How to Stem the Flow of the Great Resignation

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Has the pandemic triggered serious thoughts about changing your job?

If so, you are one of a rapidly rising number of people.  A recent survey of over 6,000 workers show that almost a quarter are “actively planning to change employers in the next few months”, while the volume of Google searches for “leave job” has increased by 50% since the pandemic began.

It seems that after the initial panic and insecurity they provoke, seismic global events can make us re-evaluate our choices, and think about whether we might be able to do better in future.

According to an article by Tortoise Media, recent government data shows that 791,000 people switched jobs between April and June.  The last time it was higher than this, claims the article, was in March 2008, “at the height of the global financial crisis”.

“Crisis makes us ask the big questions”

A topical FT article written by the psychotherapist Esther Perel has highlighted some of the questions and dilemmas thrown up for many people in recent months.  For example, many workers are starting to reject the idea of earning more money, in favour of work that has deeper meaning. 

Others crave greater flexibility.  After almost a year of largely successful remote working, why would they want to return to the soul-crushing daily commute, particularly if doing so means spending far less time with their loved ones? 

“When people say you should bring your whole self to work, I say they already do, just not consciously”, Perel writes.  “Much as we might try, we do not disassociate from the outside world – or from our internal states – between 9am and 5pm”.

Meanwhile, after such mental and emotional upheaval, some workers are looking for their employers to provide a secure sense of belonging – which is not easily found as they log into Zoom meetings from the kitchen table.

“The key behavioural element at play here is a sense of loss”

In a thought piece for the CIPD’s People Management magazine, the behavioural scientist Lindsay Kohler discusses the heightened level of uncertainty over the last 18 months. “…people have felt out of control of what’s going on around them.  So where can they exert control?  Their job and how they make money”.

In other words, if your employees don’t feel fulfilled by – or at least in control of – their work and the environment in which they perform their duties, now is extremely likely to be the time for them to look elsewhere. 

That is, if they haven’t done so already.

Treat employees as the individuals they are

As we’ve seen, there are a multitude of reasons why employees might question their future with their current organisation.

Listening to them individually, therefore, is a good first step towards making them feel heard and in greater control.  In a calm and confidential environment, ask open-ended questions about how they are, and what they feel they need, in order to feel both happy and productive. 

Remember that what may seem to be the ideal solution for one employee may not work for another.  For some, you may also need to look past their initial frustrations to find the right way forward.

As Esther Perel writes, “one manager cannot change the reality that more women than men have dropped out of the workforce during this pandemic.  But they can ask the working mother on their team juggling remote work and home-schooling if it would help if they had more flexible working hours”.

Re-evaluate organisational culture for a vastly altered future

Just as employees are re-evaluating their individual futures, so should organisations.  Leaders should ask themselves what they most want their culture to look and feel like, how it should be embodied, and how it can successfully adapt to a changed world – not least, one that involves hybrid working.

As Lindsay Kohler concludes, “the businesses that get (their people strategies) right are less likely to be affected by the Great Resignation and will be able to retain and attract the best people to work with”.

For specific guidance on post-pandemic retention, or to ask any questions, please contact our expert team at Viridian HR.

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