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September has just begun and we are already in crisis

As we return from vacation, workers' mental health is already on the brink

September has just begun and we are already in crisis  As we return from vacation, workers' mental health is already on the brink

September is just beginning and the vacations have just ended, yet the stress level of most of us already verges on burnout. Between backlogs of work, avalanches of e-mails clogging the PC, new projects and paperwork to be dealt with, and the duties of colleagues who are still on the run, at the beach or in the mountains, returning to work after the summer break is almost so traumatic that (at least those who can afford it) meditate on dismissal. This is not a fringe sentiment, but a real worldwide phenomenon called The Great Resignation to use the term coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University, which identifies the remarkable increase in employees voluntarily leaving their jobs. It is estimated that 47 million people in the United States alone will quit their jobs in 2021 and another 50 million in 2022. Two years later, experts say the Great Exodus is over and the Great Quit Phenomenon is on its last legs, as confirmed by the May 2023 Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) figures on job openings and labour turnover: Layoffs have slowed and returned to pre-pandemic levels. And in Italy? According to the PwC Hopes and Fears Global Workforce Survey 2023, 25% of workers in Italy are ready to change jobs within a year. Of them, 44% feel overworked, 38% have problems paying their bills monthly and 35% belong to Generation Z. Unfortunately, most of the data concerning our country refers to the year 2022, but it is still useful to look at a global phenomenon. The figures published by Aidp, the Italian association for human resources management, are clear: in the last months of 2022 60 percent of companies have faced an increase in voluntary employee resignations. This is a real boom that has mainly younger people and the 26-35 age group as protagonists, especially those employed in companies in northern Italy (79 percent) and in the IT-digital (32 percent), manufacturing (28 percent) and marketing-commercial (27 percent) sectors. The data is also confirmed by the PwC Hopes and Fears Global Workforce Survey 2023: In Italy, 25% of workers are willing to change jobs within a year. Of them, 44% feel overworked, 38% have problems paying their bills every month and 35% belong to Generation Z. Statements that are not too surprising when we consider that in 2022 only 9% of Italian workers said they "feel good" physically, socially and emotionally in the workplace.

The reasons for seeking new opportunities are diverse and include the search for more favorable economic conditions (46 percent), the need to seek new career opportunities (35 percent), pursuing one's personal passions (18 percent), greater flexibility in working hours (18 percent), aspiration for a greater work-life balance (41 percent), and better physical or mental health (24 percent). Also impacting, of course, are relationships with colleagues, the corporate climate, and the possibility of access to smart working, but, compared to the past, a decisive role in the spread of the Great Resignation phenomenon is a certain emotional and psychological malaise felt at work that too often companies fail to understand or adequately address. The situation is so bad that in 2021, the turnover rate increased for 73 percent of companies, and those who left (precisely four out of ten) did so without having another offer at the time of resignation. Those who have not opted for such a radical choice have adopted the attitude of quiet quitting, which we could translate as working the right amount, that is, doing the bare minimum (but well) to keep their jobs, making efficient and productive use of the hours in the office to fulfill all their tasks, but without overtime or H24 on-call and, most importantly, without guilt. The secret? Work smart, not hard, detach yourself mentally and emotionally from your work responsibilities. 

Triggering Great Resignation, quiet quitting and increased interest in mental wellness in the workplace were Covid 19 and lockdown. During the period of the health emergency, many people began to put self-actualization and personal and social growth first, alongside economic security. In this renewed list of priorities, private life and mental well-being have figured strongly in the emergence into a new understanding of the work sphere in which autonomy, flexibility, and better work-life balance carry much greater weight than in the past. As journalist Sarah Jaffe writes in the essay

"Work Doesn't Love You "we are all exhausted, burnout, overworked, underpaid, and unable to reconcile work and private life (assuming we have a private life). [...] Like many inventions of late capitalism, the admonition "do what you love and you won't work a day in your life," which rages in thousands of inspirational posts on social media, has taken on the authority of folk wisdom and retroactive validity (I guess our ancestors loved to go mammoth hunting). So much for "not a single day," the reality is that we have never worked as hard as we do now. Gripped by stress, anxiety and loneliness, what is required of us is virtually unlimited availability and no hours. The story of work done for love is, simply put, a scam."

In a nutshell, the author, as more and more young people are questioning the toxic idea of work understood as a "mission" and leads us to ask ourselves how can we love and devote all our time to a job that is often toxic, precarious, underpaid, with no prospects for growth and that, instead of providing us with rights and satisfaction or at least fair pay wants us to always be available, productive and to be so with a smile on our faces, grateful for the opportunity we have received? The answer, which the various surveys confirm, is that Millennials and Gen Z are no longer willing to passively accept this totalizing and sacrificing conception of work, but among the basic requirements of their dream occupation they seek work-life balance, that is, a good work-life balance. In fact, according to the Randstad Employer Brand Research 2022, 65 percent of the Italian workers surveyed, work life balance is, along with a pleasant atmosphere in the workplace, the top priority aspect when choosing a company. 

Anxiety, stress, chronic fatigue, and insomnia are examples of a malaise triggered by workload or conflicting relationships with bosses and colleagues that wears down so much that it leads to burnout and that most workers no longer want to passively endure. That is why smart working, even with its limitations, appears to be an increasingly attractive solution for work-life balance. In fact, a study conducted in 2022 by the National Institute for Public Policy Analysis (INAPP) on a sample of more than 45 thousand interviews reveals that 46 percent of workers would like to do their work remotely agile at least one day a week, and almost 1 in 4 even three or more days a week. Therefore, the challenge for companies becomes to improve employee well-being and engagement by increasing flexibility, autonomy in managing their work activities, adjusting salary to the cost of living, and creating an inclusive environment that can enhance its workforce and eventually support it in terms of physical and mental wellness.