. But when they don’t acknowledge and respect employees’ dignity, they start to lose people.