Health of more than half global workforce 'significantly' impacted during pandemic

Health of more than half global workforce 'significantly' impacted during pandemic

A global study of more than 20,000 employees has shown that the pandemic has negatively impacted the health of more than half (55%) the workforce.

The 2021 Gartner Workforce Resilience Employee Survey measured change in workforce health across multiple employee well-being elements, work-life balance, psychological safety, burnout, collaboration, innovation and responsiveness.

They claim their findings reveal that all segments of the workforce experienced 'significant and widespread damage to workforce health', which include  50% of the workforce at each level, at least 44% of the workforce in each function and a minimum of 35% of the workforce in each industry

Molly Tipps, director at Gartner HR, said: "Many leaders have looked at productivity to gauge how employees have done during the pandemic.

“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 studied workforce health across three main factors, including healthy employees, healthy relationships, and healthy work environments.

Healthy Employees: Employee health has suffered during the pandemic – 85% of employees have experiencedhigher levels of burnout while 40% report declines in their work-life balance.

Healthy Relationships: The disruption of the pandemic has led to 41% of employees having lower trust in their teams and 37% having lower trust in leadership.

Healthy Work Environment: In response to the immediate shift in where and how people work, 29% of employees have a lower level of change receptivity and 31% experienced a lower level of inclusion.

Piers Hudson, senior director analyst in the Gartner HR practice, said: “These impacts to health are both long-term and hard-to-reverse,” said . “Moving forward, organizations must figure out how to sustain and grow performance, whether in a period of disruption or not, without damaging the health of employees.”

Gartner has advise that HR leaders should work with other business leaders and managers to address three workforce health lessons:

1) Average is the enemy

Despite talent data looking, on average, unchanged, the pandemic has created both “thriving and diving.” Among the employees surveyed, 30% experienced limited or no change to their psychological safety.

Another 34% experienced a decline in psychological safety, while 36% 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.

2) Connection sets the stage

While HR seeks to keep employees inspired and connected to the organization, they often focus on corporate cultureand 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% increase in the likelihood of the organization 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 shows that in times of disruption the connections in immediate working teams matter most. Highly cohesive teams have a 37% higher likelihood of sustaining workforce health.

3) 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.

Many organisations attempted to boost resilience by adding employee benefits and/or recognizing 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. 

The Gartner research also reveals that increasing autonomy as workload increases seriously degrades workforce health. For the 83% of employees who are operating at, or above, capacity, increased autonomy diminishes their chances of having good workforce health by more than 30%.

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