Article: The Great Reconnection: A paradigmatic moment for employers and employees

Employee Engagement

The Great Reconnection: A paradigmatic moment for employers and employees

This year has not been a good one for employee retention. The Great Resignation, originally thought to be a US phenomenon, has emerged in Asia now. But is there a way to turn it into the Great Reconnection?
The Great Reconnection: A paradigmatic moment for employers and employees

Stress, burnout, churn, disengagement: these are the widely recognised issues that continue to plague the world of work. In our latest Cigna 360 Global Well-Being Survey, we found a major challenge for employers: high numbers of workers expressed dissatisfaction with their current job and/or are actively looking for a new one, with 30% of 4,000 Asia Pacific (APAC) respondents (in mainland China, Hong Kong, India, and Singapore) having moved to a new job in the last year and close to four in 10 (37%) looking to change in the next twelve months. The region’s highest resignation rate was seen in India (43%).

However, the long-term picture is more hopeful than a first glance might suggest, as the survey findings also point the way to achievable approaches and solutions that can address employee needs and build harmonious work cultures in 2023 and beyond. Here are a few of the key insights for employers which emerged from our study.

Recognise stress and exhaustion

Stress levels in APAC remain significantly higher than the (already high) global average, mainly due to the cost-of-living crisis and uncertainty about the future. Close to nine in 10 (87%) APAC respondents are stressed, with 13% struggling to cope. The younger generation are bearing the brunt, with an astonishing 94% of respondents from Gen Z (aged 18-24) saying they are stressed. This age group is also the most emotionally impacted by stress – with half (50%) saying they could not concentrate, 47% feeling depressed, and 45% reporting that stress is making them more emotional.

As well as impacting mental health, prolonged stress can also cause and escalate life-long chronic conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, or weight loss. Such conditions, coupled with knock-on effects such as poor concentration, can lead to productivity loss, significantly impacting our quality of life and, in turn, the lives of family and colleagues.

It is therefore vital that employers are attentive to not just the physical, but also the mental and emotional well-being of their workforce.

Connecting with employees directly to listen to their concerns undoubtedly helps to provide grounding, reassurance, and motivation and offers opportunities to uncover symptoms of stress and burnout in people early on. Unfortunately, only 19% of our respondents in the region said they had a weekly check-in meeting with their manager. 

With stress and mental health challenges now a widespread health crisis, organisations need to allocate more time and resources to address the issue. For example, our own senior leadership team has recently taken a “5% Pledge” to dedicate 5% of their annual work hours to listen, craft strategies, and implement tangible change to support mental health within the organisation, and we are encouraging other companies to join the campaign.

Engage your workforce

The youngest (aged 18-24) and oldest (aged 50-64) cohorts of employees reported feeling most dissatisfied at work, but even among the relatively more contented Millennial generation (aged 25-34), only 39% feel they have real choices at work and are trusted to make decisions. Less than half of employees (47%) are happy with their salary and benefits, but perhaps the more significant feedback is that employees are placing an increasing value on other factors.

In APAC, almost half (49%) of respondents said they would be happy to take a less well-paid job if they could have more time for themselves. This sentiment also affects retirement age, with 46% of APAC respondents saying they would be happy to step down earlier than planned and enjoy a longer, if less affluent, retirement. The high rate of job-changing, a flood of early retirements, and the ever-increasing demand for work-life balance means that companies now need to make sure their employees feel both comfortable and valued. In addition to offering good salaries, many employers are now proactively involving their staff in a more community-like work atmosphere in order to retain their engagement. 

Meanwhile, hybrid work appears to be an enduring legacy of the pandemic, with both positive and negative impacts for employees. While there are many obvious benefits to the new hybrid work pattern (flexible hours and movement, less commuting, more availability for family, etc.), for many employees work-from-home arrangements can also bring a sense of alienation. Almost half of our respondents in APAC (49%) found that their work had become more transactional since the pandemic, and that bonding with colleagues was more difficult – this feeling was most common among Millennials (54%). It also seems that some younger employees feel their opportunities have been limited by the lack of assimilated learning and social interaction which the office setting usually allows. These findings reflect the clear need for employers to enhance the work experience while continuing to support flexibility.

Take a Whole-Health approach

The widespread re-evaluation of priorities is likely the single most important takeaway for employers to consider in terms of their HR strategy and corporate culture going forward.

In the aftermath of Covid and the “Great Resignation”, employers will need to talk with their staff more often and more seriously about work processes and life priorities. Forward-thinking organisations will see this as an opportunity to reconnect with their people and establish a new equilibrium of what work should look like. Effective communication can help to achieve a flexible balance of remote and on-site working, involved teamwork, healthy lifestyles, and mental well-being for the good of the whole organisation.

The divergent responses to our survey also make it clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer effective – employer attentiveness has to encompass a diversity of needs. For example, most employers already recognise the importance of paying special attention to nurturing young talent, who represent the future of their company or organisation. But this age group faces a different set of circumstances and challenges from other employees, with almost half (46%) of our Gen Z respondents in the region reporting being stressed due to uncertainty about the future. Employers will increasingly need to develop initiatives specifically designed to support their younger staff through difficulties and concerns particular to their generation. 

These findings, although concerning at first glance, also show us the path forward. Employers need to support what we at Cigna term the “Whole Health” of employees, including their financial, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Amid a shifting work landscape, employers are obliged to understand their people as never before – their needs, their motivations, and their aspirations – in order to benefit from the full potential of human talent.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #Wellbeing, #Retention, #YearThatWas, #Outlook2023

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