Survey finds employers tackling worker burnout to slow turnover 

March 17, 2022

In a survey of more than 300 US employers conducted over the past four weeks, nearly half (48 percent) rank labor shortages as a significant HR priority, and another 41 percent say it’s a moderate issue.

Respondents were most likely to report “significantly higher” turnover among their hourly workers and entry-level professionals, but well over half reported at least “noticeably higher” turnover among mid-career employees.

When asked to indicate the top five drivers of voluntary attrition (from a list of 14 possible drivers), not surprisingly, “the ability to get higher pay at another organization” was selected by the most respondents (77%), followed by “personal reasons” (51%). But “burnout or exhaustion” was number three, cited by 42% of respondents, with a related issue -- “lack of desired flexible working arrangement” – close behind at 37%. While there might not be much an employer can do about the top two drivers, the survey found that employers are taking a number of actions to address the problem of burnout and exhaustion. 

Time off and work schedules. Employees working from home may find it difficult to unplug; employees working onsite have faced a number of pandemic-related stressors; and the unprecedented number of open jobs means many of us are working harder to take up the slack. But time away from work is essential, and employers can take a number of actions to ensure employees are getting the break they need. Most common is leadership communication to encourage employees to use their time-off (45%) and nearly a fifth have provided additional time off (18%). But sometimes encouragement is not enough. One in 10 respondents have sent a strong message about the importance of time of by shutting down operations (for at least half a day), and 9% have required employees to use PTO days by a specified date. A few (4%) have implemented a 4-day workweek for at least some employees.

Employers are also taking steps to make the workday less stressful, with 21% taking steps to limit the number of meetings (for example, by discouraging meetings on Friday), and 13% suspending or discouraging after hours or weekend emails.

Focus on well-being and mental health. Most respondents (82%) have a well-being initiative in place, and 35% provide financial incentives to participate.  Importantly, nearly two-fifths of respondents report that participation increased in 2021, while only 9% reported a decrease – lending support to the notion that employees are focusing on self-care. To encourage this trend, some employers are offering “lifestyle accounts,” a fairly simple way to provide employees with cash to spend on well-being products, services or activities of their choice. Currently 9% provide a lifestyle account, but 5% are considering adding it this year and fully two-thirds are considering it for future years.

More than half of respondents say they have made changes over the past two years to improve behavioral health care access, most commonly by upgrading their EAP services (22%) and/or adding technology-based solutions to augment the services available through the EAP or health plan (25%). Because cost is frequently a barrier to seeking mental health care, EAP services and tech solutions are an important way to ensure some level of help is available to little or no cost. Some employers enhanced services for child/adolescent mental health (10%); some added support for substance use issues. About three-quarters of respondents say that they will take further action to address mental and behavioral health in 2022, in particular, manager training, de-stigmatization efforts, and improving the quality of care available to members.

Make it easier to return to the office. After a few stops and starts, “return to office” is in full swing, and over two-thirds of survey respondents say they expect all or more of their employees to be back at their worksites by the end of May (even if some will continue to work flexibly). Employers recognize that this transition may be as stressful for some as the transition to remote working was for others.  Many have opted for flexibility, with well over half of respondents – 57% -- permitting flexible schedules or working hours. To make the office more enticing, some (22%) have redesigned or enhanced work spaces, and increased budgets for workplace experiences, such as company-provided meals or gatherings (8%). On the other hand, some employers (22%) have implemented mandatory on-site days. This approach has the advantage of ensuring that a critical mass of employees is in the office on given day, creating a more normal atmosphere than a half-filled office.

If your organization is struggling with higher-than-normal turnover rates, ask yourself if burnout could be a factor – or, better yet, ask your employees. Some small changes could have a big impact.

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