Q&A

Quiet Quitting and Burnout: Why it’s Essential to Focus on Wellbeing in a Recession


The prospect of a prolonged economic downturn forces a lot of organizations to reprioritize the way they make business decisions. As part of a series of The One Brief articles examining how a recession may impact organizations, and how companies can prepare, we look at how organizations can cut through the confusion to make better decisions around workforce resilience and wellbeing.

Rachel Fellowes joined Aon as the company’s first global Chief Wellbeing Officer in May, focusing on the importance of wellbeing both within the firm and for its clients. Fellowes recently met up with The One Brief to explain why wellbeing should be a priority for businesses — even in difficult times—and highlight some of the challenges organizations face in maintaining employee wellbeing during a recession.
Rachel Fellowes
Chief Wellbeing Officer

With the prospect of a recession looming for some parts of the world, how has business attitude changed regarding wellbeing and resilience?

Before the pandemic, employers often did not prioritize wellbeing as much as now. But in a post-pandemic world, it’s no longer acceptable to turn your back on mental health as a risk or wellbeing as a an opportunity. Even with the prospect of a recession, wellbeing must be part of our dialogue, part of our currency and part of our expectation.

Do you think “quiet quitting” is something we’re going to see more of, as the effects of the last few years combine with potentially difficult times ahead?

I think there's a real need for some brave conversations in the workplace. Meeting people where they are and addressing their perspective now is better than trying to clean up a mess afterwards.

Employees are really thinking about their work lives, and general lives. They’re thinking about how to design the best life. That’s perhaps why we’re seeing quiet quitting: people needing the headspace to figure out how to design their life for the better.

This is where the expectation is different now. As a human being, I would like to be able to have conversations with my employer about what I'm thinking for myself and my family for the next five years. And when an employee senses some insensitivity to that, or a lack of awareness that this is now a real need for people, that's where quiet quitting and outright leaving is happening.

A recession will cause further financial stresses for many employees. But could a recession cause other stresses and challenges to employee wellbeing?

The recession will not only impact our financial health. It’s actually going to start to have a ripple effect, opening life cracks like “I’ve never been able to speak to my husband about my financial relationships or our financial choices.” That just gets blown wide open.

This stress all ripples into your mental health, your emotional health — maybe even your sense of meaning and purpose.

So suddenly the impact of a recession is not just narrow financial health in isolation. It has the ability to be another moment in time that disrupts us. All of these challenges are coming from every direction, and we need to have a different skill set to think about mental health.

How can employers communicate their stance on wellbeing and resilience to remote or hybrid workers?

This centers on a genuine understanding of how to connect with people and create the space for people when they need it most. For many, that comes easier when you're face-to-face.

Employers could try putting some issues to their teams, saying, “If we were to do this in a slightly different way, how can we do that?” In the past, just starting that conversation might not have been on the agenda for some.

It’s creating a feeling of inclusion. And it’s a feeling of having a moment where we can share if there is a need that arises, to do that in a productive way and getting creative with that. That has value regardless of the “R” word: the recession.

What should be top of business leaders’ minds when it comes to wellbeing during a recession?

Data. Companies are now focusing on how to link the money spent on a proactive intervention, a preventative intervention, or even a crisis intervention against their performance and the employer’s imprint on culture and sustainability. And that needs to connect and mature. The data story here is absolutely the priority.

I think the number one takeaway at the moment is that wellbeing is here for the long-term. It's not a fad. Very rarely now do organizations ask, “Do we need wellbeing?” Now the question is “Where are we on the wellbeing maturity curve, and how do we start to move forward?”