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By the Numbers: Employee Burnout, Workplace Discrimination, and the Great Resignation

Sometimes research emerges that sets a new high-water mark on a troubling trend — and it’s well worth paying attention to. That’s the case with the recent Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) of 1,501 U.S. adult workers. Conducted in 2021, it remains extremely relevant to where we are now. 

The survey reveals a strong connection between stress, burnout, workplace discrimination, and the Great Resignation. If that sounds like a topic you should know more about, we heartily agree. We also think that the fact that the research was conducted outside an HR-centric organization actually makes it all the more valuable for those of us in HR — particularly leadership.

The Bottom Line of Burnout

Here’s the bottom line: employee burnout is undeniably high. It’s clearly a major factor in the Great Resignation. It’s also affecting employees unequally: discrimination is a thru-line there. We took a closer look at some of the survey’s most telling statistics to see how we’re doing. As you look for strategies to stave off employee departures and reduce workplace-related stress, these are numbers (and issues) you need to keep in mind.

Burnout is at an All-Time High, Regardless of Profession

  • 79% of employees across all professions reported work-related stress. 
  • Nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy at work. 
  • 36% reported cognitive weariness.
  • 32% reported emotional exhaustion
  • 44% reported physical fatigue — a 38% increase since 2019.

Burnout is a Key Factor in the Great Resignation

There’s a clear association between day-to-day workplace stress and the likelihood they will look for a new job somewhere else, and soon:

  • 71% reported feeling typically stressed out or tense during their workday.
  • Only 20% reported they didn’t feel that way.
  • Those who report feeling tense or stressed out during the workday are over 3X more likely to seek employment somewhere else in the next year.

Workplace Discrimination

It’s not only stressful, but employees are also sick and tired of it — and it’s making them seek employment elsewhere:

  • 68% of those who say they have experienced or witnessed discrimination in their current workplace plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • Only 33% of those who say they did not experience or witness discrimination in their current workplace plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

The Breakdown is Telling

Black and Hispanic:

  • 31% of Black and Hispanic employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year. 
  • 20% of White employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year. 
  • 58% of Hispanic and 57% of Black employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 37% of White employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

LGBTQ+:

  • 32% of LGBTQ+ employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 23% of non- LGBTQ+ employees say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 56% of LGBTQ+ employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 43% of non-LGBTQ+ employees plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

People with Disabilities:

  • 47% of people with disabilities say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 19% of people without a disability say they have been the target of discrimination in their workplace in the last year.
  • 63% of people with disabilities plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 
  • 41% of people without a disability plan to look for a job outside of their organization in the next year. 

Women and Burnout

What’s not in here: how women are faring. Women’s experience with workplace burnout is its own topic, and we’ll be covering it. There are also plenty of other factors contributing to the soaring rates of workplace stress, from overwork to not enough paid leave, to low compensation to being left out of decision-making. Look for our coverage of those as well in the coming months. (In the meantime, please read here for more on the connection between employee responses to the pandemic and workplace stress — an uneasy and ongoing relationship. And for an interesting take on overcoming burnout pre-pandemic, check out this great #WorkTrends podcast we did with a public schools counselor turned go-to executive coach. — her wisdom still holds true.)

Final Thoughts

The numbers we’ve included here paint a clear picture — and as we look for a special sauce that will slow down voluntary quits, it’s time to get back to basics. The importance of an inclusive workplace where everyone feels like they belong is inarguable — and the APA’s stats should prompt a serious re-think. Once again, kudos to them for doing such a well-considered, diligent deep dive into this important workplace topic. 

3 Principles for Hiring in The Great Resignation Era

These past 20 months have seen a monumental shift within the hiring market. The balance of power is now tipped away from employers and  now leans toward candidates. In The Great Resignation era, employees are willfully resigning their jobs by the millions. Given the greater risk of turnover, it is now more imperative than ever that employers understand how to hire the right candidates for the right roles — a goal they can better achieve by focusing on three key principles for hiring in The Great Resignation era: pre-interview preparation, interviewer question technique, and the interviewer’s listening skills.  

Hiring Mistakes Aren’t Cheap

Even before The Great Resignation began, research indicated that a single hiring mistake at the management level could cost a company $1.5 million or more, annually — an average of 1.5-2 times the employee’s salary. Poor hiring decisions also decrease organizational productivity and workforce morale.

In their New York Times Bestselling book, Who: The A Method for Hiring, authors Geoff Smart and Randy Street share a number of best practices for avoiding common hiring mistakes during the interview process. As a Certified Forensic Interviewer, I see the three principles within this book as especially applicable for hiring during The Great Resignation — starting with pre-interview preparation.  

1. Pre-Interview Preparation: The Ideal Candidate Profile

Companies must ensure their interview process is designed to bring the best candidates to the fore. That process begins with what the “Who” authors call, “the scorecard”: a document which describes the organization’s hiring goals. Put another way, your company needs to ask the question, “What does our ideal candidate profile look like?” 

Answering this question can help the interviewer establish consistent guidelines for evaluating each candidate. The company should not build its candidate profile around the tasks that they want the candidate to execute. Instead, they should build it around the outcomes that the organization wants them to achieve. Once the outcomes are established, the interviewer can then identify the skills and attributes the candidate must possess to achieve those outcomes. 

Without a clearly established profile, interviewers may over-prioritize factors such as years of industry-specific experience and education or end up comparing candidates to one another instead of measuring how well each candidate’s skills and attributes match with the ideal candidate profile. 

2. Interview Questions & Technique

The kinds of questions an interviewer asks during hiring play an outsized role in the responses they receive–and, therefore, hiring outcomes. Several commonly used techniques can muddy the interviewer’s understanding of the candidate’s skills:

Behavioral Questions 

This type of question often starts with the phrase, “tell me about a time.” However, this opener gives the candidate leeway to take poetic license with their answer or to provide a canned response. 

To avoid this issue, an interviewer should rephrase questions to ask about specific times, events, or people.  Key phrases like, “when was the first time,” “when was the last time,” or “what was the most difficult time?” help prompt less generalized responses. The interviewer will also gain a clearer behavioral read as the candidate answers the question. 

Compound Questions

One of the other big mistakes interviewers make is asking the candidate long, compound questions a series of questions instead of one. A compound question looks something like this: “Please tell me about a time you experienced conflict with one of your supervisors and what the conflict was about and how it started and how it made you feel?”  

An interviewer should ask one question at a time. This helps ensure the candidate answers the question and that the interviewer remains fully attentive throughout their answer. Once the candidate finishes their reply, the interviewer can ask any necessary follow up questions.

Questions With Implied Answers

Questions with a clearly implied “correct” answer are among the least useful. Examples include asking a candidate if they are able to perform a particular job function — asking an accounting candidate, for instance, if they know how to use Quickbooks. The candidate knows the answer the interviewer wants to hear, and will, in all likelihood, give that response.

Rather than asking about abilities, an interviewer should consider adding experiential elements to the interview process. For example,  if a job requires experience with a certain software, an interviewer might ask candidates to perform a task using that software. They can ask the candidate for a demonstration during the interview, or as a follow up.

3. Interviewer Listening Skills: Creating a Focused Environment

Interviewers often make up their minds about candidates’ strengths or weaknesses based solely on reviewing their resumes. These expectations create biases during the interview process. An interviewer might forgive poor answers if they believe they are speaking with a strong candidate. Vice versa, they may over-index on poor answers if they think they’re speaking with a weaker candidate. 

As an interviewer listens to each candidate they should pay close attention to specific word choices and apparent comfort-levels. They should take note of the way candidates describe their ideas and experiences. Does the candidate sound confident? Do they use appropriate, industry-specific terminology? Do they appear more comfortable answering some questions than others?

Ideally, an interviewer will not just listen attentively, but take a disciplined listening approach. Disciplined listening requires the interviewer to remain focused on their prime objective: finding the candidate most likely to help the company achieve its long-term objectives. It calls for interviewers to limit their internal monologues and to unearth the true value each candidate has to offer.

The Importance of Strategic Interviewing

As companies navigate the dynamics of the The Great Resignation, it’s important for interviewers to implement a solid pre-interview strategy for hiring the ideal candidate. Interviewers must refine their questioning technique and create an environment in which to focus and listen to each candidate. With these three considerations in mind, organizations can hire the right candidate for the right role, even in these difficult times.