The overwhelming pace and volume of white-collar work during the pandemic, coupled with the intricacies of working from home, is pushing business leaders to the brink – and half are ready to quit their current jobs.
For months, white-collar workers have cracked the double whammy of work stress superimposed on pandemic-induced complexities, such as navigating online learning for kids trapped at home. But new research from LifeWorks – formerly Morneau Shepell – and Deloitte Canada shows that an acute crisis is brewing in this toxic mix, and it’s being borne by executives and managers who simply can’t take it anymore.
Just over half of the 1,100 business and public sector leaders surveyed, from organizations such as Bell Canada, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the University of Toronto, revealed that they were considering leaving their posts, and almost a quarter are considering resigning outright. Many more are considering moving to a less demanding position or retiring.
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Their propensity to flee is rooted in something much deeper than the usual grievances of office and political politics. After 16 months of adrenaline-charged and tense work, leaders and managers are completely exhausted.
Senior executives often struggle with the same stress as their direct reports, and they also face additional stresses, such as pressure from CEOs and shareholders to continue to generate profits and improve their market share. On top of that, they have to deal with issues like mental health issues within their teams.
“You literally can’t keep it going,” said Paula Allen, head of research and wellness at LifeWorks, in an interview. “You don’t want to deal with this anymore. You can not. You are exhausted. You fight and you fight and you fight and then you fly.
At the start of the pandemic, many white-collar workers believed they had no right to complain, especially those in finance, technology, law and accounting who had ample opportunity to work. from their homes or vacation properties. Many of these jobs have also been shielded from the economic devastation induced by COVID-19 – in fact, a number of financial services companies are on track to record record years of profits.
But the pain felt by business leaders is now so pronounced that Ms Allen refers to it as something entirely different: trauma. And history has shown that after trauma, “people get to a point where they’re looking for very basic things,” she said. “They are looking to regain control. “
This overriding urge helps explain why executives are considering resigning or taking lower positions, even if it doesn’t necessarily make financial sense right now.
If they don’t give up, their bitterness can spill over into the organization. “Behaviors that emerge under extreme stress, such as irritability and extreme perfectionism, can unintentionally negatively affect the entire workforce and organizational culture,” the research noted.
Among executives surveyed, the volume of work was the most common frustration. More than three-quarters of executives in the private and public sectors said they were exhausted, with around 80 percent of them reporting working longer hours than normal.
Leaders are also shying away because of pervasive stigma. As managers, they are expected to be better equipped to handle all of this. But many are not – and they’re terrified to say so in case they suffer negative career consequences.
Despite recent pressure to make leaders more vulnerable, they “only talk about [their struggle] after they broached it, ”said Zabeen Hirji, executive adviser on the future of work at Deloitte and former director of human resources at the Royal Bank of Canada. The mantra tends to be, “I was having a really hard time, but I’m fine now.” “
“Leaders don’t say, ‘I need help now,’” she said.
Ms. Hirji said she feared the situation had reached a breaking point. The pandemic seems endless, with new threat of variants constantly emerging, and the job has endless logistical challenges to navigate. The problem is, the rulers are already running on steam.
“It was very difficult to switch to working from home en masse last March, but the next phase of hybrid work could be more disruptive,” she said. “It will be a ‘test and learn’ approach, as there is no game manual, so uncertainties will prevail. ”
For example, companies can start assigning days to each of their teams to work from the office this fall. Inevitably, this will not work well for everyone. But employees cannot complain to the CEO, so they are forced to harass their direct superiors, who may have no control over the schedule.
Experts admit that there is no quick fix to solving all of these problems. This is a once-in-a-century pandemic, after all. But accepting that employees – managers on the front lines – experience difficulty will go a long way.
“We are experiencing changes with a very sensitive population,” said Ms. Allen of LifeWorks. “The likelihood of people reacting negatively is higher. For many decisions, such as setting deadlines for returning to the office, “it’s best to build in as much individual control as possible,” she said.
“I cannot stress enough that people feel like control is taken away from them, so they take it back,” she added. Even if it means quitting smoking.
Some may walk away because they feel forced to. A senior vice president may report to a great group leader, but if the CEO is demanding, he will only find so much protection.
Ms. Hirji suggests, however, to be proactive before getting to that point. Leaders, she believes, should take the time to figure out what they really value.
“I think this is the great reset opportunity to really redefine success”, she said. “Success goes beyond work, career, money. How much money do you really need to have a good quality of life?
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