Could the slow burn of languishing be the next big threat to employee engagement and wellbeing?
1. Calling it out
You’re not entirely falling apart, but not quite feeling on top of the world either. Some days restless and agitated, others you feel okay. Your motivation is on an absolute rollercoaster, peaking and troughing quicker than you can keep up with. Life feels a bit ‘meh’. It’s all very difficult to describe. What is this feeling?
The word you’re looking for is languishing. Much like furlough and lockdown, it’s not a word that would have featured much in our vocabularies 18 months ago. Languishing was recently described by the New York Times as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness.”
Whilst we’ve had to get used to changes, it doesn’t mean that we’ve mastered them. There’s so much talk about the hit our mental and physical health has taken. Wider society, the healthcare sector and indeed employers are bracing themselves for what might come next.
2. A triple threat
One of the results of this situation is that we are likely to have one of the highest levels of staff turnover in history. 52% of employees are already looking for a new job. In a world where people can change little, this will be something they have more control over.
Could the slow burn of languishing be the next big threat to employee engagement, turnover and wellbeing?
3. A presenteeism pandemic
A recent study by Simply Health indicated that employee presenteeism could be as high as 77%. Many employees are still working from home, and it appears that an ‘always on’ culture of working may have reared its ugly head.
This poses a big problem for employers. Presenteeism and burnout are inextricably linked, and now, we’re throwing languishing into that mix too. Many people are still unable to get proper respite from work (as in, they live and work in the same space, the same routine, same people), and it may be some time yet, even as UK lockdowns lift.
Many employers try to combat the ‘always on’ culture with meeting-free days, stricter working hours and ensuring employees are actually taking their holiday allowance throughout the year, not just saving it for when restrictions lift entirely. These are all simple and effective ways to help prevent presenteeism, but if the pandemic shows us anything, these need to incorporating into long-term wellbeing strategies, not just tick boxing for the sake of the pandemic.
4. A gateway to languishing
So, if employees are not feeling their best, but they aren’t feeling their worst either, they end up in a languishing state.
Suppose employees are working in a languishing state. In that case, they are unlikely to be engaged in their work but continue working to pay the bills. We all know that dis-engaged employees are highly unlikely to be at peak performance, impacting their wider team. This can have rippling implications on mental health in the workplace, leading to an increase in stress and anxiety.
5. But is languishing actually a luxury?
Languishing is highly related to our circumstances, so it will affect some employees more than others.
It’s not unreasonable to say that languishing may be a luxury. Perhaps it’s likely to affect employees who have experienced ‘same old, same old’ during the pandemic – those that have been working from home or in the workplace throughout, more so than those who may have had higher levels of disruption to their lives.
6. Routine may not be mist
This non-changing work routine, including hours of video calls, wears people down. They aren’t getting time to think, to innovate, to create interpersonal relationships. People started reminiscing about time spent on a train or driving as a time for reflection, creation and mindfulness.
Indeed, furloughed workers are likely to be experiencing their own ‘fog’ and concern about returning to an environment and role that has changed dramatically. It may take extra support (and time) to re-engage with work, colleagues and generate passion and enthusiasm.
7. Proactive prevention
Employers need to look out for early warning signs of languishing – presenteeism, low levels of engagement and a decrease in passion or enthusiasm. Catching languishing early and having proactive prevention steps in place can stop it from turning into a more serious mental illness.
You can use tools that you may already have – employee engagement surveys, EAPs and the data and analytics they provide, to understand where employees might start becoming disengaged and where they may be struggling.
Taking the right steps can shift languishing to flourishing – connection, engagement, and socialisation are key.
8. Engagement, engagement, engagement
Recent Business Review research indicates that 43% of HR leaders are renewing their focus on employee engagement. And even when we used to be physically at work for most of the week, employee engagement didn’t always come easy. A hybrid working model will make employee engagement the equivalent of conquering Everest – so it is essential to do it with the right training and tools.
Employees need to know where to go to find what they need. And they need to be able to access it with ease. It’s fine if you’ve got lots of systems and apps for your benefits, rewards, holidays and surveys. Integrating them as well as possible is helpful, whether that’s utilising the technical capability of a platform and its API or simply linking and signposting from one to another.
Each day some employees will likely be working from home, and some will be in the office. So catering for both eventualities is a must. Free gym memberships may no longer cut it, especially as they might not be accessible for everyone. But the option to do online classes and then hold them in a space in the office at a convenient time allows your office-based employees and home-based employees to come together and not let the distance disconnect them.
9. Bring back organised fun
Social wellbeing is vital right now. People know they want and need connection in some form, and it’s an antidote to languishing. Remember how we had virtual drinks and zoom quizzes this time last year, all for them to fall off a cliff and never be spoken of again? There’s a reason for that; we need variety. Giving employees different ways to connect and enjoy each other’s company is the support they’ll likely appreciate. And make sure you’re reintegrating them with consistent communication and education too. Helping employees rediscover the joy and meaning in their work to help keep languishing at bay. A little goes a long way.
10. The final flourish
Whether that’s a team or individual goal to work towards, like a physical challenge for charity or recreating entertaining water cooler chats via instant message tools, giving people a sense of shared purpose, something for them to connect over, sharing their experiences, and feeling joy – that’s the start so many need to flourish.
We’ve been helping global employers protect their staff from languishing by helping them take care of their mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing. Find out more about our Wellbeing Platform and book a demo today!