Employers Find Ways to Stave off Mass Exodus

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – The vast majority of employers surveyed – 70 percent – believe they do an excellent job addressing workforce mental health. But only 47 percent of workers agree.

The dichotomy may help explain what’s being call the ‘Great Resignation;’ the exodus of millions of workers from their jobs during the pandemic. This past November saw 4.5 million employees resign their positions, and the numbers are said to be continuing to rise.

While there are myriad potential reasons for the high quit rate, the mental wellbeing of employees is clearly a driving factor and has only gotten worse in the last two years, according to experts. Contrary to what some believe, many employees are not exiting the workforce entirely; they are leaving their positions to find others that are more aligned with their current needs and desires. Employers who understand the changes and take proactive steps can retain their best talent.

Evolution of Mental Health Conditions

Self-reported mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety had become more prevalent even before the coronavirus. The pandemic exacerbated the situation

“In the beginning of COVID people worried about basic things; ‘Will I get sick?’ ‘Will someone I know die?’ ‘Will I lose my job?’ … that immediate threat, that trauma response, that went away. What stayed was uncertainty,” said Daniel Harrah, national director of Clinical Partnerships at Spring Health. “We’re doing better but we still really don’t know where we are going. Uncertainty is one of the biggest drivers of stress and anxiety.”

Along with uncertainty is the stress many face as they have become caregivers – to their children who are learning remotely, their elderly parents or others. They and others may also be working remotely, often in less than ideal conditions. Finally, many feel isolated from their companies.

“Not only do we see huge dips in mental health, we also see folks saying ‘maybe I can go find greener pastures elsewhere, I feel thrown to the wolves and getting no support,’” said Libby Erensen, VP of People at Spring Health. “It’s a confluence of events.”

With the recent news from the Biden administration’s top medical adviser that we are moving out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, there is hope that some of the stress facing workers will ease. But during a recent webinar produced by Guardian Edge, Harrah and Erensen advised employers to continue focusing on the mental wellbeing of their employees – especially since there was a decline in mental health before the pandemic.

Biweekly surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had consistently shown between 10 percent and 11 percent of adults self-reporting at least one symptom of anxiety or depression. That percentage spiked to 45 percent in March of 2020.

“It’s dipped just a little bit but is still above 30 percent,” Harrah said. “Right now, even though we kind of know what we are doing there’s still three times as much emotional distress as there was pre-COVID.”

Listening to Employees

The good news, according to the speakers is that more companies are taking steps to find out how their employees are doing and addressing their emotional wellbeing.

Some companies, for example, have stepped up their employee engagement surveys to get the pulse of their workforces. They are especially focused on burnout, which is unique to each person.

“Some employees are really engaged when they are working a lot; when they are passionate about a project, passionate about their role – they want that kind of start-up, intense environment. It drives them, staves off burnout,” Erensen said. “Employees on the other side of the spectrum want a true work/life balance.”

Building an organization that helps decrease burnout among employees, therefore, requires more than a one-size-fits-all solution. But the act of asking for and listening to employee input, and taking steps to address the concerns can be extremely valuable.

“It has an incredible impact on trust, has an incredible impact on how I feel about coming to work today, and actually seeing and feeling that empathy from my employer, it means a ton to me,” Harrah said. “What do we need? Do I need a clinician to help me through this stuff? Maybe some day I will, but what I really need to know is that my employer cares and that they are listening and that they are actually demonstrating that this is something they are aware of and they are trying to do something about.”

In addition to getting input from employees on a regular basis, many organizations are also trying to learn from their employees who stay on with the company.

“Conducting ‘stay interviews’ with top performers to learn why they remain with the company — and what might cause them to leave — is a great place to start,” said Amanda Augustine, a career advisor with TopResume. “In addition, employers should evaluate how their employees’ needs have changed as a result of the pandemic — and what that means for the company and its culture moving forward.”

Acting on Input

Organizations can take a variety of steps to address the concerns of their employees and keep them engaged. Some organizations, for example, have increased the amount of parental leave they provide.

Understanding the benefits available to help employees’ emotional wellbeing is also paramount. Many employees are unaware of benefits available to them or how to access them.

“If people are clicking around and don’t understand the scope of there benefits or where to call, that’s a big barrier to getting help,” Erensen said. “Make sure that information is centrally located and readily available and easy to access.”

Just checking in with individual employees is highly recommended. Managers don’t need to be experts on mental health, but just asking workers how they are doing.

“Your organization has a job … maybe you make tires. At the end of the day, you can support mental health and be a mentally healthy workplace but still be the best tire maker,” Harrah said. “You aren’t turning your workforce into a mental health treatment facility, you’re still making tires. The workforce is there to do a job. You want to equip your people to do the best job. We’re not asking you to hold group therapy sessions. But are asking to listen, understand the stresses and think abut what you can do and show them you are listening.”