When employees experience personal trauma, challenging transitions in the workplace, difficult relationships with managers, etc., some of them will choose to "off-ramp," a term referring to those who voluntarily resign or reduce their working hours. Many employers will be familiar with an employee deciding not to return to work from a pregnancy/parental leave. However, off-ramping is becoming more common for several reasons.
We live in an age of increased workplace stress (not to mention societal stress in the form of newspaper headlines), and burnout has now been recognized in the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon.
Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy
There are many reasons for burn-out of course, but it's not hard to imagine some of the most common ones. One study showed that over 30% of those who left their jobs did so because of work-life balance (12%), management behaviour (11%) and well-being (9%). The same study estimated the cost of replacing an employee to be as much as 33% of the worker's salary.2
Another factor increasing the incidence of off-ramping is changing demographics and expectations. A group of 400 millennial women who intend to leave work to launch their own businesses were recently asked to pick their top priority among self, career, friends and family. The majority chose family:3
Keep in mind most millennials aren’t all that young. “Old” millennials are now in their mid-30s. They’re growing up and having kids. Their parents are getting older, too. Of course family is a huge priority. The after-office happy hours and unlimited snacks are becoming less appealing. Instead, millennial women want flexibility. And too few employers make it possible to be equal parts mom, daughter and rockstar employee. Many want the rockstar employee without the mom and daughter part.
Anecdotally, we are also seeing a growing number of dads/sons expressing similar views. Employers who fail to acknowledge the need for flexibility and work-life balance should likely brace themselves for increasing levels of off-ramping.
Whether employee stressors are under an employer's control (long hours, poor management, inadequate supports, etc.) or outside of that control (illness, child/elder responsibilities, relationship issues, etc.), employers can reduce off-ramping by helping employees build resilience. Employee resilience can be built by supporting strong relationships in the workplace, maintaining regular communication with employees on leave, group activities, mentorship structures, etc.4
Building a positive, supportive workplace environment is easier said than done, of course. It takes time, effort and money. It certainly won't happen overnight. But the return on investment is a stable workforce with the resilience to cope with adversity and stay productive.
1 World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
2 Employee Benefit News, https://www.benefitnews.com/news/avoidable-turnover-costing-employers-big?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000&utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=ebnmagazine&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social
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