With the long Memorial Day weekend less than 24 hours away, where will you be staying as the unofficial start of summer gets underway?
For at least one-third of your employees, the answer is likely “at home.”
That’s according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of 3,215 employed U.S. adults, 33 percent of whom said they haven’t taken or don’t plan to take a vacation this year.
Not surprisingly, many workers say they could use a break, with 61 percent reporting that they are burned out in their current job, and 31 percent describing their work-related stress levels as “high” or “extremely high.”
The better news is that some of these overextended employees will still be able to find some time to get away this year. Sort of.
Among the remaining respondents who will be taking vacation sometime this year, three in 10 say they will still stay connected with work while on holiday. More specifically, 31 percent said they check work email while away, and 18 percent indicated that they would “check in” with work at least once during that time.
Workers feeling stressed out is far from a new phenomenon. And we’ve seen at least a handful of studies in recent years that have suggested many employees are leaving vacation days on the table each year, for a variety of reasons. The CareerBuilder survey, for instance, finds 36 percent of respondents saying they’ve come back from vacation with so much work to do that they wished they never left at all. Another 18 percent say taking vacation actually leaves them feeling more anguish over work.
The number of workers afraid of taking time off to recharge their batteries should be troubling.
Leaders within the organization—incidentally, the CareerBuilder poll sees senior management and vice presidents reporting the lowest stress levels of all workers—can set the tone for their teams, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.
“If you’re a boss, it’s important that you role model how to take a vacation,” said Haefner, in a statement.
“If you’re prone to answering every email and phone call that comes through on your own vacation time, consider the example you’re setting for your team members. You need to set up an automated response email, and only respond to absolutely urgent emails while you’re away,” she continues.
“Direct all calls to an assistant or colleague at the office. Show your employees that vacation time matters to you and to your company and its culture.”
Employees in the U.S. who’ve been affected by change at work are more likely to report chronic work stress, less likely to trust their employer and more likely to say they plan to leave the organization within the next year compared to those who haven’t been affected by organizational change, according to the APA’s 2017 Work and Well-Being Survey, which is based on responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and was conducted on behalf of the APA by Harris Poll in March.
Half of American workers report having been affected by organizational change within the last year, are currently being affected by such change or expect to be affected by it within the next year, the survey finds. Workers experiencing recent or current change were more than twice as likely to report chronic work stress compared with employees who reported no recent, current or anticipated change (55 percent vs. 22 percent), and more than four times as likely to report experiencing physical health symptoms at work (34 percent vs. 8 percent).
Workers reporting recent or current change also were much more likely than other respondents to say they experienced work/life conflict and felt cynical and negative toward others during the workday (35 percent vs. 11 percent) and ate or smoked more during the workday than they did outside of work (29 percent vs. 8 percent).
There’s plenty more in the survey results, much of it dispiriting and depressing. The upshot seems to be that too many U.S. workplaces appear to be afflicted with leaders who’ve adopted a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. However, this article that ran in McKinsey Quarterly a number of years ago (published by the consulting powerhouse McKinsey) offers some interesting food for thought that holds true today. One of its important points, as you may already know, is that people need to understand the point of change–why something is being changed, their role in helping the change succeed and how all of it will lead to better conditions for both themselves and the larger organization. The theme is that while change may be inevitable, the negative side effects shouldn’t be and don’t have to be.
According to Dr. Brent Pawlecki, the goal of his Thursday morning presentation here at Human Resource Executive‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference (held April 19 – 21 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas) was to “make the case for why sleep is important” to employees’ health.
Making that case was also part of his plan when he took over as chief health officer at Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. six years ago.
At the time, the company has begun investing more in the health of its 69,000 employees around the world. Pawlecki was brought in to “build a culture of health” at the organization. When he took the job in 2011, he was charged with helping Goodyear to better define its overall healthy strategy.
“We said, we’re a global company, with well over 20,000 U.S.-based employees,” says Pawlecki. “We need to build a strong foundation of healthy employees here in the U.S.”
Part of that building process was addressing the impact of sleep, or the lack thereof, on Goodyear employees. Why study sleep?
“I was at a conference where I attended a presentation on how sleep affects workers,” says Pawlecki. “And I thought that, if we can get our employees thinking and talking about sleep issues—which could be caused by or contributing to underlying health issues— then maybe we can get them to focus on those larger issues.”
Enter Big Health, the San Francisco-based provider of the Sleepio sleep health app.
Sharing the stage with Pawlecki was Jenna Carl, medical director at Big Health. She talked about the “hidden nature” of behavioral health problems, and how tackling sleep issues might “offer a gateway to solving mental health problems” and subsequently creating healthier and happier workers.
Those suffering from insomnia, for instance, often find themselves more easily irritated and more sensitive to stress, she says.
“Insomnia also affects the frontal cortex—the CEO of the brain—which is responsible for decision making,” continues Carl. “And, behaviorally, those with sleep problems fall into a vicious cycle. They start worrying about not sleeping, and/or might start using more caffeine or alcohol, which actually have a negative impact on the ability to sleep.”
Naturally, employees trying to work their way through such problems are going to be less than their best while on the job. Pawlecki and Goodyear were acutely aware of this reality when bringing in Big Health to help conduct a sleep awareness campaign, “designed to engage good and poor sleepers,” says Carl.
The campaign began with encouraging employees to take a sleep test, the results of which led to creating personalized plans for employees who took part.
In getting employees to participate, “it’s important to know your employee population in order to know how to reach them,” says Carl.
Goodyear, for example, has 24,000 U.S. employees spread across plants and retail locations. Roughly 60 percent of these associates have no company email address, says Pawlecki.
As such, the initial sleep awareness campaign included home mailers and in-person communications in the form of posters and animated videos geared toward these workers, as well as providing intranet articles and sending emails detailing the campaign to those with Goodyear email accounts.
Overall, the campaign netted 2,798 employees who completed the sleep test, the majority of whom suffered from poor sleep, says Carl, adding that about one third of these workers could meet the clinical criteria for insomnia, while around half were experiencing less-than-optimal sleep. Plant workers, she says, struggled the most.
These plant employees also reported that poor sleep impacted their productivity close to 28 percent of the time, with retail workers saying that sleep affects their productivity 23 percent of the time. Office workers said that inadequate rest took a toll on their work 21 percent of the time.
“This is a pretty significant impact,” says Carl, adding that Goodyear employees who used the Sleepio app and underwent cognitive therapy reported getting an additional five hours of sleep per week after using the application. Those same workers also saw their stress reduced by 54 percent, and experienced a 35 percent drop in anxiety.
“These are obviously big improvements,” says Carl, noting that these workers also reported productivity improvements in addition to improving their overall mental health.
Just over two years ago, we posted a piece on this site highlighting findings from a Disability Management Employer Coalition study on behavioral health in the workplace.
The DMEC’s research painted what HRE described at the time as a “somewhat incongruous picture.” For example, more than 60 percent of the 314 employers polled said the stigma surrounding mental health issues at work had either stayed the same or gotten worse in the past two years. On the other hand, 37 percent of those same companies said that management had “become more open” about assessing behavioral health in that time. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said the same, according to DMEC.
Here we are in 2017, and the findings of a new Willis Towers Watson survey suggest that the picture is starting to come into focus for employers, the overwhelming majority of which say they plan to keep upping their efforts to address mental health issues among the workforce.
The firm’s 2017 Behavioral Health Study, which polled 314 U.S. employers, finds 88 percent of respondents saying behavioral health is an important priority for their organizations over the next three years.
More specifically, 63 percent count locating more timely and effective treatment of behavioral health issues as an area of primary concern in that same span. Sixty-one percent said the same about integrating behavioral health case management with medical and disability case management. In addition, 56 percent said their organizations are concentrating on providing better support for complex behavioral health conditions, and 52 percent of employers are looking to expand access to care for mental health issues between now and the year 2020.
Beyond increasing and improving the level of care received by those with behavioral health issues, the survey also found that organizations intend to address the root causes of these issues. More than one third of respondents (36 percent) say they have already addressed and taken steps to reduce stress and improve resiliency, while 47 percent are planning or considering action designed to do so over the next three years. Twenty-eight percent currently provide educational programs that touch on the warning signs of behavioral health issues or distress, and 41 percent are planning or considering such programs.
These employers are also showing more interest in mobile apps to help employees manage behavioral health needs, according to Willis Towers Watson. The survey finds the percentage of companies including mobile applications in their service offerings on the way up. For instance, 11 percent of those surveyed already offer stress reduction or resiliency apps; a number that is expected to increase to 38 percent within three years, the study finds. And, while just 7 percent provide apps designed to help curb anxiety, 31 percent of respondents said they plan to offer such applications between now and 2020.
However they plan to reach workers with mental health needs, “employers are concerned about behavioral health issues because of the impact on costs, employee health and productivity, and workplace safety,” says Julie Stone, a national healthcare practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement.
“The seriousness of the issues—both for employers and employees—has led to a deeper understanding of the problem and greater resolve to take action.”
Employers are now more committed than ever, says Stone, to “improving access to treatment, providing employees with better coordination of care across various health programs and reducing the stigma that could be associated with behavioral health through educational programs.”
For years, employers have been led to believe that millennial workers are habitual job-hoppers with one eye always on the door.
That perception—if it was ever accurate in the first place—might be increasingly off the mark.
Consider the 2017 Millennial Survey conducted by Deloitte. In a poll of roughly 8,000 millennial-age workers from 30 countries, 38 percent of respondents said they would leave their jobs within two years if given the opportunity. That number stood at 44 percent when Deloitte carried out the same survey last year. Additionally, 31 percent anticipate staying in their present roles beyond five years, compared to the 27 percent who said as much in 2016.
Some of the circumstances driving Generation Y to seek more stability in the workplace, it turns out, have little to do with work. For example, the survey sees the effects of terror attacks in Europe, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and—no surprise—a brutally contentious political climate in the United States leading millennials to cling more closely to the security of their current jobs.
Such matters are the main source of anxiety among millennials in mature markets such as France, Germany and the U.S. Meanwhile, a majority of Gen Y workers (58 percent) in emerging markets like Argentina, Brazil and India see crime and corruption as an even bigger threat, with 50 percent saying the same about hunger/healthcare/inequality.
“Millennials, especially those in mature European economies, have serious concerns about the directions in which their countries are going,” according to an executive summary of the findings. “They are particularly concerned about uncertainty arising from conflict, as well as other issues that include crime, corruption and unemployment.”
Indeed, the specter of unemployment lingers from past surveys, according to Deloitte, as this year’s poll finds 25 percent of millennials fearing the prospect of being out of work.
“Having lived through the ‘economic meltdown’ that began in 2008, and with high levels of youth unemployment continuing to be a feature of many economies, it is natural that millennials will continue to be concerned about the job market,” according to Deloitte.
Taken together, these factors are conspiring to create a real sense of fear among millennials, many of whom fret for their futures. In mature markets, for instance, just 36 percent of millennials predict they will be financially better off than their parents. Only 31 percent feel they’ll ultimately be happier.
“This pessimism is a reflection of how millennials’ personal concerns have shifted,” says Punit Renjen, Deloitte’s global CEO, in a statement. “Four years ago, climate change and resource scarcity were among millennials’ top concerns. This year, crime, corruption, war and political tensions are weighing on the minds of young professionals, which impacts both their personal and professional outlooks.”
Still, while many millennial workers question their ability to affect significant societal change on their own, these same employees feel they can make a difference with their employer’s help. The good news is that the corporate world is helping them do just that, with more than half of the millennials polled saying they are able to contribute to charities and worthwhile causes in their workplaces.
Of course, the organization also wins when employees get involved in such efforts.
“The survey’s findings suggest those given such opportunities show a greater level of loyalty to their employers, which is consistent with the connection we saw last year between loyalty and a company’s sense of purpose,” according to Jim Moffatt, Deloitte global consulting CEO.
“But, we are also seeing that purpose has benefits beyond retention. Those who have a chance to contribute are less pessimistic about their countries’ general social [and] political situations, and have a more positive opinion of business behavior.”
The U.S. presidential election may not be over yet (unfortunately), but Hillary Clinton has already won. The boss contest, that is: According to a new CareerBuilder survey, 57 percent of workers say they’d prefer to work for the former Secretary of State, while 43 percent say they’d rather work for Donald Trump.
A gender gap exists here, as it does in the general electorate, with 62 percent of women favoring Clinton. Men were evenly split between Clinton and Trump. Clinton was also the preferred boss for African American (87 percent), Hispanic (79 percent) and Asian (78 percent) professionals.
The survey, which queried 3,133 full-time workers over the age of 18, also finds that manufacturing workers stood out as the only industry preferring Trump as workplace leader, with 55 percent of them favoring him over Clinton. The next closest was transportation workers, who favored working for Clinton by only four points (52 percent to 48 percent). Support for Clinton as boss was strongest from workers in healthcare (63 percent to 37 percent) and financial services (60 percent to 40 percent — somebody better tell Bernie Sanders).
Regardless of whether their campaigns put them in the Oval Office or back in the private sector, Clinton and Trump have already had a major impact on the U.S. workplace. An American Psychological Association survey finds that one in four employees have been negatively affected by conversations about the election with co-workers. Twenty-eight percent of workers younger than 34 said these conversations left them feeling “stressed out.” Twice as many men as women reported that the political talk was making them upset enough to be less productive. Until this endless political season is over (and will be shortly), it’s probably best to follow a few rules of engagement for political discussions at work.
It’s fair to say that this very unique presidential race has engendered plenty of, let’s say, spirited conversation.
Even if you abstain from political chatter at the office, you’ve probably heard at least one co-worker offering an in-depth analysis of the candidates and the issues shaping the 2016 election season.
And, as we enter the homestretch, employees are growing weary of such talk, and months of discussing politics—and hearing others discuss politics—is starting to take a toll on the workforce.
So says new research from the Washington-based American Psychological Association. The organization’s Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Seasonsurvey recently polled 927 employed American adults, and finds workers feeling stressed (17 percent), more cynical and negative on the job (15 percent) and less productive (13 percent) in the midst of political chit-chat.
Overall, 27 percent of workers reported at least one negative outcome stemming from political banter. Younger employees (age 18 to 34) are feeling the most ruffled, with more than one in four saying they’ve experienced added stress due to political talk in the workplace. In addition, more than twice as many men said election-related conversations are making it more difficult for them to get work done.
The especially vitriolic tone of this year’s race isn’t helping, either. Overall, 47 percent of employees said individuals are more likely to talk politics in the workplace this election season than in the past. On the bright side, though, a majority of respondents (60 percent) said co-workers are generally respectful toward those with differing political views.
That said, more than a quarter (26 percent) have seen or heard colleagues arguing over politics, with 11 percent of employees admitting they’ve entered the fray themselves at some point. Twenty percent of respondents, meanwhile, say they’ve taken to avoiding certain co-workers because of their political views.
“The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds who might not ordinarily interact with each other,” says David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement.
“When you add politics to the mix—a deeply personal and emotional topic for many—there is potential for tension, conflict and problems for both employees and the organization.”
Indeed. And there might not be much that our major political parties agree on at the moment, but employees from both sides of the aisle seem to acknowledge that election fatigue has set in.
“Regardless of political identification, the heated discussions and divisive rhetoric this election season have the potential to take a toll on people’s well-being and even affect their job performance,” says Ballard.
“While employers may not be able to limit political discussions in the workplace, they can take steps to ensure those conversations take place in a civil, respectful environment. A psychologically healthy workplace is particularly critical during challenging and polarizing times, and these survey results highlight the fact that, despite conventional wisdom, people are often more alike than they are different.”
From the beginning of the American workplace, there have been workers in various stages of life and life events. All part of the humans-as-resources thing.
I’ve been through my fair share: raising kids while working; having kids while working, for that matter; getting them into college, then becoming an empty nester; surviving the end of their dad’s and my marriage, then getting them used to another …
But not until I lost my spouse — my kids’ zany, crazy, brilliant, life-loving dad and stepdad — did I know just how profound an impact the grief event could have on work. And that was three short months after seeing my incredible dad through his final wrestling match with cancer.
I have a whole new respect for employers that choose to acknowledge and focus on the power pain can have on employees, and for colleagues and supervisors who’ve mastered the art of listening.
In fact, listening is just one of many helpful suggestions I came across recently in this piece, Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace, from Cincinnati-based Hodapp Funeral Homes. Until I went through my own nightmare, I honestly never would have considered the part managers, co-workers and HR can play in working to regenerate engagement and productivity in a shell-shocked, grief-stricken worker.
I’ve had those moments, fingers poised on the keyboard, when the words won’t come. I now know the fear, loneliness and incredible self-doubt, wondering if I can handle the same tasks I aced throughout my career in journalism and publishing, or the same projects around the house I used to enjoy. I know the frustration over how long it all seems to take.
But I also now know how helpful help is. And I also know I can now help others.
Judie Bucholz, a faculty member at Columbia Southern University specializing in human and organizational systems, weighed in on all this with me. As she put it,
“We know dealing with death is difficult, and yet, as an American society, we typically give our employees three days off to ‘deal’ with it and come back to work as if nothing ever happened. The reality is something did happen and three days is hardly enough time to acknowledge the reality of death, let alone deal with it.
“We cannot change corporate America and business, so what can we do to help those we work with [or employ] who are grieving the death of a friend or family member?”
She suggests the following:
Offering to take the kids for a day or for a sleepover;
Volunteering to do chores, such as cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, cleaning the pool, washing the car, etc.;
Sending gift certificates to favorite eateries, spas, beauty salons, etc.;
Helping with a project so the employee can leave early one Friday.
Yet, she says:
“Perhaps the best thing we can do is ask our co-worker [or employee] how he or she is doing and then take the time to listen — even if it makes us uncomfortable.”
And if those dealing with loss and grief want to quietly focus on work without talking, or silently space at a computer monitor from time to time, just let them do that, too.
I just got off the phone with Shani Godwin, the fascinating CEO of a small business in Smyrna, Ga., called Communiqué USA — and, rather than wait another minute before getting her whole work/life approach into a post, I’m typing now. That’s how much her message has inspired me.
She caught my eye in an initial email spelling out the details of a policy she implemented many years ago — long before France announced its new law last April banning all employees from emailing for work past 6 p.m.
In Godwin’s case, she disallows her employees to email for work past 7 p.m. on weeknights and throughout the weekends. And she’s been doing that — and much, much more — almost since she founded her company 14 years ago because of her sincere belief that your employees are only as good as the people you allow them to be.
And that, she would tell you, includes parents who need to be at a bus stop at 2:30 p.m., or a T-ball game for an entire afternoon, or a school play or doctor’s appointment. It includes elder-caregivers who need to tend to Mom or Dad, or a spouse or significant other, or God forbid, a loved one in hospice.
It also includes any and all employees who are sick for however long it takes them to get well (I was talking to Godwin the day she returned from being out for a full week with the flu), or who might simply be feeling burned out and in need of time away from the office or maybe a two-week vacation. (If you’re wondering how far afield this vacation concept is, read Mike O’Brien’s HRE Daily post about the upsurge among millennials of what’s being called “vacation shame.”)
“People loan themselves to the job every day,” says Godwin. “If I can’t give back so these people can enjoy the first 18 years of a child’s life, then what good am I and what good are they?” In fact, she chooses to have happy, balanced employees instead of what seems to still dominate the corporate American workforce (drained, overworked and always-on, 24/7, workaholics. ) She insists on it. She even makes her email policy and work/life commitment part of every client contract.
“We don’t finalize any assignment involving clients and employees until all details are clear and agreed upon,” she says. “If the person we’re assigning the contract to needs to be at the bus stop at a certain time every day, it’s written into the contract. So is the fact that no one from our company will be getting back to the client via email past 7 p.m. or on weekends.”
How do clients feel about that? They seem to be more accepting than employees, it seems.
“We have to be very strict and policing sometimes about keeping to this commitment to balance,” Godwin says. “Employees, employers, society in general, we’re all connected. To truly have balance, you need strict boundaries, and you need to adhere to them. It’s never been the clients who need reminding; it’s actually the employees. We have to say, ‘Hey, we saw you sent that email at 8 p.m. … don’t do that again.’ ”
In the last year, “the company has grown, project by project, from five employees to 15,” she says. Albeit still a very small company, it’s big enough now to demand a more systemic, structured, formalized and policy-driven approach if everyone is going to really adhere to her be-good-to-yourself and be-free restrictions. “For my staff,” she says, “I encourage them all to decide to what extent they want to work.”
That means, if work builds up and there’s too much for an employee with small children to handle, given his or her work/life-balance criteria, Godwin says, “we just hire someone else to fill that need and our message to the current employee is, ‘Thank you for doing your personal best to create another job for another person to come in.’ Rather than simply ‘rewarding’ them with more work [which no doubt goes on in corporate America far more than we think, methinks], we create another job so that person is still protected and able to pick up her kids every day.”
So where does this most-unique position in business come from? All the way back to when Godwin was a member of corporate America herself, with advertising and marketing stints at Bell South and Chick-fil-A, as well as other large employers.
“Fourteen years ago, I could not envision how I could possibly keep up the schedule I had and ever have a life, or ever even entertain the thought of having a family.”
She remembers asking herself back then, “How can I really be there for ballet classes and baseball games? That’s simply not going to happen.”
“I personally believe we have no company without our employees and if they’re happy and living balanced lives, they’ll be energized and productive, and the clients will be treated well,” says Godwin.
“There no sense in bugging someone to give you [a report or piece of information] while they’re attending a funeral” or involved in a birth … or even just a kid’s activity.
“It’s been a personal decision for me to put people before profit,” she says, and it appears to be paying off in terms of retention, morale and employee-satisfaction results.
Could it work in the same corporate America she left 14 years ago? I guess we won’t know until we try.
There’s been no shortage of studies over the years on the topic of work/life balance and its impact on employee effectiveness, with most suggesting the two are undeniably intertwined.
Well, the latest of these studies is the focus of a piece by Susan Dominus titled “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation” in this Sunday’s The New York Times Magazine. In it, Dominus, a staff writer for the magazine, references the latest research by University of Minnesota Professor Phyllis Moen and MIT Professor Erin Kelly, published this month in the American Sociological Review.
Another outcome of the research, Dominus writes: Over a three-year period, employees were less interest in leaving their organizations.
Moen and MIT conducted their research in the technology department of a corporation that chose to remain nameless, dividing half of the employees into a control group that still operated under the company’s usual policy (in which flexibility was at the manager’s discretion) and the other half in an experimental group that were allowed to work where and when they wanted. In the case of the latter, the emphasis was on results, not hours worked.
As Dominus’ story points out, Moen “believes that ‘the mother-may-I approach’ to flexibility — one that relies on manager discretion—holds too many people back from acting on the policy. Instead, she wants to overhaul corporate culture so that flexibility is a living, breathing, vital aspect of work, a default mode rather than a privilege.”
In other words, policy alone isn’t enough for work/life balance to succeed; the corporate culture also needs to transformed.
Besides Moen, the NYTM article also quotes several other experts, including one who emphasizes the need to make any change initiative gender-neutral.
Another source suggests in the piece that “work/life fit” is a better way to describe initiatives than “work/life balance,” because it better “captures how employees are trying to piece the disparate parts of their lives together.” (Dominus notes that both the American Psychological Association and the Society for Human Resource Management have started to use this term.)
Whatever you decide to call it, I think it’s safe to assume employers someday are going to have to figure out the best way to address the issue of employee flexibility in their organizations—and maximize its value. And if we’re to believe what Dominus is suggesting in her story—and what Moen and Kelly are telling us in their research—it may take more than just a policy tweak or two to reap the full rewards of your work/family or work/life efforts.
News, Strategies and Resources for Senior HR Executives (formerly The Leader Board)