In thisepisode of McKinsey Talks Talent, talent experts Bryan Hancock andBill Schaninger of McKinsey in Washington DC and Philadelphia, respectively, havea discussion with Lucia Rahilly, in which they look back at 2021 and reveallessons leaders can take to garner more success in 2022. The original podcastand transcript can be accessed here.
We have editedand cut down the conversation significantly to share key points with you below:
LuciaRahilly: What in your view has changedin employee’s mental health over the past year?
BillSchaninger: One thing we’ve seen for sureis it’s gotten worse. There have been pronounced amounts of prolonged stress,prolonged anxiety, prolonged uncertainty.
There’s onegroup taking a timeout; they’re done. The doors are wide open for people tosay, “I’m not doing it.” There’s another group that has basically said, “I’mdone with the pandemic. I’ve gotten my shots. I’m going into the office. I’mgoing to do it the way I want to do it.” People in leadership who are a part ofthis group are being a bit demanding about people coming back. It’s aninteresting bifurcation.
BryanHancock: And I think burnout is as much,if not more, of an issue now. I mean, when you ask people what their number oneconcern is about coming back to the office, it’s work–life balance. It’s thecommute. It’s managing all the things they had to do while they still haveschools that randomly cancel on a Friday and dog sitters that don’t show up.
And at the sametime, you ask people what the number one worry about staying at home is, andit’s work–life balance because there’s no boundary between home and the office.You’re available 24/7, and some organizations have managed to hit the worst ofboth worlds: you’re expected to be in the office, so you have to deal with allthe logistics of coming in. But then when you’re at home, you’re expected to beavailable 24/7. And people are just saying, “I was barely able to hold onduring the pandemic, but now I’ve got the added stress of coming in without thebenefit of a break between work and life. This has got to stop.”
LuciaRahilly: How are leaders doing in terms of emotionally supporting theiremployees?
BillSchaninger: The leaders who were inclined to start with the humility tosay they’re banged up, I think that has yielded remarkable returns, just beingable to have an open conversation on it.
Unfortunately,some leaders have gotten burned out and are in the world of, “I just can’t doit anymore. I’m going to set a date and you’re coming in.” While you canunderstand that reaction, I think some people just aren’t up to the emotionalopenness required of today’s leaders.
BryanHancock: And I think there is a set of leaders in between that may be upto it, but just don’t know how to do it. They did not grow up in a corporateculture where you actually talk about mental health and burnout. They don’tknow what to do when somebody comes to them and says, “Hey, I’m done. I’m atthe end.”
And there areorganizations that are starting to recognize those folks in the middle—the oneswho are well-intended but don’t know what to do—and providing them withtraining on what questions to ask and what things to do when a burned-outemployee approaches them. Addressing that large group of leaders in the middlewhere people want to do the right thing but don’t quite know how, we’re seeingorganizations starting to invest and be very intentional.
LuciaRahilly: What else do you see employers doing on the kind oforganization-wide level at this point to address mental health and burnout?
BryanHancock: We’re seeing it addressed at a couple of different levels. One isa benefits standpoint: Are we providing mental-health benefits that are onparity with our physical-health benefits? Are we truly treating mental healthas a health concern? It’s about having programs where people can understandwhat mental-health issues are.
BillSchaninger: If it’s as simple as a time-out, literally a time-out, just,“OK, just take a pause, take a couple days off.”
LuciaRahilly: Sometimes it feels that these wellness programs are super helpfulin terms of self-care, but they’re an additional work stream that folks have toundertake. Do you see employers making that calibration?
LuciaRahilly: Do you guys have recommendations for leaders in terms of what tosay to employees who they think may be suffering but are not sure how toapproach?
BillSchaninger: Depending on the company, there’s some reluctance to askquestions about someone’s mental state. Historically that would have almostbeen a no-fly zone. I don’t think we have that luxury right now. I don’t thinkyou need to know if someone has a diagnosis, but I do think you ought to be payingattention by saying, “You seem like you’re in distress.” At a minimum, it’s asign of caring, by asking, “Are you OK?”
I do think it’sa tightrope. Because we so guard and value our privacy, but in this environmentso much more is on display. Maybe you can just start with, “I’m not atherapist, I’m a concerned colleague and it looks like you’re struggling.”
BryanHancock: One of the things that our Women in the Workplace showed isthat women are feeling more burned out than men. And although both women andmen had a significant increase in burnout over the pandemic, individuals whohad women as leaders felt less burned out.
So, I thinkthere are two sides of that. One, how do we recognize and celebrate theadditional work that those women leaders are taking on to make sure that theirteams are being cared for? Because that in and of itself may be leading toburnout. And two, is this another reason why we should continue toward havingmore diverse leadership teams, so that we’ve got people who understand morecontexts than a married, white male professional who has a great supportsystem? They may not be as empathetic to somebody who is balancing a lot more.
There’s asocietal thing here, which is we continue to load you all up with all thechores of the two partners; women take on a caring role for their husbands ortheir partners. They’re the primary caregiver to the kids, the elder parentsalmost always go to the woman to make sure things are coordinated and done. Thetask load for women, in our society anyway, is so massively disproportionate.
And we justsaid it needs to be a better division. Anything we can do to give guys a taste,to have that level of layering, and feeling torn pretty much 24 hours a day. Ithink that might actually help on the leadership front. You might be moresensitive to it.
LuciaRahilly: Our latest Women in the Workplace research shows thatburnout and the burnout gap between women and men has almost doubled since lastyear’s report, and women who are also people of color are even likelier tosuffer chronic stress. How do we see this playing out in terms of theGreat Attrition research?
BryanHancock: It plays right into the Great Attrition research. We’re seeingthat the reasons people are leaving organizations are more for the relationalfactors: Do I feel valued at work? Do I have a good relationship with themanager? Am I able to manage it all? Versus the structural factors: What’s mytitle or what’s my comp? We’re seeing that people are leaving for some of thebroader pieces, not just the pay.
We’re alsoseeing through the Great Attrition research that people are walking away fromjobs. When we surveyed folks, we found 40 percent of people were at leastsomewhat likely to leave their job in the next six months. And almost two-thirdsof those would leave without another job in hand. So, they’re walking away fromwork and if they’re walking away from work, without something else to go to,that’s a real signal that they are fed up.
We’re tickingback up. People are starting to come back into the workforce. We’re seeing thatamong the older population and among some other folks. What’s going to getthose people in from the sidelines is going to be a compelling job, acompelling environment, a compelling group of people that they’re interactingday to day with. Because the option between a toxic work environment and beingat home—they’ve found out through the pandemic that they can afford to be athome.
LuciaRahilly: Given that women and people of color are suffering burnout and sufferingchronic stress and are more at risk of leaving the workforce, do we riskbacksliding on the commitments leaders made in the aftermath of George Floyd’smurder and what subsequently felt like an inflection point in that push toredress racial inequities?
BryanHancock: I think the inflection point is actually now. Having had 18months to reflect after the murder of George Floyd, organizations have nowstarted to really think about what policies they have, and what are the managerbehaviors? How can we think about hiring more diverse talent pools in a tightlabor market? So, the announcements came first, then came the planning, and nowit’s time for the sustained campaign. This is when we’re going to see whetheror not we came through the inflection point, came through the other side andmade substantial advances in DE and I [diversity, equity, and inclusion],and importantly, how included people feel in the workplace.
Two decadesago, hospitals realized they were under threat. The experience wasn’t very goodfor the patients. They did not hire from other hospitals. They went to hotels.
That’s the hopeanyway, but I do think we’re in real, real trouble in certain sectors that aredominated by people of color and women. Those are the ones that have some ofthe highest rates of people leaving.
LuciaRahilly: We’ve talked about remote work as an important element of theflexibility some of this demographic is looking for and as a potentially vitalfactor, both to attracting and retaining talent during this period of intensechurn.
BryanHancock: I think very few companies would want to offer and very fewemployees would want to have fully remote because of the need forcollaboration, for getting together. I think the days of expecting any employeein knowledge work to come in five days a week as a requirement is over. It willdepend on work environment, job, the actual tasks they get done, whether thatmeans that you’re coming in the office three days a week or three days a month.
I think thepower dynamic in particular is shifting. The employees have figured out after18 months that leaders don’t get to tell them when they need to show up, andthat’s remarkable.
BryanHancock: I think the flip is what’s happening. We need to tell the bosseswhat to do. What we’re finding is it’s the entry-level folks, the folks comingjust out of college, the folks just joining the organization that are mosthungry for coming back into the office, most hungry for the interaction.
So it’s flippedfrom the bosses telling the employees when to come in, to now the company’stelling the bosses that they need to go in and figure out with their employeeswhat’s going to work.
BillSchaninger: You can see the impact that being fully remote has had on thefabric of the culture. And I have to admit there’s a part of me that thinksmaybe for some pockets of the workforce, who had felt a bit disenfranchised andtransactional, this has been wonderful because they didn’t feel connectedanyway.
Everyorganization has ceremonies. If you can’t stay anchored on that, and that toogoes by the wayside, well, what do you have left?
LuciaRahilly: What are the top two or three other priorities on the minds oftalent leaders going into 2022?
BillSchaninger: I think many of them are worried about more people leaving.There’s a fair number of leaders who are hoping this is transitory, and that alltheir employees are going to come back. In other words, how am I going to getall my power back? There’s a fair number of folks who’ve been at the tail endof their leadership career who walk out of their office and see an empty sea ofcubes and say, “Where did all my people go?” Which turns into, “Where did mypower go?”
We probablyhave to accelerate the transition of that group of leaders. I think it’s awonderful opportunity for a newer generation of leaders who get this mix ofremote, individual work, teamwork, and collaboration. I think we probably needto speed up that transition a little bit.
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