In May 2021 (18 months ago) Professor Anthony Klotz from University College London coined the phrase the ‘Great Resignation’.
The professor predicted that because of the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic wrought on people’s lives, employees would quit their jobs en masse.
And he was right; workers across the world have been resigning in record numbers due to sky-high burnout levels, a lack of career advancement in their current company or flexible working opportunities, and a desire to work somewhere that shares their values.
Many thought the ‘Great Resignation’ would be stopped in its tracks by a looming recession, and a cost of living crisis. Inflation in the UK and the US has hit forty-year highs in 2022, and European Union (EU) countries are not far behind.
In this context, it’d make sense for employees to play it safe and stay at their current job – but that isn’t the reality. Research shows that the cost of living crisis is pushing employees to look for pay rises, and they know this is much more likely to happen when they change jobs, than from their current employer.
Move over ‘Great Resignation’
These economic realities – which have been worsened by soaring gas and energy prices as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – will change the narrative from employees simply resigning in large numbers, to workers raising their voices and saying ‘enough is enough’ en masse.
Or, at least, this is the view of behavioral scientist (and Forbes contributor) Lindsay Kohler.
She has coined this reality the ‘Great Rebellion’, and points to the unionization drives in the US and that the UK has seen the largest amount of industrial action on the railways since the late 1980s as evidence. More strikes are planned for December, and it is predicted industrial action may remain commonplace until mid-2023.
What makes the ‘Great Rebellion’ different from the ‘Great Resignation’ is it is more collective. For Kohler, the ‘Great Rebellion’ isn’t just about one employee wanting a better job, it is about making the world of work fairer for all.
It is representative of general frustration at inequality in the workplace – in a cost of living crisis where people are really struggling to make ends meet, workers are fed up with being denied pay rises, promotions and decent working conditions when senior executives still receive their bonuses.
Kohler writes in Forbes: “We’ve already transformed how and where we work over the last two years. Perhaps the next changes will be for who and how much.
“This is an opportunity to disrupt the status quo and create conditions where we’re all collectively a little bit better off.
“If done right, “The Great Rebellion” can be a force of change that will benefit all.”
The question remains, if we are now living in the ‘Great Rebellion’, what must employers do to nip it in the bud? UNLEASH spoke to HR experts to find out their advice.
Listen and take action
The ‘Great Rebellion’ shows “there are still unsolved issues that are making people angry – or ‘rebellious’”, leadership coach Edoardo Binda Zane tells UNLEASH.
In his view there are two ways to “sedate a rebellion: you either repress it or you start a dialogue”. The options are “you disregard them [and hope they quit] or fire them. You basically get rid of the bad apples and hope you’ll be better off without their voice” or “you listen to what they have to say, building a trusting relationship, and find some agreement on how work is going to be dealt with”.
Binda Zane shares that most companies opt for the first option; Yes, “it’s faster, cheaper and more effective in the very short term, but it obviously has massive negative impacts on the rest of the people”, and leads to high talent acquisition and onboarding costs to replace those who quit or are fired.
“Option two is less palatable for many, but so much better in the medium term”.
Authenticity, psychological safety and LGBTQ+ inclusion consultant Gina Battye states that in the ‘Great Rebellion’, “your employees are giving you valuable feedback that something isn’t working. Listen to what your employees are saying to you… and co-create solutions with them”.
Thomas International’s chief people officer Gillian Ward agrees on the importance of listening. “Business must listen to resisters, rather than fight against them. By actively listening to employees and doing something as a result, organizations can…foster a culture of trust, empowerment and outcome-based working in these difficult times”.
Roz Sheldon, managing director of Igniyte, also notes that “listening to rebellious employees must take place…Rebellious activities should give you insight in how to improve and where things are going wrong inside the company”.
Of course, the most important thing is taking action based on that feedback.
“Taking the time to understand employee concerns is an important step, but that needs to be followed up with action, otherwise it can actually backfire and employees become even more disgruntled,” notes The Kaplan Group president Dean Kaplan.
“Not every problem is solvable”, but taking some action (and recognizing the need for continual improvements), employees “will naturally be grateful and attitudes will improve. Treating employees the way you would want to be treated will go a long way towards making [things better]..in the long run”.
Appreciate and reward workers
Sheldon adds that the employees who are rebelling are most likely those “who know they are a valuable employee to their company, and feel they are high performing”, but are frustrated by the decisions made by leadership.
Therefore, the experts recommend that organizations also rethink how they recognize hard work in the ‘Great Rebellion’. “It’s a basic human need to be seen and appreciated”, notes Highland Performance Solutions founder and CEO Patricia Carl.
Sodexo Engage’s chief marketing officer Jamie MacKenzie tells UNLEASH the solution to the ‘Great Rebellion’ is boosting employee engagement and satisfaction.
“Using benefits and reward programs to thank employees for their hard work will go a long way to proving to them that their leaders are taking their concerns seriously”.
Tom Cornell, senior psychology consultant at HireVue, agrees that rewards and a recognition program is part of the solution, “promoting transparency around clear career progression for employees” is also crucial.
Particularly because frustration with their current work – and a lack of career development opportunities – are leading causes of the ‘Great Resignation’ and the ‘Great Rebellion’.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
When employers are thinking about rewards, recognition and career development, “there should never be a one-size-fits all approach”, according to Sodexo Engage’s MacKenzie.
“Employees span such a broad range of ages, backgrounds and cultures. What’s motivating to some, may be of little interest to others”, adds MacKenzie.
This brings us back full circle to listening; your employees are telling you what they personally want and need, use that to “build inclusive benefits packages that suit each individual”.
Highland Performance Solutions’ Carl agrees. “We are at a point where leaders must lean in to a ‘one-size-fits-one’ leadership style by learning to honor their team members’ differences and deliver personalized leadership practices.
“In the end, your people know how they work better than you do.
“Work with your direct reports to understand their needs and co-create working environments that are conducive to their motivations, preferences and work styles.”
Ultimately, whether the ‘Great Rebellion’ is a reality or not, like the ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ trends before it, it proves that employees are dissatisfied and disengaged at work.
And, if employers want to avoid high attrition rates or industrial action, they need to do something about it.
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