Last year, 25% of workers left their positions voluntarily and 65% considered quitting. Many businesses are feeling the pressure of a shrinking workforce, with a large portion looking for new work. Every industry is facing challenges with turnover. From supply chain problems to dissatisfied clients to the need to hire more staff, there are many. Even though the pandemic caused some shifts in how employees value and prioritize work in this new environment, turnover has been increasing since 2019, which means what’s happening in the current day is more of a symptom than an actual problem.
What is the problem then? Well, employees spend roughly a third of their lives at work, and if the last two years have taught us anything it’s that workplace mental warfare is draining and impacts employees’ ability to stay engaged and focused at work, leading to what is now being referred to as the great resignation. This issue paired with the circumstances of the pandemic – like the expectation that we are always accessible because of remote work, and the impact of social distancing and taking on additional caretaker roles at home – is resulting in an explosion of employees who are suffering with poor mental well-being.
JAMA’s reports reveal that depression and anxiety rates have tripled in the past three years. The rise of burnout in the workplace is evident with 66% reporting that they feel overextended. Although some employers are adjusting their benefits or implementing wellness programs to improve employee mental well-being, this has not been enough. These efforts may be well-intentioned, but businesses will not see any change unless they fix the root cause of the problem.
Danny Gutknecht (CEO and co-found of Pathways) is the author of Meaning in the Workplace. Meaning at Work – And Its Hidden LanguageThe solution to mental health problems lies in communication. Gutknecht spent most of his professional life supporting people and organizations in finding meaning at work. Through Gutknecht’s research in psychology, management theory, and cognitive science, he has helped to empower individuals and organizations to leverage the power of meaning in work environments. This allows employers and employees to build a healthy, productive work environment in which everyone is heard and valued.
“There’s a ton of neuroscience data that shows how biochemically responsive we are to anxiety and despair,” Gutknecht says. “Though the data supports the fact that engaged workers and excellent workplace communication yield four times the profit and twice the revenue – we continue to see data showing how disconnected the workforce feels.”
Gutknecht advises businesses to first understand their meaning if they want to improve their culture and the well-being their employees. Gutknecht states that understanding your meaning will require you to analyze your mental models and to discover why you are doing the things you are. When we bring awareness to our actions, it is possible to determine when they are the most efficient and when to use other strategies. Learning to communicate clearly is the second step in improving workplace culture. Your communications will transcend business jargon if you can understand what your message means. By communicating with more meaning, you will attract those who are most likely to connect with your company.
Gutknecht’s third advice is to be able to listen. Listening is a difficult skill, but it can be a foundation for trust. It also opens up the door to more complex questions. When we listen to others, we tend to be driven to share common beliefs while developing our own responses to what they are saying. We end up judging others’ words. It’s important to listen without judgment so we can truly understand what is at the heart of what is being communicated. Gutknecht also suggests that you manage your methods and models. Methods allow us to make better models. Models are how we perceive the world. Different models guide us, but our methods can impact the efficiency of those models. If we aren’t aware of which models we are employing, we may end up being more disruptive to our colleagues than intended.
Gutknecht also suggests that we should use the language within our organisations to find the meaning. The best way to find meaning models is to use meaningful language. Motivations and attitudes are driven by meaning models. Understanding how meaning is communicated and shared between customers and employees can help transform the functioning of a business. The use of meaning language can add value to both organizational and operational processes.
Now more than ever, it’s important for business leaders to examine how their company culture is affecting employees. Sometimes we forget the importance of employees to the success and well-being of our employers. Numbers don’t lie and with more than half of the workforce reporting burnout, poor mental health, and a desire to leave their jobs, business leaders will need to make a change.
Entrepreneurship Life’s first article was entitled How Employee Well-Being Matters for Workplace Productivity.