Beau Jackson, OCTOBER 01, 2020 – AS COVERED IN HRMAGAZINE

Forty-three per cent of workers have reported feeling at risk of burnout this winter according to a survey from culture-led change management consultancy, Kin&Co.

Engagement levels are in decline as a further 43% reported feeling demotivated to work, 38% said they are less productive than usual and one third (34%) said their ability to problem solve and come up with innovative ideas has declined.

For Rick Kershaw, chief people officer at engagement software provider Peakon, it was unsurprising that the research started showing signs of a winter slump.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “There’s no doubt that, six months in, the pandemic is taking its toll on employees. […] When you combine cold weather, continuous anxiety due to renewed restrictions and concerns over job security, productivity, you have a recipe for low morale and burnout.

“Employees have simply not taken enough time off to restore and recharge effectively, some have not taken time off since Christmas the previous year. Of course, this is all going to have a tremendous impact on their wellbeing over time.”

For 45% of respondents, further encouragement could help improve motivation levels as they felt that they had no incentive to work harder for their companies.

Being able to return to a COVID-safe workplace could also help others struggling with a winter slump as 31% said their work is being negatively impacted by not seeing colleagues every day.

Though Kershaw agreed that bringing people together in the office, where safe, could be a good way to mitigate the effects of burnout for some, he added that employers should not rely on the workplace alone to improve morale.

“With the government advising employees to work from home if possible, HR leaders need to find other ways to build camaraderie amongst employees. Team quizzes and one-to-one check-ins may have fallen by the way-side over the last few months, but employers should consider alternative, new ways to bring water cooler chats in forms that work for their workforce,” Kershaw said.

Becci Gould, director of culture change for Kin&Co, agreed, adding that the next phase of COVID response should be a more tailored approach.

She told HR magazine: “The last thing you want to do is overwhelm people further with more resources to read or by launching more initiatives that aren’t getting to the root of the problem.”

“The evidence we’re seeing here is shocking, but not altogether surprising. Many of us – from leadership teams to shop assistants and factory workers – are feeling the impacts of the long, cold winter pandemic ahead. On top of that, our resilience levels or “surge capacity” is already depleted from the first wave. 

A ‘winter crash’ seems incredibly likely.  However, what we cannot do is ignore these statistics. If workers across the UK are feeling this way, the chances are your company’s employees are too. Instead, this needs to be a wake up call for HR leaders and leadership teams to acknowledge the problem, talk to their teams and develop interventions that give employee’s that much-needed energy and resilience boost. Otherwise, as the evidence suggests, sales and bottom lines are going to suffer.”

In addition to protecting employee health, the bottom-line is also set to suffer from the impact on employee morale. Over one third (36%) of employees in the study said that their mental health has already impacted their sales performance and ROI for their company.

Thirty per cent of respondents also said if it wasn’t for the pandemic they would also be leaving their company, and 44% have started exploring new roles.

Kershaw added: “Fundamentally, HR leaders must do all they can to create a safe and open communication environment so employees can voice their concerns with leaders and each other. This way they’ll be far less susceptible to low morale and burnout, and give leaders opportunity to hear and understand the challenge and take deliberate actions to support.”

Kin&Co’s survey of employee morale was conducted from 25 to 28 September following the UK government’s new advice encouraging employees to work from home again where possible. It is based on the views of 1,000 working UK adults.

Read more about Kin&Co’s pro-bono and low cost interventions to tackle the winter slump here (click through to winter is coming)