Yves Duhaldeborde: The UK’s workforce faces burn out if employers don’t act soon

I’m sure no one will disagree with me if I say that it feels like we’ve been dealing with the effects of the economic crisis for a very long time. Some people believe that the green shoots of recovery are finally visible now while others are predicting a triple dip recession.

Either way, several years of uncertainty have led to increased anxiety around job security, with workers putting in longer hours than ever.

Employees feel that they have no choice but to stick it out where they are and put up with what their boss throws at them because, at the end of the day it could be worse and they don’t want to have their head on the block if the redundancy axe starts swinging.

Times are hard for employers too and they obviously want to get the most return for their money from their staff but long hours, weekend working and not taking holidays is a short term solution to a long term problem. Morale will continue to decrease and workers will eventually suffer burn out.

Our latest Global Workforce Study, which surveyed 32,000 employees worldwide, reveals that more than one in three UK employees (34 per cent) say they are often affected by excessive pressure in their job. Over half (58 per cent) said that they have been working more hours than normal over the last three years and half expect this to continue for the next three years.

This coincides with a trend for cutting workforce numbers, leaving one in five employees (22 per cent) feeling that the amount of work they are asked to do is unreasonable with around a third (30 per cent) believing their organisation is under-resourced. In recent years we have seen teams of six reduced down to teams of three without any change in workload. It’s a completely unsustainable way to work.

The recession has led to huge demands on workers, with only 53 per cent feeling their stress levels at work are manageable. However, it is important to realise that they might be able to improve their situation if Human Resources help them to be more proactive and take a degree of responsibility for themselves.

They need to be aware of their own pressure points and stress triggers and be made aware of the company resources available to them such as an employee assistance programme if there is one. It’s also important that they feel that they can be as open, honest and communicative as possible, talking to their line manager about particular pressures, issues and workload.

It is important for the employer to offer these options to their staff and encourage them to use them. Organisations with low employee engagement produce an average operating margin of around 10 per cent while organisations with high sustainable engagement perform nearly three times better, with operating margins of more than 27 per cent.

It is also counterproductive when workers don’t use up their full holiday allowance yet more than a quarter of us have had less planned time off over the past three years despite the increased workload. It is estimated that 6.2 million days of annual leave will be lost in the UK this year. One in four people that don’t use their full entitlement do so due to work pressures.

Of course the other issue that employers should consider is that we are starting to see improvements in the job market. While employees have done their best to hold on to the job they have for the past five years, there could be a power-shift on the horizon as more jobs become available and workers feel they can start to look around for a role that gives them a better work-life balance. Businesses need to consider that they could end up watching experienced talent walk out the door if things don’t change.

We have carried out a number of studies with individual clients that show a clear relationship between wellbeing and business and HR metrics. One recent example of a clear linkage that we found was in a large national bus operator. The bus depots that had low levels of wellbeing were those that had higher accident rates and poorer safety records, as well as higher sickness and absenteeism rates. This is an example of where wellbeing really can make a big difference.

This is where Human Resources staff must seize the initiative and ensure that the workforce is not at risk of burnout. Managers and senior staff
must be made to realise that people arriving in the office at 7am and not leaving until 8pm doesn’t result in the best work and isn’t good for the business in the long term.

Businesses should act now to avoid a ‘work until you drop’ culture turning into the norm, with workers becoming increasingly unproductive, something our economy can ill-afford at the moment. The people who stay in their jobs are those who work for companies that care. The ones who will leave are the ones who feel they have been used.

About Yves Duhaldeborde

About yves duhaldeborde

Yves Duhaldeborde is Director of Organisations Surveys and Insights at Towers Watson, the global professional services firm. Yves works with a number of large companies developing strategies for sustainable employee engagement, productivity and wellbeing.
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