What Employee Well-being ‘Costs’

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman says employers might be drawing some wrong conclusions from the Great Resignation.

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group: www.golemanconsultinggroup.com, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Climate change. War. Oppression. Global pandemic. Beyond their obvious effects, these situations have taken a brutal toll on well-being. For the younger generation, the impact is particularly stark. A recent survey reported that 52% of young adults are experiencing feelings of depression or hopelessness.

How do we achieve well-being in a world so overrun with crises?

One of the answers, across generations, has been to quit your day job. Over the past two years, almost every industry has been impacted by the Great Resignation. Younger workers in low-paying industries such as retail, food service, and healthcare started the trend; they were eventually joined by long-tenured, higher-paid employees from industries such as finance and tech.

This phenomenon has prompted many companies to take a second look at burnout and wellbeing.

According to Christina Maslach, the University of California, Berkeley psychologist who did some of the earliest research on the topic, burnout occurs when emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment are all present simultaneously. In the words of your average worker: it’s the result of being overworked and undervalued, as well as disconnected from a feeling that your job is important.

While companies have turned to mindfulness rooms and unlimited time off as a way to combat the issue, neither is shaping up to be a long-term solution. The Great Place to Work Institute recently partnered with Johns Hopkins University to study the well-being of more than 14,000 employees from 37 countries. They found that across people, places, and cultures, factors like personal support, a sense of purpose, and meaningful connections  made the biggest difference to employees’ health and happiness.

This might be one of the biggest gifts of the Great Resignation—the conversation it has sparked around purpose, engagement, and organizational values. Surprised that so many workers were willing to sacrifice financial stability for more fulfilling work, many firms have been forced to ask what they can do better. This is especially true as we learn that the majority of those who left their jobs don’t regret doing so. A Harris Poll survey from March indicated that only 1 in 5 workers who quit a job in the past two years would make a different choice today. A better quality of life has left most with absolutely no desire to turn back the clock on their decision.

The Washington Post followed up by interviewing some resignees late last year. While they are concerned with the current state of the economy, the vast majority are “thrilled” with the changes they’ve made to their work lives.

The testimonials speak volumes to the importance of well-being.

“I may make half as much, but I feel like twice the person,” said a former New York City chef who went on to get certified as a substance-abuse counselor.

“The stock market wiped out the equivalent of one year of my pension, and I still have no regrets. The improvement in my personal happiness is priceless,” said a former teacher in Florida who lost 10 percent of her pension by not waiting longer to retire.

These testimonials illustrate something important: money doesn’t drive retention. According to the Great Place to Work, employees who experience high levels of well-being in the workplace are three times more likely to stick around.

Being happy and healthy matters immensely. And for companies that understand this, purpose remains a vital lever. After all, people who say they are “living their purpose” report levels of well-being five times higher than those who say they aren’t. Connect employees to the value of their work, and the challenges they face might not seem so daunting. 

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.