Combatting The Great Resignation With Workplace Well-Being



The Great Resignation.

Just three words, but they might be the three words that leaders are currently losing the most sleep over. The Great Resignation marks a significant macro trend in the workforce: employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers and this is placing significant strains on leaders, teams, and organizations. It takes a substantial amount of time, energy, and financial resources to replace even one staff member, let alone many. Research suggests that the cost of losing one employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to over twice the employee’s annual salary. Now multiply that by the number of staff who are exiting. It's a lot. And it is overwhelming organizations.

This year, conversations with leaders have demonstrated that turnover and staffing shortages are far and away the most common challenge we hear – regardless of industry. But, turnover is not just a problem for leaders and human resources professionals; we also regularly hear from front-line employees who feel like unbridled turnover in their teams has led to a substantial increase in workload and the feeling that they can’t take vacations or sick days because their team is already spread too thin. Employees are not only leaving faster than they can be replaced, but those that are left behind are quickly burning out because of it. No matter where you turn, it’s hard to find an organization that isn’t feeling the pressure of turnover from front-line employees all the way up to the CEO.

In our 2021 Workplace Well-Being Report, we identified the biggest themes in employee well-being two years into COVID-19. What did our data uncover? Employees are feeling burnt out, swamped with workload, and under-appreciated for everything they’ve contributed to their organizations during the pandemic.

Now, in this Special Issue Report, we turn our attention to The Great Resignation to deepen our understanding of how burnout, workload, and appreciation can help us not only predict turnover, but also prevent it.

But first, we want to introduce our new approach to how we're presenting our findings.

A New Approach: Your Organization in Numbers

As people, we are not great at making sense of big numbers; it is an unfortunate flaw in our wiring. For example, think of one thousand, one million and one billion – they seem quite close, right? You simply add a few more zeroes. In reality, the difference is substantial. One thousand seconds comes in at just under 17 minutes. One million seconds is 12 days. One billion seconds is 31 years. That stat still astounds me every time I read it. This big number flaw in our wiring becomes a challenge when presenting community data. We may not be talking about millions of people, but we are dealing with hundreds or thousands of responses and it’s easy to feel disconnected from what this all means for us personally.

To try and address that, I’m going to try something a little different in this report. We collected feedback from 682 working adults in April 2022, with responses coming from a wide range of backgrounds, identities, ages, and socio-economic statuses.

However, instead of presenting this data as “682 working adults,” I’m going to present this data as if those responses collectively represent a 200-person organization that you are the leader of.

For example, imagine that 40% of all 682 respondents were female. Instead of talking about the 273 women in the data, I would present the data to you as if 80 employees in your 200-person organization are female. Or if 72% of all 682 respondents were front-line staff, I would present the data to you as if 144 employees in your 200-person organization work on the front-line. The goal is to help this data feel more personal so all leaders can see their teams in the information presented.

So, now that you know what's coming, let's dig into turnover in your 200-person organization.

Putting Turnover Into Perspective

Let’s start from the top: turnover. The challenges of turnover are no secret. It's expensive and exhausting at the best of times, but it can create a substantial strain at every level of an organization if it begins to spiral out of control.

But, there is another challenge with turnover that is rarely discussed: it can be incredibly difficult for leaders to accurately gauge whether an employee is considering leaving their job at any given time (something that I’ll refer to from this point on as “turnover risk”). The potential ramifications of an employee telling their leader that they might leave are scary – and understandably so. It can threaten their role and their relationships, and this means that employees are very rarely comfortable expressing these intentions until they already have a new role secured. And by then, it’s usually too late for the current leader or organization to do anything to keep them. Even anonymous engagement surveys are unlikely to collect accurate feedback if employees know that their leaders will receive this type of data. This means that turnover intentions can be very hard to accurately measure.

That means that anonymous community-level data can be incredibly valuable to understand turnover trends. Why? Because responses aren’t tied to any one organization, so respondents can be fully transparent about their intentions without fear. It’s what makes this next figure so telling.

Specifically, we asked all respondents: Do you intend to be working at your current organization in six months?

And remember: I am going to present this data as if you are the leader of a 200-person organization and these responses represent your employees' turnover intentions. I'll walk you through what that looks like in Figure 1.

Of the 682 responses we received, astonishingly, 34% were either expecting to leave or open to leaving their current role in the next six months – that has increased 36% from the responses to our 2021 Workplace Well-Being Report.

Now let’s take another look at Figure 1 and put that into perspective for your organization of 200 employees. Each blue dot represents an employee that is considering leaving their role in the next six months – that is 1 out of every 3 employees, or 68 people from your 200-person organization that will need to be replaced in some way in the next year.

One-third of respondents were considering leaving their roles in the next six months.

Importantly, responses also suggest that this is a consistent threat across the entire organization. Front-line staff (36%), managers (34%), directors (32%), and executives (33%) all followed a similar trend: 1 in 3 are considering leaving their role. Think about what that would mean for your current organization: three people from your 9-person executive team leaving, fifteen of your 45 managers, fifty-five of your 155 front-line staff. Now, consider trying to replace every person in every role. Think about the amount of organizational knowledge that leaves with each employee and a cost of tens of thousands of dollars per every employee that leaves. When you start to think about the implications of it all, you can understand why The Great Resignation is being treated as one of the biggest workforce shifts of our generation.

So where does employee well-being fit in? Our 2021 YMCA WorkWell Workplace Well-Being Report highlighted burnout, workload, and a lack of appreciation as the biggest challenges to employee well-being in our communities. In the following section, we’ll make a case for just how important employee well-being really is to understanding, predicting, and preventing turnover in your organization.

Workload & Burnout: Understanding Your Exhausted Teams

One of the clearest challenges of The Great Resignation is that many teams have been left significantly short-staffed as organizations and HR teams struggle to replace employees in a timely manner. This has led to considerable workload challenges across all levels of organizations. This was a clear theme in our 2021 YMCA WorkWell Workplace Well-Being Report, which identified workload as the biggest threat to employee well-being going into 2022.

Some leaders might ask: just how significant of a challenge is workload today? And how many people are really struggling? To help shed light on the true magnitude of workload stress, we asked respondents: “Thinking back on the last three months, I feel as though my workload has been a significant source of stress for me in my role.”

Worryingly, 65% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their workload has been a significant source of stress in the last three months. When we put this in the context of your 200-person organization, that is 130 employees. Take another look at Figure 2 and imagine every dot is an employee at an organizational town hall. Only 36 employees in the entire town hall would feel like their current workload is not a significant source of stress. Or think of it this way, you would need to host a meeting of 55 employees just to find 10 employees that weren’t struggling with their workload.

65% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their workload has been a significant source of stress in the last three months.

Unmanageable workloads are not a new phenomenon, but workload challenges have certainly hit new heights since the start of the pandemic for two main reasons. First, with such rampant turnover in organizations, many teams are being asked to maintain the same aggressive targets despite having fewer employees. Second, our most recent Workplace Well-Being Report showed just how exhausted people really are. Not only are people taking on more, but their capacity to deliver has been depleted as well. This means that teams are literally being asked to do more with less: less people, less energy, and less capacity.

These increasingly demanding and unsustainable workloads have played a significant role in what many are calling a Burnout Epidemic. Exhaustion is one of the three core tenets of burnout and as we continue to ask employees to do more with less, it is only natural that we should expect to see burnout rise as a result.

That’s where we went next. We asked respondents to report how often they believe that they have experienced burnout in the past three months and the responses, illustrated in Figure 3, were telling.

Shockingly, 76% of respondents reported that they have experienced burnout at least “sometimes” in the last three months – and 45% of respondents reported that they have experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often”. This means that in your 200-person organization, 90 employees are already experiencing significant burnout – close to half of your entire organization – and another 62 employees are at risk of significant burnout.

Together, this data highlights how:

  • Unsustainable workloads are crushing the majority of your employees
  • Burnout is running rampant in your teams

But why should you, as a leader, care? We have already discussed the significant relationship between burnout and employees’ well-being and mental health in our 2021 YMCA WorkWell Workplace Well-Being Report. We hope that supporting employee mental health is reason enough for any leader; however, research has also demonstrated that burnout can affect other important outcomes like employees’ performance, attention, and cognitive functioning.

Here’s an exercise for you. Based on this data, if you picked 20 employees at random to deliver a critical project to a client, odds are that only five employees in that entire group would feel like they have been free from burnout in the last three months. What does that mean for your business? As a leader, how confident do you feel that the project will meet the client’s standards? Employee well-being is incredibly important to team performance too and it’s when we ask practical questions like this that we see just how critical it can be.

Beyond all of that, however, remember that this report is about turnover. How is burnout linked to turnover in your organization? Are burnt out employees at a higher risk of leaving? Our data illustrated in Figure 4 suggests that they absolutely are.

Burnt out employees were almost twice as likely as healthy employees to consider leaving their role in the next six months. In fact, nearly every other employee experiencing burnout was considering leaving their role – and this should come as a serious wake up call for you as a leader.

Burnt out employees were almost twice as likely as healthy employees to consider leaving their role in the next six months.

This is a complex problem: The Great Resignation and staffing shortages have contributed to unsustainable workloads and high levels of burnout – in other words, high levels of turnover are contributing to burnout. But people are also leaving their jobs because of burnout as they seek new opportunities that are better for both their personal and family well-being. As a leader, if you want to manage turnover in your organization, you also need to take accountability for how your own decisions and processes might be pushing increasingly unhealthy employees out the door.

This brings us to what is perhaps the most important consideration when it comes to managing turnover: Appreciation.

Appreciation: The Reason Why Your Employees Choose to Leave or Stay

Regardless of our role and our background, we all want to feel like we are a valued member of our organization. We want to feel included, we want to feel like our leader believes that we are an important member of their team and recognizes our efforts when we excel in our role, we want to feel like our organization cares about our well-being, like our team has our back, and like we are adequately compensated for our contributions – both financially and emotionally.

This is where appreciation is so critically important and it’s important to distinguish how appreciation differs from recognition. Unlike recognition, which is usually top-down and highlights what someone has done, appreciation flows from all directions, is personal, and highlights who someone is and why they matter. Unlike recognition, which is usually tied to a discrete event or task, appreciation exists in the little moments – a leader checking in to see how an employee is doing after a tough week at home or knowing that they like to be thanked in private instead of a public forum. Building a culture of appreciation is one of the clearest ways to create a healthy and positive workplace culture; however, despite its importance, many leaders and organizations continue to fall short on employee appreciation. In fact, a need for more personal appreciation has been one of the most cited needs in 2022 when we ask employees what they need more of to feel like they can be at their best at work.

This should be a particularly notable concern for you as a leader, because appreciation becomes increasingly important as burnout continues to rise. Employees want to get back as much as they put into their role, and with so many employees being asked to do more with less, their expectations of how they want to be appreciated have also grown. And, rightfully so. They want to feel like the extra energy, time, and skills they have had to devote to their role during the pandemic is being adequately recognized and valued by their leaders.

So, just how appreciated do employees feel? We asked respondents: “Thinking back on the last three months, I feel as though I have been appropriately appreciated for my contributions to my organization". Figure 5 illustrates these responses.

At first glance, this breakdown feels a little more hopeful, doesn’t it? In your organization of 200 employees, 90 employees feel adequately appreciated at work – almost half of your organization. In an organization where only 38 employees feel like they can adequately manage their workload, this feels like a step in the right direction. On the other hand, you can see that there is still clear work to do. Over half of your employees do not feel adequately appreciated at work, and 68 of them do not feel appreciated at all.

What emerges when you ask some deeper questions, however, is that there are important disparities in these numbers – particularly in roles. For example, at least half of your executives (58%), directors (50%), and managers (52%) agree that they feel appreciated in their roles. However, this culture of appreciation starts to fade as you get closer to your front-line roles, with a smaller percentage of supervisors (33%) and front-line staff (34%) feeling like they are appreciated. This means that in a meeting of ten front-line staff and supervisors, only three of them would feel adequately appreciated. That feels like a clear opportunity area.

Over 50% of leaders feel appreciated in their roles; but this culture of appreciation starts to fade the closer you get to front-line staff.

Here’s the big question: Why should you as a leader care about creating a culture of appreciation across your organization? Our team at YMCA WorkWell believes that you should care about appreciation simply because your employees matter. They deserve to feel valued at work. Period. That should provide enough justification for any leader. But, if that isn’t enough, let’s return to where we started: turnover.

Before digging in, let’s remember: 34% of all respondents were looking to leave or open to leaving their current role in the next 6 months (Figure 1) – that is 68 employees in your 200-person organization that you would need to replace in some way. When we added burnout into that equation (Figure 4), we saw that nearly half of your burnt-out employees were considering leaving their roles in the next six months, almost double the number of healthy employees.

However, when we add appreciation into the equation, we see just how powerful appreciation can be in managing turnover. Figure 6 illustrates the percentage of employees considering leaving their role in the next six months, only for employees who feel adequately appreciated at work.

Let’s break that data down.

Turnover risk starts to drop substantially when employees feel appreciated at work. For example, turnover risk drops significantly to just 15% when we look at your employees who are healthy and feeling appreciated. Even the nature of the turnover risk is different – the 15% of healthy and appreciated employees were typically only considering new opportunities for personal reasons (e.g., moving to a new region or taking a new step in their career). The data is even more convincing when you consider your burnt-out employees, a group that saw nearly half open to leaving their roles on average (Figure 4). However, the turnover risk of burnt-out employees dropped below 20% when employees felt adequately appreciated – less than half.

This data is telling. It demonstrates how appreciation doesn’t only support employee well-being and mental health, but it can also help employees feel committed to both their organizations and their leaders. The result? A substantial decrease in turnover risk due to a clear and compelling reason to stay in their role.

Importantly, however, while appreciation can give employees a compelling reason to stay, a lack of appreciation can also play a big role in pushing employees out the door. Figure 7 illustrates the percentage of employees considering leaving their role in the next six months, only for employees who feel unappreciated at work.

And this data should set off alarm bells for any leader. Even among your healthiest employees, 1 in 3 were open to leaving their roles in the next six months if they felt unappreciated – more than double the number among employees who felt appreciated.

Two-thirds of employees who felt both burnt out and underappreciated were considering leaving their jobs in the next six months.

Here is the truly sobering statistic: 64% of your employees who felt both burnt out and unappreciated were considering leaving their role – 2 out of every 3 employees. That turnover risk is more than four times higher than that seen among your employees that feel both healthy and appreciated. In fact, if this group represented your entire 200-person organization, 128 employees would be looking to leave in the next six months. That should give every leader pause.

Figure 8

As you think about this data, I bet you can think of many people who fit that mold. People who have devoted so much of their time, energy, and effort to supporting their organization over the last two years, and yet, don’t feel like their organization has valued the magnitude of their efforts during the pandemic. They feel exhausted and burnt out, but don’t feel like their leaders have taken the time to check in with them just to see how they are doing and how they can support them. Based on this data, there’s a good chance it might even be you. When you think that 2 out of every 3 people in that group are looking to leave their role in the next six months, you have to say: it’s hard not to see why, and their organizations are certainly going to miss them when they’re gone.

This data demonstrates the true importance of appreciation in predicting turnover. Put simply, employees who feel valued see appreciation as a resounding reason to stay and employees who don’t see their lack of appreciation as a resounding reason to leave. When you see things through that lens, you must ask yourself: If 45% of my employees feel appropriately appreciated at work, is that enough? If 110 employees in my 200-person organization do not feel adequately valued, what else can I be doing to signal how important they are? Your ability to keep your best and most devoted people might just depend on it.

How Our Team at YMCA WorkWell Can Help

At YMCA WorkWell, we collect this type of community data for two reasons. First, we believe that data is important and by releasing bi-annual reports on the ongoing well-being challenges that organizations are facing, we can give back to leaders in our communities. However, second, we also use this community data to ensure that the services we provide are always relevant to the unique and pressing challenges that organizations are really facing. Turnover and The Great Resignation are undeniably the biggest challenges facing organizations right now and we have catered our services in 2022 to help in the most effective ways.

If you are a leader struggling to manage turnover, investing in employee appreciation, and tackling workload and burnout matters. Here are some of our most relevant services that can help you do just that.

The data presented in this report is important because it provides feedback from employees across a wide range of organizations, industries, and demographics – but every organization is unique and brings its own strengths, opportunities, and challenges. While this community data provides suggestions around what you might expect to find within your own organization, the best way to understand the needs of your employees is to ask them. Our YMCA WorkWell Insights Assessment takes less than five minutes to complete and has been designed to help leaders do just that. Along with key Engagement, Culture, and Performance metrics, our anonymous assessment also measures employee well-being, appreciation, and workload management. And, with our burnout add-on, a new addition for 2022, leaders also receive a detailed assessment of burnout and its root causes in their organization. Our reports are then designed to help leaders clearly identify the most pressing employee needs in their organization and which teams require supports most urgently, and all reports include tailored report consultations with our team and targeted recommendations. If you are concerned about turnover, getting a pulse on burnout and appreciation in your organization is a critical place to start.

If there is one clear takeaway from this data it’s this: appreciation matters. Not only does it play a critical role in supporting employee well-being and mental health, it is also a critical consideration in whether your employees are looking to stay or eager to leave your organization. Recognizing this need, we built our Creating a Culture of Appreciation workshop. Because of the regular need we see for more appreciation in our Employee Insights Surveys, this has been our most popular workshop in 2022. In this session, we work with leaders at all levels to outline why appreciation is so important and how it differs from recognition. We also provide leaders with the tools they need to meet two critical employee needs: the need to fit in and the need to stand out. In organizations where leaders have received this appreciation training, employees' appreciation scores have increased by 10% on average and employee satisfaction scores have increased by 12% on average in less than six months. With looming turnover challenges, this is a great place to start.

Burnout and workload seem to be the massive elephant in the room in today’s organizations. Employees and leaders alike are exhausted and overworked, and it is pushing them out of their organizations to look for new opportunities. And yet, there seems to be a persistent thought that the only way to address workload is to hire more people – which is only one part of the battle. We saw these trends emerging in our last community report and got down to work developing new sessions designed to tackle these issues. In our workshop Dousing the Flames: Preventing and Addressing Burnout we discuss the causes of burnout, how to address it once it’s happened, and – most importantly – how to prevent it in your organization in the first place. In our workshop Tackling the Workload Challenge, we dig into workload in your organization, the opportunities and constraints around addressing it, and explore key strategies for making workload more manageable. We shouldn’t just assume that we need to be exhausted and overworked anymore. It’s time for leaders to take concrete steps, because if you don’t address burnout and workload today, you won’t stop the bleeding tomorrow.

If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact us at any time. We’re ready when you are to help start improving your workplace well-being.

Whether you partner with us or take on these challenges in your own ways, we hope that this data can inspire you to take big steps for the health of your employees and the health of your organization. Ultimately, the most important thing to our team is to be able to look around our communities to see organizations and leaders putting the well-being of their employees first – but we know that organizations can only put their employees first if they stick around. The Great Resignation is undeniably one of the biggest macro-economic trends of the last decade and it is the organizations that act now that will be in the healthiest place a year from now.

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Bringing together four different YMCAs in 2020, the YMCA of Three Rivers has been devoted to building strong, healthy, and connected communities for 150 years. Our purpose as a charity is to make our diverse communities healthier and more vibrant. With dignity and respect, our programs and services inspire individuals to reach their full potential.

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