June 18, 2020
Positive employee experience expected to significantly dip as ‘a new burnout’ looms
Kincentric today announced the results of a survey representing over 130,000 employees across 100 companies globally. The findings suggest a strong positive employee experience, however, Kincentric believes these are artificially high due to the extraordinary circumstances and will likely erode within nine months, which is consistent with how most people process change or loss, claims Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader, Ken Oehler.
“Most organisations met the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19 with an exceptional senior leadership reaction – and we have seen the resulting positive feedback. Data across global organisations reveals that 78 percent of employees have had a positive experience of wellbeing, connection and caring, senior leader response, and virtual work support. The number one factor behind the upbeat picture is senior leadership care and concern.
However, as employees begin to realise that the emergency will go on for much longer than anticipated, possibly even years, this will be eroded rapidly by the ongoing reality of stresses and tensions it brings and many will suffer as a result.
“We shouldn’t expect remarkably strong employee experiences to last without the extraordinary leadership responses we have seen”
Natural Language Processing analysis of comments reveal the likely difficulty in maintaining high levels of positivity, with many respondents citing increasing levels of stress. Twenty-five percent of the most negative comments relate to anxiety and health concerns, with a further 39 percent reporting either mixed or neutral feelings about their stress levels.
The study claims that women are reported to be experiencing higher levels of stress, with 28 percent indicating some challenges managing Covid-related stress, compared to 22 percent of men – a 6 percentage point difference. The 35 – 44 age group reports the highest levels of stress with men and women citing different experiences, drivers of anxiety and priorities for support.
Oehler commented: “We are not living in a straightforward pre and post-Covid-19 world, but a pre and post-vaccine one. The virus itself is fluid and changing and not a single event. The Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of change curve has shown this in the past. Employee engagement reached a high point at the peak of the great recession and then fell significantly a year later after the downturn had technically passed, but the economic uncertainty, cost-cutting, workforce reductions and unemployment fallout continued. We are still in early stages of Covid-19 and starting to see things get much more difficult.”
“People have been talking about organisational agility in a Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world for a while now – are we now living it in ways few imagined? The importance of leaders leading through change with human connection, empathy, understanding, candour and resilience, and how positively this impacts the employee experience, cannot be underestimated. These are the muscles leaders will have to continue to develop over the coming months and will be the best course of action for managing the depth and duration of the negative experience for many in their workforce as they go through change and loss. These are the same leadership skills that will be required in the post-vaccine normal as well.”
There are multiple variables to consider in relation to burnout associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. These include the fear of job losses, the blurring of work/life balance, isolation, adequate and reliable technology and a suitable home-working space. The impact on those not accustomed to virtual work is also considered more severe than for those who had prior virtual work experience. The importance of extraordinary leadership as companies and their workforces face up to a long period of uncertainty ahead, is essential to managing the prevention of employee burnout. Enhancing the employee experience will require organisations to adopt a more ‘employee-centric’ approach by identifying which segments of the workforce have the greatest impact on business outcomes – then understanding the moments that matter to them. The research demonstrates the impact and necessity for compassion, empathy, empowerment and transparency, as well as visibility and agile decision-making.