New research by Gartner Inc, which surveyed more than 20,000 employees between January 2020 and March 2021, claims that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the health of 55 percent of the global workforce.
The 2021 Gartner Workforce Resilience Employee Survey measured the change in workforce health across multiple employee wellbeing elements, work-life balance, psychological safety, burnout, collaboration, innovation and responsiveness.
Gartner’s survey claims that all segments of the workforce have experienced significant and widespread damage to workforce health, specifically, 50 percent of the workforce at each level, 44 percent of the workforce in each function and at least 35 percent of the workforce in each industry
“Many leaders have looked at productivity to gauge how employees have done during the pandemic,” said Molly Tipps, senior director, advisor, in the Gartner HR practice. “While HR leaders and employees report that productivity has maintained or improved since the onset of COVID-19, the cost has been substantial declines across many workforce health elements.”
Impacts to workforce health
Gartner studies workforce health across three main factors: healthy employees, healthy relationships, and healthy work environments.
1. Healthy Employees: Employee health has suffered during the pandemic – 85 percent of employees have experienced higher levels of burnout while 40 percent report declines in their work-life balance.
2. Healthy Relationships: The disruption of the pandemic has led to 41 percent of employees having lower trust in their teams and 37 percent having lower trust in leadership.
3. Healthy Work Environment: In response to the immediate shift in where and how people work, 29 percent of employees have a lower level of change receptivity and 31 percent experienced a lower level of inclusion.
“These impacts to health are both long-term and hard-to-reverse,” said Piers Hudson, senior director analyst in the Gartner HR practice. “Moving forward, organisations must figure out how to sustain and grow performance, whether in a period of disruption or not, without damaging the health of employees.”
The average is the enemy
Despite talent data looking, on average, unchanged, the pandemic has created both “thriving and diving.” Among the employees surveyed, 30 percent experienced limited or no change to their psychological safety. Another 34 percent experienced a decline in psychological safety, while 36 percent reported significant improvements. Employees who had the highest levels of workforce health pre-COVID were not necessarily more likely to thrive, and those with the lowest pre-COVID workforce health were not predisposed to fare worse. Therefore, leaders need to deepen their understanding of how disruption impacts different employees to develop effective and affordable interventions, rather than focusing on average, and ultimately misleading findings.
Connection sets the stage
While HR seeks to keep employees inspired and connected to the organisation, they often focus on corporate culture and a shared mission. Instead, what employees need is a more personal sense of purpose. When employees believe that their work is personally relevant, there is a 26 percent increase in the likelihood of the organisation to sustain workforce health.
Employees also need to feel connected to one another. Fifty-one percent of teams were disrupted due to COVID-19, but Gartner data suggests that in times of disruption the connections in immediate working teams matter most. Highly cohesive teams have a 37 percent higher likelihood of sustaining workforce health.
Leaders clear the path
“Our research uncovered that one of the biggest drivers of workforce resilience is leaders themselves, and their ability to both understand and address the barriers that are preventing employees from having a healthy work – and life – experience,” said Cian O’Morain, director in the Gartner HR practice.
“These impacts to health are both long-term and hard-to-reverse”
Many organisations attempted to boost resilience by adding employee benefits and/or recognising and rewarding employees for their work. However, these activities had minimal impact in improving workforce resilience.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leaders offered employees more autonomy, believing it would improve health by speeding decisions and reducing frustration. “While autonomy can have a positive impact on key elements of workforce health, it is a capability that needs to be built over time,” said Ms. Tipps.
Gartner’s research claims that increasing autonomy as workload increases, seriously degrades workforce health. For the 83 percent of employees who are operating at, or above, capacity, increased autonomy diminishes their chances of having good workforce health by more than 30 percent.
Image by Valerija Bieliak?