Demoralised, demotivated, dysfunctional

Oct 15 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Just when they thought things couldn't get any worse, many organizations are seeing employee morale plummet as long hours, anxiety, uncertainty and stress tends sends productivity and engagement levels through the floor.

Far from the economic crisis focusing people's minds on doing the best job they can and so avoiding being shown the door, a study of more than 1,500 high-income U.S workers by the Center for Work-Life Policy has found that managers are going to have their work cut out maintaining the morale and engagement of those left behind. And that's particularly true of top performers.

Indeed far from encouraging people to work harder, uncertainty about job security and increasing pressure to deliver has sent levels of loyalty and trust plunging to new lows.

The number of employees in the poll who felt loyal to their company had fallen from virtually all – 95 per cent – to slightly more than half over the past year, the Center's research found.

And when it came to trust, there had been a 12 per cent drop in engagement levels, the Center added.

What this meant was that survivors of "reductions in force", or RIFs, were clearly having a hard time focusing on the work at hand, it argued.

Levels of stress and anxiety were also rising sharply, with two thirds of those polled admitting that they were not getting enough sleep, up from under half a year ago.

Seven out of 10 said they now just "crashed" at the end of the day, compared with barely a third a year ago.

Nearly nine out of 10 said they had high levels of anxiety, against 36 per cent this time last year.

Unsurprisingly, workers in the financial sector were currently significantly more stressed than a year ago.

Nearly eight out of 10 reported a requirement to be seen in the office for longer, nearly double what it had been a year ago, and nearly nine out of 10 complained of heavier workloads.

They were also struggling to deal with, and adapt to, a much tougher work environment, being the but of public anger and depleted teams.

Negative coping strategies, such as stress eating and drinking to unwind at the end of the day, predominated, the center warned.

A year ago fewer than a third of those polled were struggling to eat well and fewer than a quarter said they needed to drink in the evenings to relax and unwind.

Today, those figures had risen appreciably, up to 41 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, the center added.

Job cuts and redundancies had also become an ever-present reality, sapping morale and increasing anxiety.

"Employees talk of existing in long-term limbo unsure when or if they will lose their jobs," the survey argued.

"Participants… were brutally honest when commenting on the impact of the current round of layoffs on morale and intention to stay: 64 per cent were considering leaving and 24 per cent were actively looking for another job," it added.

Intriguingly, twice as many women as men were considering leaving, and many more women than men were actively looking for another job, the study found.

One probable reason for this was that women were more likely to be constantly calculating whether the benefits of their job outweighed the costs, such as family and childcare issues.

It was also generally more likely that high-achieving women were married to high-earning men and so more often had the choice of whether to work or not, it added.

Key words that kept coming up in the survey conversations included "paralysed", "demoralised" and "demotivated", the center warned.

In fact, nearly three quarters of workers polled spoke about "shutting down and turning off", with a similar percentage feeling demoralised and nearly two thirds saying there were demotivated at work.

"Troubled firms are finding that precisely the wrong people (top performers with other job options) are heading for the door," the survey concluded.

A dysfunctional talent model is dangerous for any sector, it argued, but financial firms, given that their core business was financial acumen, tended to be particularly vulnerable to an exodus of talent.

"Staying on the competitive edge in the banking industry is all about deploying high octane brain power," the center argued.

"Thus retaining and sustaining top talent – and ensuring it is fully engaged – is a matter of survival for firms in this sector," it added.