Gallup’s new data on the global workforce in 2021 reveals that employees around the world are experiencing stress at an all-time-high level, and worry, anger, and sadness remain above pre-pandemic levels. These emotions are organizational risks: If leaders aren’t paying attention to employee wellbeing, they’re likely to be blindsided by top performer burnout and high quit rates. Today’s leaders must think beyond physical wellness to capture the broader dimensions of overall wellbeing, capture data on how their employees are doing, and make employee care a permanent part of organizational culture.
While some leaders may feel like things are beginning to return to normal, data from Gallup’s new State of the Global Workplace report suggests that the emotional side of work has not healed from the pressures of the last two years. Under the surface, people around the world are stressed and anxious: 44% of employees say they experienced stress a lot during the previous day.
These negative emotions are at a new high. In 2020, the world’s employees saw an increase in stress, worry, anger, and sadness. In 2021, worry, anger, and sadness remained above pre-pandemic levels, and stress continued to climb to a new high.
If you’re employed, you’re probably not surprised. The last two years have been stressful as people around the world dealt with social isolation, economic shocks, education disruptions, and serious health problems, including long-term illness and death. Even in regions where Covid-19 has retreated, countries have been dealing with supply and labor shortages related to the pandemic.
Although these emotions don’t normally show up on a spreadsheet, they remain organizational risks. If leaders aren’t paying attention to their employees’ wellbeing, they’re likely to be blindsided by top performer burnout and high quit rates.
Here’s how leaders can change their approach:
Think beyond wellness.
Most large organizations have physical wellness programs. But these don’t always take mental health and social relationships — important influencers of physical health — into account. In addition, physical wellness fails to capture the broader dimensions of overall wellbeing: social, financial, career, and community wellbeing.
Some corporations have adopted fewer hours or offered more flexibility to improve employee wellbeing. Yet Gallup research from March 2022 found that fewer than one in four US employees felt strongly that their employer cared about their wellbeing — the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. This is an area in which all companies can grow.
Capture data on employee wellbeing.
Wellbeing can be measured in a scientifically valid way, and it can be correlated with performance outcomes. When leaders have a finger on the pulse of their employees’ wellbeing, they can identify potential hot spots, discover best practices, and validate which initiatives are actually making a difference.
Make employee care a permanent part of your culture.
Employee engagement in the US rose at the start of the pandemic, when employers decided to communicate, listen, and offer support and flexibility to workers. As the percentage of employees who feel that their employer cares about their wellbeing has plummeted, the consequences reach beyond the absence of warm feelings. They include lower engagement, higher burnout, and more employees looking for new job opportunities elsewhere.
In contrast, Gallup’s research has found that teams who feel their organization cares about their wellbeing achieve higher customer engagement, profitability and productivity, lower turnover, and fewer safety incidents.
Organizations that make employee care part of their culture are dedicated to wellbeing for the long term. This starts from the CEO’s office, who should communicate why wellbeing matters. The best workplaces also equip managers to support wellbeing, develop a network of wellbeing coaches, and audit their wellbeing practices for their usefulness and impact.
There was some positive news in our data as well: Thirty-three percent of the world’s employees reported that they’re thriving at work. This marks a one-percentage-point rise from 2020 and the fourth straight year of improvement. Organizations have the power and responsibility to care for the whole person at work — and when they do, they promote the success of the entire organization.
Of all the lessons learned from the pandemic, this one should be near the top of the list: Employee wellbeing is crucial to organizational health. Organizations can’t function effectively — let alone, adapt, compete, and win — with struggling and suffering workers. Employee wellbeing is a risk and an opportunity that leaders can’t afford to ignore.