As a business leader, I’ve found the last 18 months or so to be eerily like being a brand-new mum. Many sleepless nights, additional worry and stress, and the hope that one morning you’d wake up to find someone had provided you with a “how to” guide on navigating your new reality (I’m still waiting on that “how to” guide to show up!) But just as you find your footing as a new parent, business leaders seem to have found theirs as our world stabilizes. And, just like parenting, we’re once again hit with a surprise bump in the road: The Great Resignation.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Anthony Klotz, a Texas A&M University associate management professor, coined the phrase “great resignation” to describe the phenomenon that many workers are considering a job change as pandemic restrictions ease and companies call employees back to the office. As a result, 30 percent of the workforce is predicted to leave their current jobs for greater flexibility and to add more meaning to their professional lives.
What followed after Klotz’s interview was the “great resignation” began trending everywhere. I’ve seen business professionals scoff at the idea that 30 percent of workers would actually leave their roles, but I speak with leaders in companies every day, and I can tell you, it’s happening.
According to the Labor Department, a record four million Americans quit their jobs in April and experts predict this trend won’t slow any time soon. The phenomenon is also not US-specific. A survey of workers in the U.K. and Ireland put the number of workers looking to leave their jobs this year at 38 percent. So, as business leaders, what can we do to ensure our companies withstand the great resignation?
Personalize the employee experience.
As of December 2020, 71 percent of employees that could do their jobs remotely were choosing to work from home. More than half of those employees said they would like to continue to work from home post-pandemic. But there’s no one size fits all solution here.
Personalizing the employee experience means learning what’s important to each employee individually then making changes, where possible, to accommodate. Our company issued a series of surveys throughout the pandemic as we anticipated needs and desires changing the longer we worked remote (and for some, they did). Unsurprisingly, we found work preferences ran the gamut from some employees wanting to remain remote, others needing the more structured collaboration that an office provides, and finally, those who want a hybrid approach. We are working as a leadership team to ensure we can provide the flexibility needed for our team members to be both personally and professionally successful.
Embracing agility and allowing your employees to personalize their work experience will set you apart from the competition. A study by KPMG showed companies that invest in the employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t. There are now far too many companies who are willing to personalize and offer flexible work solutions. If your business isn’t doing it, your team will find one that is.
Empower your managers.
As a CEO, I like to think that I know the pulse of my own business and the day-to-day challenges my team experiences. But the reality is, I’m not the one having daily conversations with people at all levels of my company. I also recognize that I will likely get a rose-colored version of their reality when I do have these conversations. It’s tough to be brutally honest with a senior leader.
I’ve always believed that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Because of this, you must spend a significant amount of time choosing, mentoring, and empowering your managers. These are your front-line leaders who have the most access to and time with the majority of your team. They are your lifeline to your organization. You must work to cultivate empathetic and understanding managers and give them the power to make decisions for your employees that support work/life balance (or integration) and the needs of the business.
Leaders who are focused on supporting and empathizing with their employees can form better connections and understand their needs. The pandemic had a huge impact on workplaces and we’re now seeing employee burnout. Uncertainty, transitioning to new ways of working, and changing expectations all factor into burnout. Proactive, empathetic managers can make all the difference in ensuring that employees want to stay with your company. When assessing leaders, measure emotional intelligence. Look at their ability to listen actively, understand employee needs, and engage in an empathetic way.
Listen. Really listen.
Personalizing the employee experience and empowering your managers to lead empathetically will only be successful if you commit to this: be self-aware and open to feedback.
It’s really easy to get stuck in old habits or old ways of thinking. It’s also tough to hear that perhaps your latest great idea just isn’t working for your team. As a leader, you need to be OK with this.
Encourage your employees to work out whatever issues they are facing before they begin to update their resume. This must be more than lip service. You really need to mean this. Ask yourself if you’re actually creating a “safe to stay” environment. If the answer is no, commit to changing that.
Employees need to feel as though there is no threat of retaliation when they raise culture issues or complaints about their workload. The key for yourself and your team is not to fear or try to avoid conflict but to learn how to resolve it in a healthy way. There is real growth that comes from learning how to do that well. I’d much rather swallow my pride a bit and admit there’s a problem than say goodbye to valuable team members who feel the grass is greener elsewhere. (Spoiler alert: it usually isn’t.)
I’ve worked in business a long time and know that turnover at any company is normal and healthy. I also know that businesses will never perfectly meet the needs of everyone who works there. After all, companies are just communities of people, and people are flawed. Let’s commit to acknowledging our flaws and work to move past them while showing we value our employees. By doing this, we’ll be able to overcome the “great resignation” and be ready for the next challenge that awaits us.