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How Your Company Can Avoid the Great Resignation

August 17, 2021 Employee Experience
scott clark
By Scott Clark

The Microsoft Work Trend Index revealed that 40% of employees would like to change jobs in 2021. A survey of workers in the U.K. and Ireland indicated that 38% want to do so as well. A US survey showed that 26% of employees are planning on leaving their current employer within the next few months. 

The statistics are startling. According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.6 million people left their current employer in May 2021, and four million quit in April 2021. This is the highest number of employees quitting jobs that has ever been recorded since the BLS started counting in 2000.

The Great Resignation, as some have called it, is upon us. Here are the ways companies can step up to retain their best workers while improving the employee experience.

Don’t Give Employees a Reason to Quit

During the pandemic, many employees felt that they had to endure whatever hardship or negative feelings they were having about their current employer because of the uncertainty of the economy, business closings, lockdowns and health concerns.

The pandemic also took a toll on career advancement. A study by BambooHR released in June 2021 revealed that 78% of remote workers believe their career development has been negatively affected over the past year, 30% expected promotions that were delayed or denied, and the average American remote worker estimated they lost out on $9,823 in promotions during the last year. More than half (53%) reported feeling burned out on a weekly basis.

Jolene Cramer, senior director of marketing at Limeade, an employee experience technology company, said many employees are considering leaving their current employer because they don't want to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic. After 18 months of no commute, no office politics and no mandatory work attire, the idea of going back to the office is simply not appealing.

"Employees are not eager to go back to the old way of work, so much so that they are willing to walk away rather than put up with the standard 9-to-5, butts-in-seats kind of mentality," Cramer said. 

Related Article: The Real Engagement Challenge Is Just Beginning

Focus on Employee Values

Previously satisfied employees who would never have considered leaving before the pandemic are now considering leaving. Coonoor Behal, founder of Mindhatch, a creative consultancy, and author of "I Quit! The Life-Affirming Joy of Giving Up," said many people are re-evaluating their current job and determining if it's the best fit for them.

Businesses need to face the fact that it may be the employer who needs to take steps to stop pushing employees away, and start doing things that make employees glad to be a part of the business. Behal asked one of the "quitters" in her book what their quitting story said about them. Her response says a lot about the reasons that people are quitting their jobs.

“That it was not quitting," she said. "It was choosing me. It’s not so much what you walk away from. It’s what you decide you are for. What are you running toward? And that was a choice to choose me and what was possible.”

Another quitter in Behal’s book said the reason she quit her job was based on what was important in her life. Health, time with family and time away from work had become more valuable than the money, power and prestige that came along with a job. The move away from financial security to a search for values indicates that company culture needs to place more emphasis on organizational purpose to fulfill employee needs and desires. When asked why employees quit their jobs, Behal said there are many reasons, and that it most likely isn’t just one thing.

“The ‘I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take any more!’ or ‘Jerry Maguire meltdown’ is rare," she said. From the job quitters she interviewed, any and all of the following can be at play:

  • Realizing a job may have been right when they started, but they have since changed and the job no longer matches their understanding of themselves now.
  • The job no longer or never did match their core values, and they are no longer willing to accept the tradeoffs that come with staying in that job.
  • Quitting a job or even a relationship can often be an act of privilege. If you have savings in the bank, a supportive spouse or a background that makes you easily employable again, the risk of quitting may not seem so bad. 

Related Article: Build Organizational Purpose Into Your Talent Systems

Create a Positive Company Culture

The Engagement and Retention Report from Achievers Workforce Institute  from February 2021 revealed that two-thirds of employees planned to leave their jobs because of poor or negative company culture.

Culture plays a large role in employee experience, and companies must not just espouse a certain culture and values, but live and encourage those values. Allowing flexibility, empowering employees through continual learning, transparency among leaders and managers, and an atmosphere of open communication all contribute to a positive organizational culture. 

A strong corporate social responsibility program in which the company works to achieve its stated goals, both for the company and the community at large, also encourages employees to feel they are a part of something valuable, and that they are making a worthwhile contribution. 

Generally, a poor or toxic culture comes from the top down. During the pandemic, many leaders showed their true colors by not putting worker and customer safety first, laying off employees, and micromanaging those employees who began working remotely. The toxic atmosphere of such an arrangement can cause many employees to become depressed, decrease productivity, become less engaged, feel unimportant and unrecognized, become emotionally distant, and eventually, become so dispirited that they end up leaving the business to find a new employer. 

A 2020 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 3.1 million employees in North America, Europe and the Middle East discovered a 5.2% increase in both the average number of internal emails, and a 2.9% increase in the number of recipients of those emails, as well as a 12.9% increase in the number of meetings per person. Researchers determined that, since the pandemic began, the average workday had been extended by 48.5 minutes. Compounded with the loss of differentiation between work and personal life, many employees began to feel overwhelmed.

A new job may seem like a quick fix when an employee is dealing with a toxic work culture, but often the same issues will be present at the new job.

“Many companies are experiencing the same trials and tribulations, including skyrocketing burnout, higher workloads and constant talent turnover,” said Cramer. “While that new job may seem like an immediate fix, after the honeymoon phase an employee may find themselves disliking the same cultural aspects that weren’t working for them at their last organization or encounter new challenges.”

Behal said companies need to hire smarter. If they focus on finding employees that espouse the values of a company, they will be more likely to see increased loyalty and engagement.

“Make sure you are hiring people who already do value what your brand values, and who have the potential to evolve with you," she said. "Make your values clear and share them often so people can feel more connected to their purpose and the 'why' behind their work.”

Related Article: How Remote Working Changed Company Culture and What to Do About It

Identify the Real Drivers of Performance

Companies need to ensure that they don’t make employees feel like their employer is watching them with a stopwatch in hand. Performance and productivity does not equate to time spent behind a monitor.

“Stop acting like you are running a factory and learn how to truly measure your employees' performance,” said Behal. “Basing performance off of things like time in the office is just lazy. It's why a lot of people feel like they eventually just can't win at a company, the performance metrics are garbage to begin with and so the goal posts change any time a manager or leader feels like it.”

Micromanagement is never the answer, and tends to make employees very uncomfortable. Companies should recognize what needs to be accomplished by employees and be confident in their employee’s ability to accomplish the tasks.

“Determine competency models that actually measure the competencies that are necessary for your brand to succeed, and let employees take it from there," Behal said. "You control the 'what' but err on the side of letting them decide the 'how.'"

Other aspects of culture include making diversity a core value and living it every day. “Invest in diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging like it's your job because it is,” she said.

Finally, companies need to keep in mind that work can be daunting and overly serious, because it largely is but that doesn’t mean it always has to be.

“Embrace fun,” said Behal. “Daniel Coyle, author of ‘The Culture Code’ and ‘The Talent Code’ rightly calls fun and laughter the ‘most fundamental sign of safety and connection.’”

Employees Are Asking Questions About Workplace Conditions

From an employee perspective, they should ask themselves a series of questions. Did their employer prioritize the health and safety of customers and employees during the pandemic? Did business leaders work to ensure that employees had everything they needed to work remotely, if that was the case? Did the employer endeavor to help the community at large? Did they live up to their stated corporate social responsibilities?

If they did all these things and kept the needs of their employees in mind, resigning might not be a great idea. Sticking around might provide new opportunities during a time when many others may be leaving, and will show loyalty to a business that has demonstrated it cares about its employees. 

If the answers came out differently, employees should ask themselves why they would want to stay with a business that put profit over safety during the pandemic. Did leaders and department managers micromanage remote workers? Were they working for one of those businesses who increased the amount of emails and text messages sent after work hours and over the weekend? Did they expect workers to come into an overcrowded office even during the peak of the pandemic? Or are they already forcing workers to come back to the office to work in spite of the trepidations and concerns of workers?

If that is the case, as it is for many employees, then it may be time to look for work elsewhere.

Offer Multiple Working Options

The remote workplace was sold to employees as a temporary solution that would allow businesses to remain operational while putting the health and safety of customers and employees first. Even as the pandemic outlasted predictions, employees got used to working remotely, appreciated the additional time they got to spend at home, and most were glad to be rid of the long commute.

Now, many employers are beginning to reintroduce employees to the office. The problem is that the work-from-home genie is out of the bottle, and employees are not so eager to return to the office. A recent Gallup report revealed that only 39% of employees prefer to return to the office. The Gallup report also indicated that 44% of remote workers would prefer to continue to work remotely if given the opportunity.

The typical incentives that many companies offer are not likely to win many employees over when it comes to this battle. Many companies are considering hybrid work arrangements in which employees work from home part of the time, and from the office the rest. While this is likely to appease some employees, others would prefer to stick to a remote workplace due to concerns about COVID, the desire to avoid going back to the long commute or having to deal with childcare arrangements. Or, perhaps they just feel more productive and satisfied working by themselves in their home office. 

According to Business Insider, 39% of 1,000 US adults polled in May indicated that they'd consider quitting if their bosses weren't flexible about them working from home. This was especially the case among younger workers; 49% of those who said they’d consider quitting were millennials and Gen Z. A report from Flexjobs put the number even higher, and said that 58% of those currently working remotely would “absolutely” look for a new employer if their current employer tried to force them back into the office. 

It’s also not just getting back to the old routine that’s troubling employees. Many are worried about contracting COVID, having to wear a mask, and other health concerns. In fact, in a poll Limeade conducted with nearly 4,500 employees in France, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, not a single person said they didn't have anxiety about returning to the office.

There are many reasons employees consider leaving a job. Organizational culture plays a big role, as does whether an employee feels like they are contributing something positive to the community and the world.

But the bottom line is that companies need to strongly consider, or reconsider, forcing remote workers back to the office, or they may find themselves losing out on in-demand employees. Those that offer a flexible work arrangement that includes the opportunity to work remotely will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t, and those companies that force employees back to the office may end up being on the receiving end of the Great Resignation. 

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