Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Employees are feeling a lot of negative emotions at work, but C-suite execs and managers have no idea because they’re struggling too

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The quest to achieve work-life balance is as old as time. The workplace has undergone a sea change in recent years with the adoption of remote work, elevated levels of employee burnout, and mass layoffs. Amid all these forces, employee well-being is taking a hit. Most workers have reported that their health either worsened or remained the same during the last year, according to a survey by audit and consulting firm Deloitte. And employers, the report finds, are not doing much to address the problem. 

“Organizations are just not doing enough to improve working conditions and employee health,” Christopher Kayes, a management professor at the George Washington University School of Business, told Fortune. “The fact that well-being is showing a small dip shows that things are really getting difficult for workers and that managers don’t have the right tools to even move the needle even an inch in a positive direction.”

Deloitte’s report, in collaboration with research firm Workplace Intelligence and published last week, is based on surveys of over 3,000 executives, managers, and employees in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. It asked participants about well-being in four categories: physical, mental, financial, and social. The results showed that managers with the ability to effect change in the workplace are not being empowered by companies to do so. There’s also a large mismatch in how employees and the C-suite view well-being.

“More than three out of four executives inaccurately believe that their workforce’s well-being improved, illustrating that leaders don’t have a firm grasp on how their teams are really doing,” the report said.

Data collected by the consulting firm shows that while roughly 80% of high-level executives believe their employees’ well-being has improved in the last year, in reality, only an average of 32% of employees over the four categories truly feel that way. And notably, on the other end of the spectrum, 37% of employees have seen their financial well-being worsen last year, but only 5% C-suite executives thought so. There’s one main reason for this stark difference in perspective, according to Deloitte’s chief well-being officer, Jen Fisher.

“I think one of the key reasons is that we also know from our report that leaders, whether they be C-suite or managers, are also struggling with their overall well-being,” Fisher told Fortune. “Well-being has largely, historically been a HR-focused program and initiative…[but] workforce well-being is now the responsibility of everyone.”

Leaders have historically not been trained or “grown up” in organizations in which their superiors were in charge of their well-being, according to Fisher. She added that while some managers or executives are inherently good at nurturing employees and caring for their well-being, that’s not always the case. 

The price of well-being

What’s hurting worker well-being to such an extent? Employees are fatigued, stressed, overwhelmed, and depressed, among other things, which is causing them to feel “negative emotions,” Deloitte wrote. 

“A heavy workload, stressful job, and long work hours topped the list of obstacles people say are getting in the way of improving their well-being,” the report found. And employees aren’t alone in how they feel. Managers and executives are similarly struggling and equally likely to report such sentiments.

“I once put the responsibility for low well-being on managers, but I’ve come to realize that most managers don’t have the training to deal with many of the issues they face, and that is reflected in this study,” Kayes said. “It feels a little bit like managers are spinning their wheels, hoping for improvement in well-being, but frustration is setting in as their efforts aren’t making a difference.”

Only a small percentage of workers, accounting for a third of those surveyed, feel like their work is having a positive impact on their well-being.  

Employees are increasingly prioritizing being valued in the workplace, without which they feel dissatisfied and unhappy. Growing concerns about their well-being in the workplace has led many people to consider switching jobs to companies that can better support them. Sixty percent of employees are thinking about it, compared to 57% last year, while 75% in the C-suite are also contemplating a move, up six percentage points from last year. 

The report suggests that managers should do more to improve well-being, whether that’s by checking in with employees or by setting an example for healthy behaviors. Other measures include better accountability within organizations. 

“Because this boundary between work and life has been largely erased, work is having a much more significant impact on people’s well-being—and perhaps, it was always there but it wasn’t part of the conversation,” Fisher said.

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