Managing at a time of burnout and labour shortage

How should employers address the burnout facing employees due to labour shortages?

working mum sits at desk, stressed


Staff shortages mean organisations cannot do some of the things they want to, they mean delays in service and they can put a business’ future under threat. But most of all, they have a damaging impact on the morale and wellbeing of those who are trying to cope with reduced personnel.

A Totaljobs survey on Friday showed that more than a third of workers are reporting unmanageable workloads as a result of staff shortages: 38 per cent of workers said they could not cope with their workload and that it was affecting their mental health. More than three-quarters had experienced at least one form of burnout since the start of the year, with almost half saying that hiring additional staff would help. After two years of trying to keep afloat in every way possible, people are exhausted, but labour shortages mean they don’t have the time to recover or to take proper time off [without checking emails].

What do you do because burnout means more absence and more shortages? And burnout can take a while to recover from and can lead someone to rethink their job entirely and maybe never come back.

So it pays to have some kind of strategy rather than to keep on keeping on, given this shortage situation is unlikely to be a flash in the pan, even if Covid numbers go down as well as up.

But, even if we are no way through with the pandemic, we know that the labour shortages are not just due to Covid. Shortages, particularly in sectors such as health and social care, are the norm and a sort of war-time morale only lasts for a short time when the crisis seems a bit more permanent.

Addressing morale is therefore vital. It seems, however, that some managers don’t get that. Take Jacob Rees-Mogg. He has reportedly been leaving petty notes on civil servants’ desks to supposedly make them feel bad about working from home. I can’t think of a better way to galvanise people to refuse point blank to come to the office. He is also reported to have implied that those who don’t ‘return to norm’ could face pay cuts or the sack. It’s simple bully-boy tactics and bullying doesn’t work. It makes people lose any respect they might have had for management, it demoralises the person being bullied and the colleagues who witness it and it often leads to a swift exit of staff. I’ve been there.

Similarly, having one rule for workers and another for managers does much the same thing. A report out last week by Future Forum and Slack suggested that, while 35% of non-executive employees are in the office five days a week, just 19% of executives can say they do the same, with that disparity growing.  Non-executives broadly report having a much worse work-life balance than their bosses, according to the survey, which notes that workers who are dissatisfied with their opportunities for flexibility are now three times as likely to say they will “definitely” look for new employment in the coming year. “Top down mandates just generally don’t work,” observes Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum.

There may be all sorts of reasons why managers think they can work more from home, but perceptions matter and engaging with staff regularly, rather than just during lockdowns, is one may of finding out what those perceptions are. You may think you are in charge as a senior manager, but management without consent or mutual respect doesn’t get you very far, particularly when new jobs are not hard to come by.

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