Has the “Great Resignation” reached Europe? Surveys suggest a growing number of employees are suffering from symptoms of burnout. One study suggests that over 40% of workers globally are considering leaving their job. How is working during a pandemic impacting our mental health? Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, have workers had enough?
The uptick in resignations is about more than the pressures of online working. In fact, most jobs have not moved online during the pandemic. Statistics vary across the EU, but Eurostat estimates that only 12% of employees across Europe are now working regularly from home (compared to a steady 5% of employees homeworking in the decade leading up to the pandemic). Service industries, including retail, hospitality and the food service sector are being particularly hit by resignations and staff shortages at the moment.
What do our readers think? The pandemic has placed enormous amounts of stress on workers. Neill argues that stressed workers are more likely to burn-out and resign, leading to an increase in disruptive staff turn-over. Is this one of the causes of the so-called “Great Resignation”? Is Europe facing a workplace mental health crisis?
To get a response, we put Neill’s comment to Manal Azzi, Senior Specialist in Occupational Safety and Health from the International Labour Organization. What would she say?
Thank you so much, Neill, for this excellent question… There is currently – not just in Europe, but around the world – a wave of people leaving their jobs. At one point they were fighting to get some job security, and they weren’t sure that could keep their jobs. Now, however, we’re back to the phase where people don’t settle for jobs that do not have a culture that protects them. And protecting our workers means protecting both their physical health but also their mental health. Creating such a culture takes time and it’s about different policy decisions that we make at the workplace.
So, we look at leadership, for example. What kind of management do you have? People do not want to accept being harassed at work anymore, nor do they want to work in conditions that do not suit them. People want space to grow, which is not about retaining your workers for ten or twenty years for the sake of retaining them, it’s about asking: ‘What kind of career paths are you proposing? Is there fairness in promotions, in recruiting? Is it gender responsive? Do you really value people taking rests? Do you value people’s work-life balance? What are the values that your company actually holds?’
So, yes, this ‘Great Resignation’ is because people are now informed workers, and they want to be working in a place where they’re happy, they’re engaged, and they feel fulfilled. And because work needs to be meaningful, this is something employers really need to be careful of by creating the different balance between workload, workspace division of labor, management, and leadership, but also through psychological support, social support, promoting health at work and creating that space that’s preventative and protective of their mental health. And this all means a new workplace culture, and we know cultures take time to build.
For another perspective, we also put Neill’s comment to Laura Marchetti, Policy Manager at Mental Health Europe. What was her take?
Work-related stress and psychosocial risks have increasingly been an issue in the workplace even before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to March 2020, we were already observing an increasing interest in the topic due to, unfortunately, an increase in mental health problems related to the work environment and structures.
With the disruption of working patterns and habits following the outbreak of COVID-19, more and more workers have experienced some degrees of distress due to fear of job stability, blurred lines between work and private life, difficulties in disconnecting from work, feeling of isolation and challenges in communication with co-workers – just to name a few reasons.
While talking about a mental health crisis might cast of overly negative spell on the situation, it is undeniable that work-related stress and psychosocial risks are now a topical challenge that can no longer be overlooked or ignored and requires a targeted approach with concrete measures to be tackled. This means – first and foremost – the need for adequate standards and policies related to mental health at work.
Workplace problems related to mental health cannot be addressed merely by the individual and their willingness and strength to take a self-care approach to work. These challenges need structural and organisational changes to be tackled across the board and should be approach with the same rigour and accountability of any other health and safety issue in the workplace.
Next up, Bernard says: As an employer, I do not like employees working after business hours. I want my employees to be fresh and energetic in the eight hours a day I pay them… [However,] in my experience, people working from home tend to blur their professional and private lives. Is this a problem?
How would Manal Azzi from the ILO react to Bernard’s comment?
Thanks, yes, Bernard, that is a really good question. What we’re seeing is that some flexibility is required. I don’t think, from what we see, that the classical, traditional approach of eight hours a day is really the way to go for everyone. I think we need to be quite flexible. Because people are working from home, sometimes they’re reluctant or busy for certain reasons, for example, between eight and ten in the morning, or between ten and twelve. But, then, they would like to use downtime in the evening to catch up on work. We need to be careful on what products and outputs we need from our workers and – if the timeline allows – we should try not to decide ourselves when outputs should happen. There needs to be a level of independence today from the worker in terms what suits them and what could be suitable to their work-life management.
So we cannot apply traditional working times unless necessary, for example, if somebody’s work is needed by someone else that works certain hours. But where there is a possibility to be flexible, this is really necessary, because what’s important is that people do the work at their own time. And what’s also important is that workers have control, because workers who burn out are often people who did not have enough resources to do what they were required to do, and who had no control over when to do what they needed to do. So, by providing the effort, reward, control, and resources that people need – like tools and timely information – it can really help people deliver better, to continue to be engaged, and to manage their personal life and work life properly according to their schedule. So, we just need to keep an open mind, I think, about this traditional aspect of eight consecutive working hours or allowing that flexibility when people are working from home in a way that does not make them overload their personal lives, but to allow them to manage their time in a way that suits suits everyone.
What would Laura Marchetti from Mental Health Europe say?
Indeed, teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought up the issue of managing a healthy balance between professional and private life for many workers. While flexible working hours can be a useful measure to integrate reasonable accommodations in the workplace and meet workers’ needs and commitments, this should not lead to an overall increase of the working time.
A recent Eurofound report suggests that people working from home are twice as likely to exceed the usual working time compared to onsite workers. Some countries have introduced standards to regulate the so-called “right to disconnect” while, in those countries where legislation has not been adapted yet, some companies have started to introduce practices to counteract the risk of working overtime and encourage workers to disconnect. The Eurofound report on Right to disconnect: Exploring company practices provides a good overview of the state of the art on the topic as well as practices that could potentially be introduced into other context.
Is Europe facing a workplace mental health crisis? Is working from home blurring our professional and private lives? Are workplaces across Europe welcoming and supportive environments for people with mental health issues? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash
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