Wellbeing Programs Must Address Employee Workloads

coffee cup saying wellbeing may cause irrepressible happiness

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Over the past couple of months, there’s been more than a few articles about employees being stressed and burned out. Issues related to employee wellbeing. It started with a group of first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs talking about their difficult working conditions, including being so overworked that they didn’t have time to bathe. Yes, you read that correctly. Let me just say what you’re probably thinking – that is just all kinds of wrong.

I totally understand that there are some jobs that pay extraordinarily high wages and along with it comes giving up some of your personal life. But not having time to bathe doesn’t and shouldn’t fall into that category.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) recently released a report about the health impacts of individuals who routinely work 55+ hours per week. The report indicated that individuals who regularly work long hours are more susceptible to heart disease (17%) and stroke (35%). The report estimates that 5% of deaths are related to changes in behavior – like unhealthy diet, poor sleep, and reduced activity – because of work demands. I’m not a doctor but I assume the logic goes something like this: Bad habits = Poor health = Risk of death.

One of the reasons that the number of hours we’re working is gaining attention is because more of us are doing it. The WHO and ILO report says about 10% of the global population regularly works long hours. And I can only imagine that this number is growing given all the reports about organizations not being able to find employees to fill jobs. The work still needs to get done. Organizations might be probably are pushing employees a little a lot harder to get things back to a post-pandemic normal.

But I think this is where organizations need to pause for a moment and think about the long-term impact of their actions. Organizations that are focused on economic recovery want and need a high performing workforce. Stress has an impact on delivering that performance. In their 2021 Leadership Transitions Report, global leadership consulting firm DDI mentions that a leader’s level of stress can have a negative impact on their confidence and performance. And I’ve said it before and will say it again, I’ve never seen a stressed-out manager with a calm team. Stress has a tendency to impact the entire organization.

It’s in an organization’s best interest to address workload as part of their wellbeing initiatives. Now, I can hear some senior managers saying, “I’d love to not overwork employees. But it’s impossible. We need employees to put in the extra hours. We have orders to get out.” I hear ya. That’s why I’d like to suggest that you let employees have some control over their workload. Managers can make this possible.

Let employees choose the days they want to put in extra time. And the hours they’re available. Maybe even the location that they work the extra hours. It doesn’t change the fact that employees are working more. But when they can do it on their terms, it makes a difference. Every employee has their own priorities. Many employees are okay with working extra if their priorities are met.

Then, when staffing levels are more manageable, organizations need to make good on their promises to give employees time off. Many times, companies promise that “things will change” once staffing levels are normal again … and then they don’t. Employees will remember when an organization doesn’t deliver on their promises. And now more than ever, when an increasing number of employees are saying “I quit.”, companies need to sincerely demonstrate that they value employee health and wellbeing.

Employee wellbeing isn’t a nice to have HR program. It’s a business imperative. And if businesses want to maintain the high performance it takes to stay competitive, then they need to keep their employees healthy. That includes giving them a manageable workload.

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