Golden Handcuffs: What Employee Survey Responses Reveal About Burnout

Claire Hastwell

Author

In such uncertain times, alot of us are just thankful that our businesses are surviving, and we are able to keep our job. While most companies had to forego giving out 14th month pay bonuses or throwing out lavish year-end parties, most also found creative ways of expressing gratitude and appreciation to their employees.

Many companies demonstrated their genuine care for their people, sparing no cost to provide support for their employees during these critical times. Unfortunately, there are also many leaders who are left in the dark unaware of what their employees had to say in return.

Are we supporting them enough to get through these challenging times?

Although golden handcuffs has long been coined – a term referring to financial allurement for the objective of retaining employees – these cuffs may have taken a different form because of COVID-19: an embellished fetter in the guise of job security. The truth is, we all want to believe that we are doing right by our people. When we could physically interact with them, it was easy to identify tell-tale signs of burnout, but what now that most of us have gone virtual? What if, they are showing signs of burnout, but we have no way of telling?

Surveying employees allows them to give an unbiased feedback about the level of support they receive and how it really matters to them. Read for more insights on what our employee surveys revealed regarding burnout.

-GPTW Philippines

 

New research reveals the truth behind certain word choice in employee survey comments.

First coined in 1976, golden handcuffs refers to financial allurements and benefits that encourage highly compensated employees to stay at a company – even when they’re miserable.

Telling employee survey research by Great Place to Work® shows that golden handcuffs point to toxic company culture bubbling under the surface.

Defining burnout

World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Workplace burnout occurs when a person feels:

  • Limited control of their environment and over their schedule
  • Limited participation in decision making and lack of clarity of their work
  • Communication is poor, especially with management

Using this definition from WHO, we created a “burnout risk factor index” of nine Trust Index survey statements. When an employee responds positively to only six or fewer statements, they are likely experiencing burnout.

How common is job burnout?

Using this index, we found one-fifth (22%) of employees are burned out, and this has been persistent the last three years. Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® and the Best Small & Medium Size Workplaces™ have 6% fewer people experiencing burnout (16%).

Organizations surveyed but who don’t make Best Workplaces™ lists have 5% more people experiencing burnout (27%). This means that the average U.S. workplace has even more people experiencing burnout compared to companies creating a positive employee experience.

Reading between the lines

When Great Place to Work® data scientists analyzed 1,734,443 employee surveys across 1,570 companies to understand how company culture influences job burnout, an interesting trend emerged.

Among employees who were burned-out, “golden handcuffs,” was the top phrase used when answering a question about what makes their workplace great. That’s right — not what makes work awful, but what makes work good.

That this shackled experience manifests in positive feedback, is telling. Employees are sucking up toxic culture out of financial necessity.

The power of golden handcuffs

A lawyer-friend of mine used to describe a work situation that make her feel like she was trapped in “golden handcuffs.”

Her boss was a bully. She lived in fear that her boss would find an omission in the fine print of a client contract. She always bought refundable airfare tickets, and never made plans on a “school night.” I soon learned not to rely on her schedule—I lost count of the number times she had to cancel our Friday night dinner.

Even though the cons kept adding up, she didn’t leave. Her life became the tangible benefits of her job—she could afford the best bedroom in her share house in pricey Sydney and she didn’t think twice about spending like the rest of us, from Uber rides to $600 on designer boots. The biggest carrot on the toxic workplace stick was an eye-watering annual bonus.

Yet she couldn’t stretch through a yoga class without worrying about missing an email. She couldn’t sit through a play without incessantly checking her phone. Her laptop always joined us on weekends away; but most weekends she was either working or too exhausted to socialize anyway.

Reactive and tense, she was in a perpetual state of alert. She had no control over her job.

This constant state of flight or fight is psychologically and physically draining, and bad for employee health.

More insight from employee comments

We learned that among those burned out, “golden handcuffs” was the top phrase used to describe “What makes your workplace a great place to work?”

Additionally, most people who were burned out had little to say or were too burned out to write a response. On average, they wrote 25% fewer words than those who weren’t experiencing burnout.

When asked, “What would make this a better place to work?” people who met the criteria for burnout using our 9 survey statements had more to say. On average, they used 71% more words than those who weren’t burned out.

And the top phrases among those who met the criteria for burnout were:

  • “fear retaliation”
  • “downward spiral”
  • “feel bullied”
  • “discrimination”
  • “remove favoritism”

These words give clues for the root causes of burnout. It’s clear that long working hours are not solely to blame. Micromanagement, low job control, ignoring psychological needs, and erratic management leads to burn out, as we explored in this blog on fixing experiences that cause burnout.

We can help you asses the health of your company culture.

When it comes to job burnout, the writing is not always on the wall. But analyzing employee feedback can give you a clearer picture of how burnout is impacting your people.

If you want to diagnose burnout in your organization:

  • Survey your employees using our Trust Index survey
  • Analyze survey results and connect the dots between cause and effect

And friend, if you’re reading this, there’s another way to work – and live. The employee satisfaction scores of Certified™ great workplaces are a great place to start your search.

Claire Hastwell

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees