Halloween is upon us, and with it comes a scary new term! We’ve gotten past the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, the (not-so-great) trend of quiet quitting. Cue the scary music and cover your eyes because we’re now facing The Great Gloom.
The Great Gloom is a term coined by BambooHR to describe a growing trend of employee unhappiness.
According to BambooHR, employees are unhappier than ever with less volatility in the ups and downs, meaning they’re not just unhappy right now—they are consistently unhappy.
This conclusion is based on insights derived from BambooHR's extensive database of employee Net Promoter Scores® (eNPS). The eNPS itself is gauged through a comprehensive survey comprising two key components: a numerical rating that assesses employees' likelihood to recommend the organization as a workplace and an open-ended question that invites employees to articulate their rationale.
The survey has been used to measure employee happiness between January 2020 and June 2023, and the data shows a consistent decrease in overall happiness.
That’s not all. Gallup reports a drop in employee engagement from 36% in 2020 to 32% going into 2023, with 18% reporting themselves as “actively disengaged.”
In other words, employees are feeling gloomy, or at the very least, apathetic.
Bamboo HR attributes the plunge in employee happiness partially to lingering problems from the pandemic: health issues (long COVID), unprecedented inflation, staff shortages leading to overwork, and being forced to return to the office after having been allowed to work remotely.
Other factors that result in reduced job satisfaction include: feeling that one’s job lacks meaning, being in a toxic work environment, limited to no recognition or appreciation, limited growth opportunities, and lack of work/life balance.
Picture this: The days are getting shorter, and the air is getting cooler. Through the gray mist you see people who look like your employees; they’re shaped like your employees, but something is off. They shamble through the office, stumbling and grunting. Whatever made them a happy, productive part of the team is gone. All you’re left with is a zombie hoard.
Alright, that’s probably being too dramatic. But studies show that happiness has a positive impact on productivity (as much as 13% according to research by Oxford University's Saïd Business School). And, employee unhappiness/dissatisfaction can lead to costly turnover.
Also, like most (hopefully) fictional zombie strains, unhappiness can be contagious. It doesn’t take much for negativity to take hold and spread.
What can managers do to reverse this trend and bring employee sentiment back from the walking dead?
1. Identify the major source (or sources) of discontent. It’s unreasonable to expect that you can fix every problem today’s worker faces, especially since you might be facing some of them yourself. But if your team is struggling, the best thing you can do is ask why. Talk to them. Express your concerns. If people don’t want to talk, consider conducting anonymous surveys.
2. Once you’ve determined the primary problem, make your commitment to fixing it clear. And follow through. Empty statements, lackluster gestures, or unfulfilled promises will just make the problems worse. Ask for input here, as well. What would your employees like to see happen? List the steps you’ll take and send updates. Confirm you are on the right track and be prepared to make adjustments to plans if not.
3. Understand that employees are your biggest asset and treat them that way. Commit to fair pay and robust benefits. Recognize the world we live in and be prepared to adjust. Prices for food, medical care, and housing have skyrocketed since 2020. If people can’t pay for necessities with their salaries, they are very unlikely to give that job their all. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but it’s also a problem that will not fix itself without action from leadership.
4. Make employees’ work efforts worthwhile by investing in the tools, technology, and resources employees need to excel in their roles. Address any resource gaps (including staffing shortages) promptly, understanding that these gaps can quickly contribute to employee burnout.
5. Before you take an unpopular action (for example, revoking remote work, changing people’s work hours, or reducing schedule flexibility) make sure it will be worth the cost. There have been stories of companies bringing people back to the office with the intention of having staff quit and avoiding having to do layoffs. They may be successful at doing that, but the loss of trust, productivity and engagement are not likely to be worth it in the long run. And keep in mind, your top performers will have the easiest time finding new jobs.
6. Add purpose to work by connecting employees with responsibilities that suit their behavioral tendencies as well as aligning with the company's mission and values. Help them understand how their efforts contribute to the organization's success. Offer involvement in corporate giving, and support volunteerism by offering time off to contribute to an important cause.
7. Promote work-life balance by setting clear expectations around working hours, encouraging employees to use their vacation time, and supporting flexible work arrangements when possible. Being able to unplug and rest helps keep people from being zombies while they’re in the office.
Bonus step: Don’t be the source of your employees’ unhappiness. It is a leader’s duty to support and advocate for employees. The idea is to provide the tools, guidance and incentives to perform rather than having to use force or scare tactics. Avoid micromanaging employees or misleading them. And show meaningful gratitude when they go above and beyond.
Addressing employee disengagement and unhappiness (and avoiding creating your own zombie hoard) is an ongoing process. It requires commitment and effort from all levels of the organization. It's essential to continually monitor progress and make adjustments as needed to create a positive and engaging work environment.
We’re here to help! The Omnia Group’s behavioral assessments are unique in their ability to identify and offer solutions for stress in participants. Our development assessments provide advice for tapping into employees’ natural behavioral preferences to boost engagement. Download our free e-book, The Power of Insight, or contact us today for more information.