The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on everything from the paper supply chain to the demand for direct mail. Some of those disruptions have lasted beyond the peak of the pandemic, and one of those disruptions has been on the workload of your employees. Even as team members come back to the office, there are lingering effects that you, as an employer, can help to alleviate.

With everything else on your plate, why should you put this on your radar? Workplace satisfaction matters. Unhappy employees equal higher turnover. Higher turnover equals higher HR costs (recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, reduced productivity as new hires get up to speed) and, especially in the printing industry, real concern about the ability to fill open positions.

“Understanding Current Workload Challenges of Digital Services Providers,” a survey conducted by Parallax, looks at the in-office impact of the pandemic on the employees in the digital services industry. The survey was only six questions, asked of 405 respondents, and intended to spotlight issues helped along by Parallax products. But if you look at the questions right, you might glean some useful insights for our industry, as well.

Here are some of the takeaways for employers.

1. Employees are already overwhelmed, and COVID-19 has made it worse.

According to Parallax, 43% of respondents feel overwhelmed by their workload most or all of the time. This includes 21% who feel overwhelmed all the time. Not surprisingly, three out of four (76%) respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their workload, rising to 86% of those who already feel overwhelmed.

This isn’t an issue only in the digital services industry. A recent Gallup survey (“State of the Global Workplace report”) found that U.S. workers are some of the most stressed employees in the world.  

2. Employees want to be able to be proactive rather than reactive.

Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents reported the biggest challenge of working at a digital services company as “feeling reactive vs. proactive with my workload,” especially for those who feel overwhelmed most or all of the time (58%). This is followed by the challenges of “ebbs and flows of the amount of work” (28%), “talent turnover” (14%) and “lack of workload visibility from supervisors” (10%).

What I find interesting here is that the desire to be proactive is higher than concern about workload balancing and turnover. While surveys like these are designed to promote a specific product, there is information to be learned and applied more broadly. Some of this information comes from the relationship between the choices within the questions, and this is an interesting one.

When things are out of control around us, we want to find and grab onto the things we can control. At work, the ability to anticipate and alleviate problems before they occur not only improves the ability of employees to do their jobs and increases productivity, but it also alleviates stress and gives back some sense of that control: “I can’t control that, but I can control this.”

3. Want to keep them? Balance the workload.

For 36% of respondents, “providing a balanced workload” and “keeping me productive” (32%) are most important for retaining their engagement and longevity. This is followed by “prioritizing my happiness” (18.3%) and “more insight into workload planning” (13.1%). “Buy me a pizza for every hour worked overtime” comes in at a surprisingly low 1%.  I mean, who doesn’t want a regular flow of free pizza?

Again, the relationship between the potential responses to this question is as interesting as the question itself. Meaningful work actually out-polls employer-prioritized happiness. This is consistent with years of workplace studies. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, for example, nine out of 10 people are willing to accept less pay for meaningful work.  This has a direct impact on the bottom line of the organization for more reasons than just HR costs.

Note the authors of the HBR study:

Meaningful work leads directly to higher levels of engagement. But it also impacts the levels of employee satisfaction, their commitment to the organization, and their willingness to go beyond role expectations to serve others.

So the Parallax study, while focused on digital services, does provide insights consistent with other workplace studies, and the takeaways for the printing industry are clear.  The importance of workload balancing and efficiency are important to more than just the production floor. They matter to employees, too—a lot.

In the words of Parallax:

The global pandemic has shined a light on employee satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) in the workplace and the growing need for accurate forecasting to ensure a more balanced environment for employees. . . Maintaining a balanced workload is important to retaining your employees, and being able to provide workload visibility can lessen the chances of feeling overwhelmed and/or reactive to the work ahead. While these concerns can seem overwhelming themselves, the good news is that when given the right mix of tools, they are solvable.

Of course, Parallax provides software that serves this function, but other software does too. In fact, much of the discussion around web-to-print these days focuses on the benefits of providing visibility into the workflow, automating repetitive tasks, and balancing out the load.

While company-sponsored surveys are not designed to be comprehensive or fully objective, they can still provide important insights that can be applied to your business, your employees, and your market vertical. In this case, it’s the importance of being mindful of the work environment and the day-to-day tasks of your employees and how that impacts their ability to do (and their satisfaction in) their jobs. It might matter more than you think. Is it on your radar?