Tag: burnout

Is this perk the answer to stress and burnout?

Investment bank Goldman Sachs announced in April that they were moving their senior employees onto a ‘flexible vacation’ policy, allowing for time off when needed instead of fixed maximum days per annum. Junior staff will still receive the statutory leave requirements.

The new policy requires all employees to take at least 15 days off, this in an attempt to change a culture that has previously left bankers depleted and exhausted.

This move can be a powerful recruiting tool. A recent Fortune and Harris Poll survey showed that half of employees preferred the idea of having unlimited paid time off to a higher salary.

For the most part, this move is applauded by employees and observers, especially in light of an increasingly burnt-out workforce.

The question is whether this is the great benefit everyone expects it to be and whether it will change the culture in a competitive environment such as Goldman Sachs?

Kiki Stannard, Managing Director at ZEDRA, commented: “It’s well known that employers are determined to keep their best and brightest employees, particularly those who work the hardest and contribute the most. With 24/7 connectivity nearly everywhere globally, finding time away from the demands of a stressful job are becoming more and more difficult. It is often a challenge for those in the highest demand to get a decent amount of time off to rest and recuperate properly –  both physically and mentally –  never more so than in the world of financial services.

It may have come as a surprise to many to read that internationally renowned investment bank, Goldman Sachs, announced that senior staff are being moved to a ‘flexible vacation’ policy which will permit time off when needed and not adhering to fixed maximum days per annum.

Having been hailed as progressive for the industry and designed to encourage a decent amount of time off to support health and wellbeing (there will be a minimum level of time off for junior staff which aligns with the statutory requirement in any event), will there really be any change in culture or attitude at Goldman Sachs – often viewed as fiercely competitive?

In the US, the tech sector has actually been offering unlimited vacation for many years which might sound like a significant benefit where vacation is around ten days plus public holidays.

The reality however can be quite different.

  • The unlimited vacation is only on the basis that the employee’s work is done, or the break will not disrupt the business, often leading to employees logging on regularly whilst they are away
  • Confusion can arise around the use of the policy and different interpretations as to exactly what amount is acceptable as ‘unlimited’ according to who your line manager happens to be
  • There can be an inclination to cancel a day’s leave when something urgent comes up at work
  • Blurring of the lines can be seen where there is a performance issue requiring careful management or additional employee support
  • Does unlimited vacation just mask real sick days?
  • Does unlimited vacation result in a duvet day for anyone who is just not that motivated?
  • How can you shake that Monday morning feeling when you know that not turning up today is ok?

Unlimited holidays can work for some businesses and sectors, but this type of policy won’t work for every company. In today’s environment it might act as a great benefit to entice new, often younger, starters to join a company. It’s always important to engage with staff and key stakeholders to get a better idea of the appetite for such a policy before committing and if there is desire, prepare thoroughly to avoid any negative ramifications to individual staff and company morale.”

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Experts examine the pros and cons of the potentially game-changing pilot scheme

This week, more than 70 companies are kicking off a four-day work week. Over 3,000 employees will be working a shorter week, with no impact on salary, between now and December as part of a nationwide pilot project.

Between 2020 and 2022, the pandemic “moved the goalposts” on office life. As a result, many workers experienced the flexibility and work-life balance of remote working for the first time during this period. On the back of that, many organisations are now trying to work out new, more productive ways of working. If successful, this scheme is likely to completely change the working world as we know it.

Experts have examined the possible impacts of this change and question whether this change is a gimmick or a progressive move to the future. Before adopting the four-day work week, businesses are encouraged to examine their reasons for making this change and consider whether this development will truly solve any problems or simply plaster over bigger issues.

Laura Baldwin, President at O’Reilly, commented: “When it comes to work schedules, what people really care about is flexibility. It’s not about four days or five. Either is still very prescriptive and doesn’t account for the varied reasons many employees want flexibility – for example, to manage five-day-a-week school pick up hours. For the burnt out, overworked employees who went above and beyond during the pandemic, fewer hours, worked flexibly across five days is likely to mean more than a four-day slog.”

“For businesses, the four-day week can also create complicated scheduling nightmares – especially for smaller organisations. While some larger organisations can implement A/B schedules where, for example, half of the employees are off on the Friday and the other half, Monday, this won’t work for smaller teams that need cover all week. Instead, there needs to be more effort invested in creating real cultures of flexibility, which can best serve employees without forgetting the needs of customers.”

“Quite simply, customers expect (at least) a five-day-a-week service and until every organisation moves to four days as standard there will be a very hard balancing act to cut to four. Dropping the ball on customer experience to pay lip service to flexibility is a losing strategy for all.”

“If you’re thinking about a four-day workweek, use it as a prompt to ask, what is it that you are really trying to solve? Are you trying to create a shortcut to flexibility? Will this rather drastic move really create the flexibility your employees want? Will it enable work-life balance, but also get the work done? Could it be you are looking for a sticking plaster to bigger issues? Rather than embracing trust and flexibility for your teams, are you just seeking another way to exert control behind a facade of a four-day gimmick?”

In his recent blog on the subject, Ken Brotherston, CEO at TALiNT Partners also questions whether this was a situation of designing a problem to fit a solution.

He asked where the idea of working less originated. If society begins to work less and results in lower growth and higher national debt, we may be creating bigger problems for future generations.

Another concern is that while this new scheme could create an improved work-life balance for some workers, without clear boundaries, staff could feel more burnt out than before as they’ll have to complete five days of work in four.

Staff will need guidance to help them adjust to the change, to ensure that they’re not working additional hours in the four days that they are working. This creates more issues for leadership teams who are already having to deal with burnout among staff since working from home became a full-time gig. There is no divide between work and home.

Andrew Duncan, Partner and EMEA CEO, Infosys Consulting, commented: “Many businesses are acutely aware of the positive impact that location-agnostic policies can have on employee wellbeing. It is clear that flexibility-forward is the approach of the future, however, ensuring these policies are properly structured is key to making them a success.

“With the launch of four-day working week trials, outlining clear parameters around these policies will be vital. Failure to do so risks a downturn in quality as talent attempts to squeeze the same amount of work into a shorter week.

“This also poses risks from a people management point of view potentially resulting in burnout or staff working outside of agreed hours, setting back aims to improve work-life balance.”

Paul Modley, Director, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at AMS, commented: “The flexibility of being able to work four days a week will certainly help create a better work-life balance for some workforces. However, this concept is new to individuals and businesses alike. The key hurdle to overcome if this is to be successful is the careful management of workloads. If staff are cutting their hours by 20% but their workload and delivery expectations remain the same, employers could face a scenario where people are struggling to meet expectations and failing to take breaks or working overtime during the new working week in order to gain an additional day off.”

“With the right communication and careful management a four day week can work, but without appropriate implementation, employees can become disengaged with a brand or even feel disgruntled with the forced reduction of days. In an economy where talent shortages are rife and retaining staff is a critical business priority, it’s important to ensure that any changes to work set ups are delivering against the needs of individuals as well as the company. At AMS all of our roles can flex to some degree so we have experience in making different working methods successful across the globe. It’ll be interesting to see the results of this trial, but the information that will be most valuable from my point of view will be the feedback of staff themselves, not just the productivity data from the businesses.”

Regardless of the outcome, this new way of working is sure to divide the workforce with flexible and hybrid working already becoming a bug bear to those employers who want their staff back in the office full-time, post-pandemic.

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31% of financial services and banking professionals to leave the industry due to pressure

One third (31%) of financial services and banking professionals plan to leave their industry, and a further third (31%) are planning to stay within the industry but leave their current roles, reveals a new report.

According to the study by the digital accountancy platform, LemonEdge,  33% of financial service and banking professionals believe that working from home and hybrid working has increased burnout. Fourteen percent state that burnout has risen exponentially. The study also revealed that 23% of these professionals are worried about physical and mental health.

When asked why workers are planning to leave their positions, the following reasons were cited:

  • Heavy workload (42%)
  • Manual processes (36%)
  • Long working hours (32%)
  • Tight deadlines (26%)
  • Increasing demands from management (25%)

One in six of the financial services workers who were surveyed feel like they can no longer continue or no longer desire to continue in their role within the industry.

When asked what would help overcome burnout, 33% of financial services professionals agreed that a reduced workload would reduce burnout. Time off work (27%), support from management (25%), and faster, more efficient technology (23%) were also popular solutions.

Gareth Hewitt, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at LemonEdge, comments: “An exodus of industry professionals is a sure sign that levels of burnout have reached an unacceptable scale. Any experience of  burnout is serious and with thousands of employees planning to leave the industry as a direct result of high pressure, it should be a clear warning to firms before they risk losing valuable talent.

“The risk of burnout to employers is huge, and there are simple measures firms can introduce to reduce the risk of burnout, making the lives of their employees’ much simpler, easier, and with less stress. Firms need to be aware of the impact absenteeism and presenteeism will have on both their employees and business productivity. Just because you’re working from home, or in a hybrid model, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy time off. With one in four (23%) asking for faster or improved technology to eliminate manual processes, firms need to look at their approaches to improve the lives of their staff. In this day and age, technology, not only can but should, provide the automation and flexibility that can contribute to reduced stress, reduced working hours, and lower risk of burnout. At LemonEdge we are passionate about providing the tools and technology that enable financial services professionals to get home on time.”

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Half of workers spend time on video calls now than a year ago

According to Asana’s 2022 Anatomy of Work Report, workers in the US are overwhelmed by their notifications with almost two-thirds (63%) of US workers continuously checking their emails outside of work hours — the highest percentage across the board in the international study.

The software company’s research team surveyed workers from Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S. At 62%, workers in the U.S. were the most likely to report feeling the need to reply to emails straight away. This rate was even higher among Generation Z and millennials. The US participants reported that they’re overwhelmed by the breadth of their digital interactions with colleagues with 34% stating they struggle to respond to important messages, with the rate being even higher for millennials and Gen Zers.

Just under half (41%) of respondents reported that they spend more time on emails now than a year ago with 43% stating that they spend more time on video calls than one year ago.

More than half (52%) reported that more efficient meetings could effectively reduce the number of notifications, and 48% of respondents said clearer responsibilities could also limit the number of notifications. Gen Zers, millennials and those in C-suite roles were most likely to emphasize the importance of well-outlined expectations.

Debbie Walton, Editor at TALiNT Partners commented: “The move to working from home means that there is no option to display an ‘out of office’ or to switch off from work. I have made the decision to remove all work apps from my cell phone so as not to be bombarded by endless notifications after hours. It’s supported a healthier work/ life balance.”

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Companies need to build wellness culture into business

There is no doubt that the thought of returning to work-life after COVID-19 is filling many employees with dread. More than two years of pandemic related uncertainty and stress have taken their toll on employees’ mental health.

Lockdowns sent us into survival mode, and it is only now, as life starts to get back to normal, that we begin to process the reality of what we’ve been through. There may still be safety concerns. Cognitively, employees may feel safe, but they may not feel emotionally safe. In addition, new habits have had two years to develop, and they may be a challenge to break.

But there are practical reasons too. A recent survey of 1,000 workers conducted by messaging app Slack suggests that almost two in five workers are stressed or anxious about going back to the office after more than two years at home. Concerns about work-life balance, the cost of travel and food were among the reasons for their stress.

The study revealed that 75% of workers had experienced burnout, and one-third had put in extra hours.

The study also found that only two in five respondents think their employers value their mental health, indicating how essential it is for businesses to provide more help.

Employers need to recognise and empathise with the different reasons that workers may be reluctant or anxious to return to the office.

Seventy percent of respondents agreed that a four-day workweek would help their mental health and wellbeing. Almost 50% believe that a hybrid work situation is the best approach for mental health, yet only 25% can choose whether or not they will work in the office.

Chris Mills, of Slack, said: “An employee who is cared for and supported will be inspired to do their best work.”

“It’s positive to see UK workers highlighting that hybrid work and technology has an important part to play in their wellbeing.”

“To ensure technology continues to be an enabler of healthier workplaces, leaders can also set a good example. Building best practices, for instance on how to use features like ‘do not disturb’ and scheduled messages to avoid out of office messaging, can be a great place to start.”

Charlène Gisèle, High Performance Coach and Burnout Advisor: “It is more important than ever for employers to integrate and incorporate a wellness culture embedded within the company. Offering wellness solutions goes beyond a gym membership – instead fostering a wellness culture is what a company ought to aim for.

Instead of focusing on concerns employees can focus on the positive aspects of being back in the office: camaraderie, being able to see colleagues again, and having social work life back on the horizon are all great for mental health as opposed to social/work isolation which many employees have faced during lockdown.”

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Companies offer or re-commit to championing parental leave

A resource from McKinsey and Company entitled Women in the Workplace 2021 has shared data suggesting that women were even more burned out as of late 2021 than they were in 2020. The research also revealed that burnout was ramping up faster among women than in men with childcare-related worker attrition remaining a human resource issue.

Around a third of women surveyed stated that they “have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce this year,” compared to the one-fourth of women who told McKinsey the same early on in the pandemic.

In a market that is talent-strapped, employers have had to be very creative when conjuring up ways to better retain parents. Many companies have offered or re-committed to championing parental leave so that workers aren’t forced to choose between caring for their families and nurturing their careers. Labor experts also have called attention to the nuance involved in such considerations, including regard for LGBTQ+ parents who need leave and further attention paid to mothers who are black and their higher rates of burnout.

According to the survey, some companies have taken a step further by offering stipends for in-home childcare or daycare. Others still have implemented “returnships” for caregivers — primarily, women or birthing parents — to become reacquainted with the workforce after a years-long childcare hiatus.

But flexibility in their workflow and scheduling remains one easily implemented solution that managers and HR teams can offer parents today.

McKinsey commented in its 2021 report: “More than three-quarters of senior HR leaders say that allowing employees to work flexible hours is one of the most effective things they’ve done to improve employee well-being, and there are clear signs it’s working. Employees with more flexibility to take time off and step away from work are much less likely to be burned out, and very few employees are concerned that requesting flexible work arrangements has affected their opportunity to advance.”

The one caveat? Ensure that employees are given clear boundaries along with their flexibility, to thwart an “always-on” approach to work. It’s important to not only offer flexibility but also to support staff wellbeing in order to avoid burnout.

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Portugal passed law prohibiting contact with employees outside of regular hours 

A poll conducted by Fasthosts has revealed that seven in 10 Brits receive one to 10 emails out of working hours every single day.  

The pandemic has resulted in millions of people working from home and has made ‘switching off’ difficult. The right to disconnect in France has been law for six years, and Ireland has brought in a similar code of practice under which employers should include reminders in their emails to employees indicating no requirement to reply out of working hours. In late 2021 Portugal also passed a law prohibiting employers from contacting workers outside of their regular hours by phone, message or email.  

Based on the research, a shocking 49.2% of respondents receive one to five work-related emails outside of their office hours while one in seven Brits receive up to 10 after-hours work emails per day! Shockingly, 67% of Brits generally reply to after-work emails, while 16% say they always reply no matter what. 

Fifty percent of respondents admitted that receiving after-hours work emails has a negative impact on their lives. It’s no wonder that the poll found that 46% of people in the UK experienced or felt on the verge of burnout in 2021, based on various studies.  

Specifically, Brits voted that the after-work emails make them feel like they’re always at work (19.4%), like they have no time for themselves (17.6%) and their family (15.1%) and are concerned that if they don’t reply it would affect their career (11.3%).  

One question in the survey asked if there should be a law in the UK restricting after-hours work emails with over four in ten (43.5%) agreeing that there should be one in place, with most of them being women!  

Millennials are the most affected and women receive more emails compared to men  

Based on the findings, women receive more work-related emails after work, compared to men (51.3% and 47.1% respectively). Despite this, the poll revealed that both genders felt as if they were always at work whereas men felt that they are more likely to have no time for themselves or family, while women felt the pressure to work all the time or that not replying could affect their career.  

There is a significant shift in the working environment with policies that promote a healthier work-life balance amid the rise of remote working. With more countries banning employers from contacting their employees outside their shift hours, maybe the UK will follow. Our study showed that many Brits receive after-hours emails which affect them in their personal lives and as a result, most of them believe that there should be legislation aimed at minimising this problem. 

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Over one third of office workers skipping breaks

New data from a survey by Digital Detox, conducted by Just Eat for Business, has revealed that over a third (36%) of UK workers are now skipping more breaks than last year.

The survey uncovered workers’ habits towards breaks and computer use, as well as focus on screen time. The study included expert comments on the mental impact of skipping breaks and went on to offer advice on how to combat it.

It also included responses from over 200 UK workers that were segmented by job role (business owners/C-suite, management team and executive).

The responses revealed that over a third (36%) of office workers are now skipping more lunch breaks compared to last year.

Business owners and those in C-suite positions proved to be the most likely (44%) to skip more breaks, while 1 in 10 at the same level report not taking any lunch breaks at all.

The survey also asked workers how often they put in overtime, with 25% of workers admitting that they put in overtime hours every single day.

When asked how often they feel burnt out at work, the survey found that 43% of workers report feeling sometimes burnt out at work, with 13% of office workers feeling in a constant state of burnout.

The results of the survey suggested that there is a correlation between those who skip breaks and those who feel burnt out, with 73% of workers reporting feeling burnout also admitting they don’t take a break until lunch, while 46% don’t stop looking at their screen until the end of the working day.

Dr Anneli Gascoyne, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths University, commented on the impact of skipping breaks: “Trying to maintain focus for long periods of time is also counterproductive: over time, we’re depleting our mental energy and often don’t notice that happening. By skipping lunch we’re potentially making that situation worse – we need food (preferably the fresh and healthy kind!) to help restore our energy.”

Rosie Hyam, People Partner at Just Eat for Business, added: “Regardless of how teams are working – whether it’s in the office, at home, or a hybrid solution – it’s essential to take regular breaks. Without these, it’s not surprising that so many workers are feeling more burnt out than before.

“Given the emphasis currently being placed on health and wellbeing, it’s important that employers and employees prioritise sustainable and healthy working habits – including taking more regular screen breaks, and setting time aside to socialise with colleagues.

“Organisations may want to consider organising regular events that encourage time away from screens, and offer opportunities for team bonding – such as weekly catered in-office lunches, or food deliveries for at-home workers.”

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Trials indicate increased productivity and employee wellbeing
Approximately 30 British companies will be taking part in a four-day work week trial has been launched in the UK as part of a global pilot organised by governments, think tanks, and the organisation ‘4 Day Week Global’. During the pilot, it’s said that employees will be offered 100% of their usual pay, for 80% of their time, yet maintaining 100% productivity. Studies have shown that the four-day week can boost productivity and employee wellbeing.
Harriet Calver, Senior Associate at Winckworth Sherwood, says that the four-day work week is not a new phenomenon. Many employees in the UK already work a four-day week, however, this is typically agreed on a case-by-case basis between employee and employer following a flexible working request. It tends to be accompanied by a corresponding reduction in pay, except in the case of “compressed hours” in which case the employee is simply squeezing the same number of hours into a shorter week.

BENEFITS FOR BUSINESS 

Gill Tanner, Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub, believes that one of the key advantages is that employees would benefit from a better work/life balance and an extra day on the weekend would mean staff would have the opportunity to realise other ambitions outside of work and spend more meaningful time with family and friends, engage in more exercise or find a new hobby – all of which result in improved mental and physical health and higher levels of happiness. And this will result in less burnout and reduced levels of stress.

But in what ways could the reduced working week benefit employers? Improving employee happiness and well-being has many potential commercial benefits for employers such as increased performance and productivity, reduced absenteeism, recruitment and retention; and it could have a positive effect DE&I.

POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS

Gill Tanner believes that completing five days’ worth of work in just four days could be more stressful for some. Employees will need more focus and have much less time for lower productivity activities.  Additionally, some employers and businesses may find the four-day week detrimental to operations. For example, a decline in levels of customer support on days staff aren’t in the office. So, careful thought needs to be given to how this might be executed.

According to Harriet Calver, if an organisation is asking for 100% productivity from employees in consideration for a reduction in working hours, it is going to be critical to have the right support, technology and workplace culture in place to enable this.

Although the success of the four-day working week model relies on employees doing fewer hours, there is a danger that there may not be enough hours in those four days to complete the work. Therefore, working hours could creep up to previous levels if the workload is the same, resulting in longer and more stressful days for these employees.

In customer facing businesses, a potential pitfall of the four-day working week is not being able to properly service customers leading to poor customer satisfaction. For example, if an organisation shuts its office on the fifth day, when it was previously open, customers may complain they cannot access services when they want to, or previously could. Whilst this could be a potential issue for some organisations, it should be overcome fairly easily by most simply by keeping the business open for five days a week but staggering the days which employees do their four days so the entire week is still covered.

According to Gill Tanner, employers should consider the following before implementing a four-day week:

  1. What are your reasons for implementing a four-day week?
  2. Consult with employees and other stakeholders regarding a four-day week. What are their thoughts? How might it work?
  3. Provide clarity regarding what is expected in terms working hours, performance levels, days off, remuneration, ways of working etc.
  4. Ensure there is sufficient coverage to run the business as is required and to have continuity.
  5. Think about the situation from the customer/client perspective (and other stakeholders) and how they might be affected
  6. Consider the communication plan: who needs to be communicated to and by when?
  7. Reflect on your current company culture.  Is it one of trust and ownership, values that are key to this kind of working? If not, is it the right time to implement such a big transition?  Are there other steps you need to take first?
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Burnout continues to fuel the retention crisis

According to its latest study, McKinsey & Company has reported that more than 15 million US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021 with 40% of employees saying that they’re likely to quit in the next three to six months. This, because of burnout, the study revealed.

According to McKinsey, the pandemic has led to employee retention struggles that require serious reconsideration of how employers address mental well-being and they’re calling it the “Great Attrition”.

The largest-of-its-kind study released recently by leadership consulting firm DDI surveyed more than 15,000 employees and 2,000 HR professionals across 24 industries. The study found that nearly 60% of leaders reported feeling used up at the end of the workday.

Burnout has long been a concern for employers, and “leaders who are feeling burnout are now nearly four times more likely to leave their positions within the next year,” according to DDI. The length of the pandemic and the sustained effort required to keep companies afloat through uncertain times (and virtually) have increased exhaustion and stress. Meanwhile, the lines of work/life balance have blurred, families are facing increased financial anxiety, and the pandemic has put a strain on marriages and parents.

Staff need more support, but what does the ideal support system look like? 

In today’s mental wellbeing landscape, support typically starts with professional care but this model of care is problematic because according to Benefit News, in the US, those needing mental health support have to wait an average of 19 days to been seen and only “if one of the 12% of therapists accepting new patients are in the person’s network”. Stigma and fear of repercussions also play a role; 40% of first responders, for example, say they don’t seek help from workplace services because they are afraid of getting fired.

Employers can be the leaders in making proactive mental health care accessible to Americans by doing the following:

  1. Implement meditation spaces and courses in the workplace is one solution. Sixty percentof employees experiencing anxiety in the workplace show marked improvement upon practicing meditation. Many workplaces are already introducing corporate mindfulness classes to their benefits, with stunning results.
  2. Champion overall health. Because stress has also been associated with poor eating behaviors and diet quality (both causing it and being caused by it), nutrition and exercise are key. It’s not reasonable to expect an employee working a nine-hour workday to have time to go to the gym after work, make a healthy dinner from scratch, and also spend time with his or her family without feeling burned out. If workplaces offered healthy meal options at work, and even nutrition courses, it could make a world of difference; it’s also important to create a culture that encourages physical activity during

The arrival of the pandemic brought with it isolation and real human connection is at the lowest point in history. Many family members live in different states or countries, and according to NPR, more than 60% of Americans say they are lonely.

McKinsey’s study revealed that this increase in loneliness has impacted people’s personal and professional lives and made workers more susceptible to burnout. This is especially true for non-White employees, who are “more likely than their White counterparts to say they had left because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies.”

The bottom line

Workplaces can address the fundamental need for connection by acknowledging the connection between loneliness and burnout; rethinking workplace environments to allow for more socialization and communal working; creating peer-to-peer mentorship programs; introducing ways for employees to volunteer together for a company-backed social cause; or using a platform like Listeners On Call that enables employees to talk to trained listeners with a shared life experience anonymously and confidentially. Also, the platform has the ability to meet employees where they are today on their own personal journey of wellness.

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