Overworked Leaders, High-Potential Employees are Looking to Make an Exit, Report Finds

In the past year, the global coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis have caused leader burnout at increasing rates and many are eyeing the door, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2021 released Feb. 17. A survey conducted by global leadership consulting firm DDI found that a lack of confidence in company leadership may result in retention issues.

Survey respondents included 15,000 leaders and 2,102 human resource professionals across more than 24 industries, globally, according to the report. More than half (60%) reported feeling “used up” by the end of the workday, and about 44% of those leaders are considering changing companies to advance, while 26% expected to leave within the next year, the report found. For those aspiring to leadership positions, stress levels are even higher, according to the report. The greater majority (86%) of high-potential employees felt “used up” at the end of the workday, and they are “twice as likely to leave as peers who indicated they didn’t feel used up at the end of the day (37% versus 17%),” the report found.

Effective skillsets of leaders can mitigate burnout for employees. However leaders, who usually rate themselves well on showing empathy, are under stress amid the pandemic and self-ratings of empathy dropped 15%, according to the report. Many said they struggle to show empathy at times when team members are in need. The research found that a leaders’ ability to manage workflow effectively is critical in preventing employee burnout. “Great leaders” don’t just lead, but collaborate and partner with employees, according to the report. The three biggest areas in leadership skills at high-performing companies are coaching, leading change and delegation, the report found.

In addition to an increase in burnout, company leadership and HR professionals are divided on the quality of leadership in their organizations, DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 found.

Almost half (48%) of company leaders rate their leadership quality as high, compared to 28% of HR professionals who believe the same. As ongoing changes have occurred in response to the pandemic, HR professionals said they are concerned that they don’t have the skillsets to meet future challenges, according to the report.

2020 may have been one of the most stressful years for HR leaders, and many often neglect their own burnout in support of employees, experts said during a Jan. 28 webinar hosted by Even. That’s when senior leadership needs to set the example of self care.

“When it starts at the top, there is like a cascading effect of cultural permission,” Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, said during the webinar, “and the recognition that the connection between well-being and performance applies across the whole organization.”

If a company fails to retain a highly talented leader, the loss to the company is steep, according to DDI’s report. When a leader departs, there’s usually a loss of organizational and technical knowledge, in addition to the investment the company made in the individual’s career, the report found. More than half (55%) of CEOs surveyed said their top challenge is developing the next generation of leaders within their organization.

CEOs and executive leadership can increase retention of leaders who report to them by providing opportunities for development and growth; sharing credit with team members; celebrating their successes; and supporting the advancement team members, “even if it means moving them outside their own direct reporting line,” according to the report.

High-potential employees surveyed, who don’t have formal leadership responsibility, range in ages 21 to 38, according to DDI. This group said they need feedback and coaching; help in communication development; better inclusion and diversity at the workplace; flexibility; and clarity, the report found.

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