After a Year of Remote Work, Institutional Investors Are Worried About Employee Burnout

Allocators and consultants shared concerns about staff mental health in a survey of 700 institutional investors.

Illustration by II; Bigstock photo

Illustration by II; Bigstock photo

Over a year into the pandemic, institutional investors are worried about the mental heath of their employees.

Managing stress and curbing burnout among employees who are working remotely were cited as top concerns in Nuveen’s inaugural global survey of institutional investors, which was released Wednesday.

Nuveen, the investment manager of TIAA, has $1.2 trillion in assets under management and operates in 27 countries, according to a press release on the survey results. The asset manager surveyed 700 global investors and consultants including decision-makers at corporate and public pensions, insurance companies, endowments and foundations, superannuation funds, sovereign wealth funds, central banks, and consultants.

The organizations represented in the survey held assets ranging from more than $10 billion to no less than $500 million, Nuveen said.

When the Covid-19 pandemic changed the nature of work and shifted the investing world to the home office, institutional investors took the change in stride. According to the survey, 79 percent of respondents did not make significant asset allocation changes as a result of the pandemic, and 67 percent reported an increase in productivity while working from home.

“If you have familiarity with an existing manager, it’s easier for you to conduct due diligence and understand a strategy virtually,” Mike Perry, head of the global client group at Nuveen, said during a virtual presentation of the survey results on Wednesday. “If you’re looking to invest in real assets, physical buildings or farms or infrastructure, you need to actually be in person.”

While the functions of the office space translated relatively seamlessly to a remote world, institutional investors reported concerns about employee mental health, including stress levels and the potential for burnout. Among global respondents, 54 percent said they were either “concerned” or “very concerned” about employees’ mental health. In North America, that figure jumped to 58 percent.

“We heard some feedback that maybe it would be junior people, who could benefit from training and further development, that would be the most impacted,” Perry said.

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In order to address employees’ health and wellbeing, 64 percent of employers ensure that staff take time off of work, while over half provide additional mental health support, according to the survey.

For example, Nuveen and TIAA provide companywide mental health resources, such as a 24-hour employee assistance program that provides confidential counseling and referrals, promotional activities like meditation and presentations on Covid-19-related stress and mental health, and conversations about limiting screen time.

“The mental wellness of our employees remains of critical importance and in addition to a robust set of company offerings, we are actively encouraging employees to schedule time off, designate ‘no Zoom’ time and supporting them in working different hours than they did pre-pandemic to be able to balance home and work responsibilities,” Perry said in an email.

However, such steps have not been universal. One in 10 employers reported that they are taking no action to improve employee well-being, while less than a quarter of employers are addressing digital fatigue with “no meeting black outs,” according to the survey.

Beyond mental health, the Nuveen survey also covered a range of other issues affecting institutional investors, including policies on diversity and inclusion. With the increased social fermentation in 2020, some respondents felt pressure to evaluate and revise their D&I policies, but the survey suggested this pressure may not have been strong enough to enact widespread change: Almost 60 percent of asset owners answered “No” or “I don’t know” when asked if their organizations planned to enhance D&I practices in the next 12 months.

Taking a look at portfolio construction, over half of global investors said they are shifting toward multi-asset strategies. Ninety-two percent of respondents currently or plan to invest in alternative asset classes, according to the survey.

“There are some truly diversified exposures that you can’t access in public markets,” said Nathan Shetty, Nuveen’s head of multi-asset portfolio management. “You have to harvest them in private markets.”

The survey also addressed environmental, social, and governance investing, with Nuveen finding that investors are almost evenly divided on attitudes about ESG. While 35 percent of investors believe in the social and fiscal benefits of ESG, others see ESG as a tool for social good, not an investment strategy. About a quarter of respondents believe ESG is just a trend and has little investment value.