Most employees have an unhealthy relationship with work

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Sep 21 2023 by Management-Issues Print This Article

Most employees have an unhealthy relationship with work, new research suggests, and few believe that their employers provide them with the support and tools they need to be successful.

HP’s inaugural Work Relationship Index, which surveyed more than 15,600 respondents across 12 countries, suggests that for many employees, their relationship with work is at a breaking point and that these unhealthy relationships are taking a real toll on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

In the UK, for example, only a quarter (25%) of knowledge workers say they have a healthy relationship with work and two-thirds (65%) of those with an unhealthy relationship have experienced negative impacts on their health.

Globally, only 27% of knowledge workers say they have a healthy relationship with work, a figure that plunges to just 5% in Japan. In contrast, half of employees in India say they have a healthy relationship with work.

The findings spotlight the negative impacts an unhealthy relationship with work has on an employee’s life and an employer’s business and provide insights into the factors that drive meaningful, productive and purposeful work experiences.

Emotional intelligence

The research found that that almost three quarters business leaders acknowledge that emotionally intelligent leadership is the only way a leader can be successful going forward. Emotional intelligence – together with increased trust and agency – also holds considerable weight with employees. Yet four out of 10 say that the emotional intelligence they’ve seen from their company’s leaders has not met their expectations and three-quarters of UK employees (74%) said they would be willing to earn less money if it meant working for an employer that values these factors.

The Six core drivers of a wholesome work relationship

The research examined more than 50 factors contributing to a healthy relationship with work, identifying six core drivers that represent critical focus areas for business.

1. Fulfilment: Employees yearn for purpose, empowerment, and genuine connection to their work, but just 24% of knowledge workers currently experience these aspects consistently. To adapt to evolving workforce expectations, businesses must prioritise employee fulfilment through increased voice and agency.

2. Leadership: New ways of working demand new leadership styles, according to 66% of business leaders; yet only one in five workers feel leaders have evolved their leadership styles accordingly. Cultivating emotional intelligence and transparent, empathetic leadership is crucial for today’s workplace.

3. People-centricity: Only 25% of knowledge workers consistently receive the respect and value they feel they deserve, and even fewer are experiencing the flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance they seek. To address this, leaders must put visible emphasis on putting people first and placing their teams at the centre of decision-making.

4. Skills: While 77% of knowledge workers value strong power and technical skills, only 32% feel consistently confident in their proficiency in either. ‘Best-practice’ businesses have an opportunity to gain a vital skills-development and employee engagement edge by investing in holistic training and support.

5. Tools: Today’s workers want a say in the technology and tools their employer provides – and want that technology to be inclusive. However, confidence that companies will implement the right tools to support hybrid work is low, at just one in five. No longer just a utility, the technology portfolio is emerging as an important driver of employee engagement, as well as connection and enablement.

6. Workspace: Knowledge workers want a seamless experience as they move between work locations – and a choice in where they work each day. Effective hybrid workspaces, easy transitions, flexibility and autonomy will be pivotal in demonstrating trust in employees and fostering a positive work experience.

Other key findings show that:

Mental: More than half (57%) of these employees struggle with their self-worth and mental health, reporting low self-esteem and feeling like they are a failure.

Emotional: These issues naturally affect other aspects of their lives, with 45% noting that their personal relationships with friends and family suffer, and more than half (57%) are too drained to pursue their personal passions.

Physical: Mental and emotional health can make it harder to maintain physical well-being. 65% of employees report trouble with maintaining healthy eating, working out and getting sufficient sleep.

Morale and Engagement: Knowledge workers report more disengagement at work (47%) and greater feelings of disconnection (49%).

This research highlights the opportunity business leaders have to strengthen the world’s relationship with work – in ways that are good for both people and business,” said Neil MacDonald, UK&I Channel Director at HP. “It is our role as leaders to demonstrate and encourage workers to find the balance between productivity and happiness. The most successful organisations have healthy cultures that enable employees to excel in their careers and thrive outside of work.”