The latter half of the 2021 has seen record high levels of resignations in the US and Western Europe. This trend has been termed the ‘Great Resignation’, the ‘Big Quit’ or the ‘Great Attrition’.
Numerous studies have shown that the reason behind the ‘Great Resignation’ is that workers are fed up with their working lives and patterns.
They are rejecting the long-held idea that work was something you just did to pay the bills. Now employees want their working lives to be meaningful, as well as to work in places that value work-life balance and share their values.
Of course, these record-breaking quit rates are panicking many organizations who are still grappling with the ongoing pandemic.
But should they switch their mindset and see the ‘Big Quit’ as an opportunity for employers the world over to rethink how to make workplaces of the future better than those of the past?
Time for the ‘Great Adaptation’
In a recent OpEd for UNLEASH, YuLife’s Sammy Rubin argued that the ‘Great Resignation’ is actually a blessing in disguise for businesses.
“Like many challenges of COVID-19, the ‘Great Resignation’ also brings with it a vast and untapped opportunity for business leaders to recalibrate how they approach employer-employee relations,” writes Rubin.
A recent episode of The McKinsey Podcast, three experts from the consultancy – Aaron De Smet, Bill Schaninger and Roberta Fusaro – share that successful retention of talent in the current highly competitive war for talent requires managers to change their leadership styles.
“Now’s the time for a little of a ‘let’s hit pause and restart about how we’re going to re-engage the workforce’,” says Schaninger.
He continues that it is “absurd” that employers think they can dictate the terms of returning to the office; this is the approach many investment banks and tech giants have taken, and it has not gone down well with employees. “Anything that..goes ‘thou shalt’, they’re gonna walk away from it”, notes Schaninger.
Instead, the discussion about where and when people work needs to be an “exchange” where employers and workers come to an “understanding” about the best balance for the business and the individual.
The need for new leadership methods
In this context, leaders and managers need to move away from control and more on culture and driving connections between colleagues and teams.
De Smet notes with regard to measuring activity vs output: “Is it better to write 20 emails or ten? Well, 20 is twice as much as ten. If you’re creating a presentation, 20 slides is twice as much as ten slides.
“I think all of us would say, if you can get higher-quality information with fewer words and less output, that’s better.”
So the future of work needs to break with the presenteeism mindset where input and time are valued over “impact, outcomes and results”.
This involves a significant shift in mindset. While this is already happening in some organizations with working from home, it seems that others are likely to continue to prioritize visibility in the office over outcomes, thereby creating two classes of working in the hybrid working world.
Schaninger explains the issue is that “we have a generation of leaders in the last gasp of that form of control. They’re largely folks who were raised by boomers, mostly men, with someone to take care of their children. Their identity is tied up with work.”
They see employees asking for more flexibility or more career development opportunities as them “not playing ball”. But managers need to stop seeing employees as servants. “They’re not there to do your whim. They’re there because they have a purpose…an identity”.
At the end of the day, Schaninger notes: “We are all humans in a rather crazy environment, trying to figure out how work fits in. If you don’t accommodate that, the employees are going to make it simple for you because they’re not going to be your employees anymore.”
How to shift the mindset
But what must employers and managers do to move beyond this industrial revolution mindset and towards a culture-driven relationship with employees?
De Smet notes that companies still need to have competitive salaries, but “it’s not enough”.
This is echoed by a recent UNLEASH interview with Gartner’s Brian Kropp who argued wage increases will not be sufficient to tackle the ‘Great Resignation’ as it just creates feelings of resentment and unfairness at work.
Instead, employees want to work for a company with values and purpose, as well as be empowered to test different things out, see what sticks and learn from what doesn’t.
“You want to create an environment where it is ok to share lessons about what’s not working”, explains De Smet. “If you never fail, you probably aren’t being bold enough.”
Further to this in the ‘Great Resignation’ and future of work, employee “engagement is not enough anymore”; now there is a need for a “much more robust, multifaceted view of the employee experience that goes beyond satisfaction”, according to De Smet.
Schaninger agrees. He also emphasizes how important employee listening is, but only if companies actually act on what they are being told. “When people claim they have survey fatigue, they’re not tired of you asking them. They’re upset about you not doing anything with it.”
Personalized employee experiences are the future, according to De Smet; this is something PwC’s Chris de Waal also emphasized in a recent Applaud webinar. This is because digital experiences are tailored in their personal lives. “Mass customization is real, and the data’s all there”, explains Schaninger.
Schaninger and De Smet are very clear that companies that fail to shift their mindset will struggle in the future of work.
“They will find their labor costs rising, their attrition increasing, their employer brand plummeting, and they will pay more and more for people who care less and less about them and what they do. They will have a completely mercenary workforce. And that will all be because they’ve had a death grip on what they thought control was. It’s not going to work,” concludes Schaninger.
Ultimately, the ‘Great Resignation’ really is the survival of a fittest; those who adapt will survive, those that don’t, won’t. It is that simple.