Languishing – the next big threat to employee wellbeing?


You’re not quite 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?

Languishing – the next big threat to employee wellbeing?

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 change, it doesn’t mean that we’ve mastered it. 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.

One of the results of this situation is that we are likely to have one of the highest levels of staff turnover in history. 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 and wellbeing? 

A presenteeism pandemic

A recent study by Simplyhealth/CIPD 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. 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 for 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 measures need to be incorporated into long-term wellbeing strategies, not just tick boxing for the sake of the pandemic.

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.

If employees are working in a languishing state, they are unlikely to be engaged in their work but still continue working to pay the bills. We all know that disengaged employees are highly unlikely to be at peak performance, impacting their wider team. This can have rippling mental health implications, too, as stress and anxiety increase.

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 who 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.

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.

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.

Proactive prevention

Taking the right steps can shift languishing to flourishing – connection, engagement and socialisation are key.

A focus on employee engagement can really help. Business Review research indicates that 43% of HR leaders are renewing their focus on employee engagement. With so many employers moving to a hybrid approach, there’s never been a better time to take action.

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.

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 employees need to flourish.

The author is Martin Blinder, CEO and co-founder of Tictrac.

This article is provided by Tictrac.


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