Unless you have been living under a rock, you have most likely heard the phrase, the great resignation being thrown around quite a bit. From WSJ articles to LinkedIn News and everywhere in between, the notion of workers, some say up to 40%, leaving their current employers to find new work is pervasive. Others argue that this idea is being blown out of proportion; a recent Forbes article suggests, while the great resignation is not coming, people are looking to derive more satisfaction from their jobs. Whether it was a professor from Texas A&M University or a group of economists who dubbed the term is irrelevant, the point is that it is out there and there is at least some truth to the prediction. Even if employers do not experience a mass exodus, the time of burying heads in the sand when it comes to culture and people is over; leaders need to pay attention now.
During the pandemic, people came to terms with the worst case scenario: what if I lose my job and cannot survive? And then they figured it out, they got through it. People have had the opportunity to think through the alternative. Even those who were fortunate enough to have held onto their jobs during this time were still faced with the prospect of job loss and most likely came up with a just in case plan, in case. In 2020 people learned to live with less, spent more time with family, and were pushed to face a future of the unknown and with this existential awakening there was a paradigm shift. People have taken back control of their environment. Two years ago, a company requiring someone to be in the office full-time was expected, now it could be the price of a highly qualified candidate not accepting a job. There is more awareness than ever before on the perfunctory act of commuting in heavy traffic, sitting in a dimly lit cubicle surrounded by a 70’s grade aesthetic, or being used by a degrading boss, and people want more. I recently spoke with an executive in the recruitment industry, regarding this topic and he said, “The pandemic was a great awakening, it’s like you realize that American culture, consumerism, capitalism really is just people being exploited to get shit done and people don’t want to live like that anymore .” Mass exodus or not people are beginning to expect more from their employer and the time they spend at work. The realization that there is not just one way of doing things has came and went and employees want better for themselves and their families.
So, how exactly should an employer respond?
The first step is to acknowledge that they will have to change. Things are different and they will need to be different. Companies that are currently pushing employees to come back to the office full-time without any change to the environment or culture will suffer the most. Organizations dedicate whole departments to change management when they want employees to change behaviors, now it is reversed: companies must accept and move through change to continue to grow and retain strong employees.
1. Let’s look at 5 key areas that will allow you to stay ahead of the game:
Seek to Understand Through Listening
This is a chance for leaders to learn and communicate ultimately level setting and getting everyone on the same page….
Prioritize and carve out time for employee feedback sessions. I recommend that the most senior organizational leaders sit in rooms (virtual or in person) with various levels of employees with the intention of learning through listening. Asking employees what they want to see in their work environment and obtaining verbatims of their personal experiences will help leaders become more connected to the employee body while also providing a pulse check on the mindset of people in the organization. These conversations will provide an opportunity for leaders to understand what challenges people are having, allowing them a chance to create solutions rather than looking the other way. Once these conversations, or listening sessions, have taken place, there should be a Town Hall to provide an overview of the chats that took place, what was learned, and what changes will happen based on the feedback. This is an excellent time for leadership to cover ground on employees frustrations that may not be able to change, given budget or some other barrier. Employees will be much less disappointed in a change that does not take place if they know why it is not happening.
2. Prepare For More Contract Workers
Plugging in opportunities for your contract workers to feel like actual employees will engage them more and catalyze them to dedicate more to your organization…
Contract work is becoming more and more prevalent, especially as the Millennial generation realizes that they can fulfill their goals of autonomy, flexibility, and variety by working as independent contractors. Additionally, many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic have found contract work to be easier to get than a full-time job. Lastly, many who worked in the service or other unstable industries during COVID, left to reskill themselves and have gotten into contract work as well. Another big tip that will be a huge win and leg up for organizations will be to establish a Center of Excellence with a very specific onboarding program for all contract workers. Often times contractors are thrown into their temporary role with little more than a dirty cubicle and a casual introduction to their boss. The appropriate company and role training, with an opportunity to meet and connect with the team, will allow temporary employees to feel more connected to their role, work, and the organization which will certainly make them more invested in the work they do. There is a strong possibility that in the future a VP or SVP role may be a contract rather than full-time worker and it is time to build the foundation for this now.
3. Succession Planning!
Often times succession planning is handled as a responsibility that needs to be checked off of the ‘to do’ list and it is time for it to become a priority. This work will help leaders identify the people that they absolutely must retain to drive the organization forward…
Now is the time to look at all of your employees and determine which ones are high-performing, low-performing, and who is in the middle. It is also the time to prioritize succession planning; it should be more than a quarterly meeting with HR but rather a daily occurrence where every leader is providing feedback, engaging with their team, and assessing work performance. In identification of your employees’ strengths and opportunities you will be able to assess important changes that need to take place now before a shift or potential resignations. Most importantly, this will help you identify the people that you absolutely do not want to lose.
4. Engage Your High Potentials, NOW
A very specific program dedicated to high potential employees will drive retention and pad your organization with high quality talent as the nature of work changes…
Pay attention to your high potentials, these are the employees you want to keep around no matter what but first you must understand what they want. Leaders should schedule routine 1:1 with these employees and learn how they can best support their career and personal development. My suggestion is for companies to stand up a High Potential Program with various trainings, events, ceremonies, and other forms of development and recognition to engage these highly qualified individuals. With a laser focus on this work, in addition to other organizational engagement programs, companies will have a better chance of retaining their best employees.
5. Level up Your HR Department
Your HR team can either make or break your culture-how is yours doing?
While HR supports with paperwork, documentation, and all of the other administrative work that most departments do not like to deal with, it is important to assess the quality of this team as they are the key drivers and influencers of employee engagement and retention. A big opportunity for many companies lies in their HR department, where you have individuals who are often qualified on paper but do not go big on the people stuff. While efficient at the paperwork and execution or delivery of an HR initiative there is a lack of creativity and concern when it comes to the commitment they should have to the employees' well-being. A big hindrance to a company’s culture could be the very team that is intended to support it. This deep routed issue is often overlooked as HR teams typically have an excellent culture, the problem is, the culture throughout the rest of the organization is completely different. A good HR team is more than paperwork and communication of organizational imperatives; they should be creative, think outside of the box, and be borderline obsessed with new ways of making things better all of the time. On the flipside, if you are a leader that shuts HR down every time they want to try something new or make something better, then it would behoove you to step aside and let them do the job they were meant to do. HR can be a company’s biggest asset or largest deficit and it is time to take notice.
While there is a plethora of information on employee engagement, the great resignation, and the future of work, simplicity is the way to go when looking at your workforce. The basics of human connection, asking questions, observing and improving the current culture, and embracing change are the things that will make a real difference.
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