Worried About the Great Resignation? How Leaders Can Walk Their Well-Being Talk

With job resignation and burnout on the rise, leaders have the opportunity to shift workplace culture toward empowering mental health.

Adobe Stock/ Alice

Some business challenges present themselves loud and clear: The disrupted supply chain results in a crucial part being delivered two days late. You’re dealing with an unstable internet connection just as you need to lead an important team meeting over Zoom. Your largest business unit objects to the reorganization you just announced.

Problems like these can pop up in every business, and every business commonly has the same basic response: Gather the necessary resources and fix it. Now—or, better yet, yesterday.

But what if it’s not your supply chain that’s breaking down? What if it’s your workforce? According to an October 2021 survey by Joblist, covering workers from a wide variety of industries, it very well could be your workforce. Workers report seeking a better work–life balance, better pay and benefits, and changing their priorities in the wake of the pandemic, leading to nearly three-quarters (73%) of workers saying that they are thinking about quitting their jobs.

The Great Resignation may be an unprecedented phenomenon, but widespread dissatisfaction at work isn’t a new problem. In a 2018 marketplace survey on burnout conducted by Deloitte, nearly eight in 10 respondents told us they have experienced burnout at their current job. Yet nearly 70% of the survey sample said their employer does not do enough to minimize burnout. And more than 20% claim their company doesn’t do anything.

If you took that approach to a supply chain problem, your company would likely go out of business—fast.

Not responding adequately to the unmanageable, prolonged stress or frustration their employees face likely won’t drive a company out of business. But it can drive employees out of your company.

Not responding adequately to the unmanageable, prolonged stress or frustration their employees face likely won’t drive a company out of business. But it can drive employees out of your company—and straight into the arms of your competitors.

So what’s the answer?

How Leaders Can Nurture a Culture of Well-Being

The past two years have taught us that flexible work options—often held up as a way to alleviate or prevent burnout—are both possible and enormously beneficial. But we shouldn’t stop at this and assume our workplaces are automatically healthier. If management, and the overall culture of a workplace, fails to encourage employees to sign off and enjoy balanced lives outside of their work hours, “flexible” work options risk resulting in the expectation of being “always online,” which isn’t healthy or sustainable for an organization. 

While implementing a solid health and wellness program and a robust PTO (paid time off) plan are great first steps, neither is a quick fix. It’s often not enough just to slap together a series of Yoga Wednesdays and call it a “wellness program.” And unless a company’s culture embraces the notion that people need time off, “vacation days” might just become another name for the breaks employees already don’t take. According to an annual report from the U.S. Travel Association, more than half of Americans don’t use all of their paid vacation days.

Unless a company’s culture embraces the notion that people need time off, “vacation days” might just become another name for the breaks employees already don’t take.

I was in that group years ago—back when I was burned out. Even though I have access to a very generous amount of time off, I barely took a week each year. Not because my organization didn’t give me permission, but because I didn’t give myself permission; nor did I recognize how much I really needed that time off.

No more! Now I take vacations throughout the year. I confess that I do check my email a few times—and I’ve got to get better about not doing that—not just for myself but because I’m a leader and I know my actions set expectations about how my team should behave. I want my people vacationing on vacation so that they can unplug completely and fully engage in their life!

3 Habits to Model for a Healthier Work Culture

This was an important lesson for me to learn, and not the only one I’ve picked up in my own pursuit of creating a culture of well-being at my organization. Here are three ways that organizations and its leaders can look beyond programs and benefits:

  1. Set the tone from the top: When I wasn’t taking vacation, my team noticed and followed suit. That’s why it’s so important for leaders to model positive well-being behaviors and show their teams that rest and recovery is both permissible and necessary.
  2. Promote transparency: Taking vacation, or even a mental health day once and a while, shouldn’t be something you need to hide. Colleagues should be open and honest about their rest and recovery needs with each other. Because at the end of the day, the team will be more productive and effective if everyone is performing at their best.
  3. Encourage micro-breaks: Rest and recovery doesn’t always have to be about a week long vacation. Encourage your teams to take breaks throughout the day by suggesting 25/50 minute meetings, eating lunch away from their desk, or simply taking a few leisurely walks outside. 

When people are on call constantly, the workday—and the stress—never ends. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Companies and their leaders should recognize the expectations they create that lead to burnout and start to fix what’s broken in their cultures. 

This article originally appeared on Thrive Global, The Work-Life Integration by Jen Fisher. View the original article.

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