Well-being & Lifestyle Benefits
| Nov 17 2022

The Best Way to Reduce Workplace Stress? Ask Workers

Lauren Mason
Principal, Career
Ashleigh Jang
Senior Associate, Mercer

During the pandemic, organizations that led with empathy and prioritized health and flexibility saw the benefits of greater employee commitment, engagement, and productivity. But 2022 has brought new sources of stress, including inflation, churn in the labor market, and ongoing childcare shortages. According to Mercer’s 2022 Inside Employees’ Minds, a survey of more than 4,000 US workers, while financial health might be employees’ greatest concern right now, burnout and work-life balance are among the top three issues keeping them up at night.

The survey results suggest that, more than ever, employees are prioritizing their well-being and placing increased importance on their lives outside of work. When we asked employees how their employers could help ease burnout, a common theme emerged – flexibility. While employers might be ready to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, that’s not necessarily true of their employees.

So where does that leave employers? In today’s post-pandemic environment, employers need to embrace a new contract with employees: the lifestyle contract, in which the workplace supports health, work-life balance is sustainable, and flexibility is prioritized. Here are some thoughts – from the employee perspective – on how companies can support workforce well-being.

Find flexible work options that work for your organization

While most organizations implemented some level of remote and hybrid working in response to the pandemic, many were skeptical of its true potential. According to the survey, employees with a hybrid work arrangement expressed more satisfaction with their employer, the greatest sense of belonging to their team, more satisfaction with their compensation and benefits, and more confidence that their career goals can be met at the organization compared to those working fully on-site and those who are fully remote.

Despite this, more than half of employees who say their jobs can be performed remotely are required to be on-site full-time. Nearly two-thirds of employees prefer more flexibility than they are offered today – currently employees report working on-site an average of 3.5 days per week, but prefer 1.5 days, on average.

Flex work

Leading employers are redesigning their flexible working strategies to maximize flexibility, without sacrificing workforce outcomes. After pay, employees ranked flexibility as the top item potentially attracting them to a new employer, so organizations offering greater flexibility are gaining a competitive advantage in talent attraction and retention.

Flexibility can come in many forms. For example, frontline workers who can’t work remotely noted they would appreciate time-based flexibility. Building more agile scheduling and resourcing systems to make this a reality is a low-cost solution that can be leveraged to attract and retain employees. Flexibility can play a vital role as an incentive for employees to work more efficiently and productively to free up more time for “everyday life” events.

Redesign work to address unsustainable workloads

Mental health and burnout ranks very high on the list of employees’ top concerns, particularly for younger employees (below age 35) and LGBTQ+ employees – each group ranked mental health second, behind only covering monthly expenses. About half (51%) of employees across all demographics reported feeling exhausted on a typical day at work, but it is most pronounced in front-line workforces.

Excessive workloads are weighing on employees, with 60% of employees in healthcare, retail, hospitality, and food services reporting feeling frustrated during a typical day at work. It’s crucial to understand what’s causing unsustainable workloads, and use that information to implement strategies that expand resourcing pipelines, optimize the use of talent and set clear priorities.            

Although the survey results suggest that employers’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts have had some positive impact, minority employees remain significantly more likely than white employees to say they are considering leaving their jobs. Hispanic and Latino workers reported a significant decline in balance, satisfaction, and commitment across all categories since last year. One way employers can support minority workers’ well-being is by providing more inclusive and personalized benefit offerings.

The bottom line? Employers have to move beyond a pre-pandemic mindset to create a work environment that will attract, retain and support employees in a post-pandemic world.

About Inside Employees’ Minds: This study includes 4,049 full-time employees in the United States, working for organizations with more than 250 employees. The study was conducted between August 26 and September 9, 2022. The report also includes actionable advice for employers to help address unmet needs in their workforce.

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