This week is European Mental Health Week. There are many different facets to mental health, but no doubt our relationship to work is a key component of it, simply because we spend so much time working and because work (or the absence of it) also shapes our very own identities. The pandemic has drastically changed our relationship to work and profoundly altered how, where, and when employees work. At the end of March 2021, 50% of European employees who Forrester surveyed were experiencing COVID-19 fatigue. Twenty-two percent of employees Forrester surveyed at the end of March struggle to manage their family/childcare responsibilities working from home, and 34% consider their workload to have gone up in recent months. Burnout is the zeitgeist of the always-on digital world we now depend on.

The absence of physical meetings and get-together moments is negatively impacting camaraderie and creativity. Get ready for several ripple effects that risk eroding employee engagement moving forward. If you rely on an overview of what conventional engagement surveys capture and only focus on your company average, you risk missing the fact that European employees:

  • Are highly polarized. Forty percent of European employees believe that everything will be back to normal once mass vaccination is completed, while 50% agree with the exact contrary: that the pandemic has changed the world forever. The crisis reinforced preexisting inequalities between workers. Among those who can work remotely, according to the OECD, females are more likely than males to have to deal with added mental load, and the younger generation felt isolated in smaller flats. About 40% of employees in Europe report that their job cannot be done remotely. Among those, store associates, drivers, and employees in transportation, warehousing, construction, social assistance, or healthcare are more likely to have suffered from poor health and safety conditions than technology consultants, who can work anywhere and have a higher purchasing power. Forty percent of European workers we surveyed told us their job can’t be done from home or a remote location.
  • Fear losing their jobs and may be less loyal than you think. Almost a quarter of employees in Europe fear their job is not secure enough and that they might be let go. Almost a third fear that their company may yet have to lay off or fire people because of the economic impact of the coronavirus. And one in five are worried that their company may not make it financially and will have to close completely. Intent to stay put at their current job increased from 65% to 74% among German workers and from 44% to 56% in the UK, according to Qualtrics, but instead of reflecting a higher level of engagement, this massive increase may also be a clear preference for the known versus the unknown in a crisis situation. Superficially engaged workers may be the first to leave once the economic recovery accelerates in Europe.
  • Increasingly expect to work for purpose-driven, well-being-focused organisations. The crisis has accelerated employees’ concerns surrounding well-being, climate change, privacy, and diversity and inclusion. Employees care about values and will remember how you treated them during the crisis, as well as whether your company leaders live by the values you communicate externally. Meaning, and wider societal purpose, is increasingly critical to engage employees.

Chief People Officers, EX Leaders, And Managers Should Carefully Monitor The Burnout Factor

Forrester’s Employee Experience (EX) Index identifies two strong predictors of burnout: lack of recognition and constant change. Frustration with technology also increases burnout, and about one-third of European employees complain about technology issues. Prioritise frustrating, disruptive IT support microjourneys such as password resetting. Train managers to recognise signs of employee burnout, encourage employees to have frequent check-ins with HR, and establish a recognition programme.

If you’re a business leader and planning a return to the workplace, why not watch our complimentary on-demand webinar for trends and opportunities on how you can optimise your employee experience strategy? Watch here: The Future Workplace.