According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary released in June 2021, approximately four million people quit their jobs in April. What are these people looking for? Many are rethinking what work means and are in search of greater work-life balance and flexibility. They’re taking stock of how they’re valued by companies and the ways they spend their time. This massive exodus of people leaving jobs is now known as “The Great Resignation.” It reflects not just numbers, but a broader change in the ways people take ownership of their careers.
Whether this is a temporary trend or a paradigm shift, executives and HR leaders need to assess the attractiveness of their businesses to the workforce. They need to determine if their policies and cultures will enhance employee retention or will spur employees to stampede for the door seeking greener pastures.
Recognizing employee preferences
Due to the pandemic, millions of workers have experienced remote work for an extended period. Despite its challenges, they have grown used to the increased flexibility, work-life balance, time, and savings it affords. In recent research from Prudential, the Pulse of the American Worker Survey finds that 42 percent of current remote workers say they will look for another job if their employer discontinues work-from-home as an option.
HR teams and managers need to recognize the evolving employee preferences that remote work has inspired. They should adjust their strategies accordingly if their business plans call for a return to the office. Leaders also need to evaluate the expectations placed on remote workers to avoid falling victim to the “Great Resignation.” While job expectations depend on the employee’s position, in most cases, employees shouldn’t have to respond to emails or messages outside of established work hours. Clear communication from management about remote work expectations streamlines the parameters and efficiencies of remote and hybrid work models. It also helps avoid misunderstandings and reduces frustrations or friction that might lead to resignations or poor performance.
Business and HR leaders need to determine whether utilizing a hybrid model is a better strategy than an “all-or-nothing” approach. The former incorporates the employee’s desire for flexibility with the need for in-office interaction and collaboration. The Prudential survey notes that 68 percent of surveyed workers (working remote and in-office) feel the hybrid workplace model is optimal. Large companies like Cisco are taking notice, recently announcing plans to implement a long-term hybrid work model. The flexibility of the hybrid model satisfies different work styles and job functions. For example, it gives a product manager in-person access to the design and sales teams while an accountant has the option to work most days from a quiet home office.
How the right culture attracts and retains talent
Businesses that stand out over the long term are those that have established employee-centric cultures. The pandemic has put an enormous financial and mental strain on the workforce. So as part of the “Great Resignation,” many workers are flocking towards firms built on strong cultures of fairness and empathy.
Returning to an office may be a shock to many workers that spent the last 18 months at home. It necessitates a shift in their schedules and adds worries about exposure to infection. Organizations mandating a return to in-office arrangements have a tough road ahead. It will be difficult to convince their workforces that they are factoring in employees’ health and lives outside the workplace. To ease employees back into it, businesses can start by adding flexible scheduling. This is valuable even for in-office workers and was becoming more common even before the pandemic. For example, if someone needs to care for a sick child, their employer can allow them to work from home without penalty. Companies can also revisit their vacation policies to retain workers, promoting more generous time-off packages to help employees recharge.
Another cultural shift companies are grappling with is whether to move towards a more productivity-centric model. Organizations are realizing that productivity is not simply about the hours workers spend at their computers or workstations.
While hard work remains essential and merits accolades and compensation, businesses need to make productivity and task completion the metric. Many workers complete tasks in the time they’re given, whether it’s 45 minutes or a full day. Afterward, they sometimes worry if they’ve finished the assignment too fast or too slow. This contributes to a sense of complacency, doubt, and even fear. Instead, organizations should aim for a positive, task-oriented culture where employees receive positive feedback based on contributions and ingenuity.
Many of the most attractive companies offer top-tier benefits packages to promote physical and mental health. They drive positive workplace connections, not through constant Zoom meetings, but through recognition, and open communication. To avoid the “Great Resignation,” managers and HR professionals need to reaffirm that they value their employees. Also, they need to remember that their opinions and suggestions carry weight and can produce impactful change.
Firms can implement innovative practices such as “demo days.” These allow employees to showcase their work in informal settings and openly discuss challenges in their roles. Employee surveys and executive mentorship are also effective. These efforts provide employees with an actionable sounding board, combined with senior-level guidance. This lowers the chances that management will make decisions based on their own assumptions instead of actual data, feedback, and interactions with employees.
Navigating a business through the “Great Resignation” requires patience and understanding of employee needs. Organizations need to create employee-focused cultures built on open discussion and empathy. They should also offer attractive benefits and time-off packages, emphasize quality over quantity, and promote creativity and productivity over drudgery.