The pandemic and the resultant time spent working from home whilst societies were in lockdown has made millions of people re-evaluate the psychological contract they have with their employers. They’ve been considering what they’re receiving in return for their time, skills and effort and deciding it’s not equitable.
What has caused the change in the balance of this work/reward equation? Some suggest it has been caused by a reduced tolerance for a workplace culture where stress, unhappiness and burnout are all prevalent.
The consequential swathe of people leaving their jobs has been dubbed The Great Resignation and is not limited to one particular society; it’s happening globally.
Consider this study that has just been released by Joblist:
For businesses, as valued talent has walked out the door, it’s meant a drop in service levels and a massive increase in re-hiring and re-training costs. Customer experience has inevitably suffered from the distraction to senior management, loss of budget as resources are redeployed towards HR functions, and less experienced staff being thrust onto the frontline. The consequences of a poorer customer experience are of course higher customer churn, more complaints, less referrals, lower sales, and reduced employee engagement.
It is therefore critical for employers to address The Great Resignation. And contrary to popular belief, the solution isn’t as simple as just increasing remuneration packages across the board. Pay increases are like discounts – they provide a short-term improvement but are soon accepted as the norm leaving the organisation with the same problem but even less room to move.
No, the solution for companies is to improve employee experience which is defined as how an employee feels about a company based on every interaction they’ve had with the company for the duration of their employment.
“Every interaction” sounds like a lot, and it is. It includes your hiring process, your induction program, the tools you provide, the office location, and of course your culture. Some factors are going to be more important to your employees than others which is why I recommend conducting an employee journey mapping session to understand which touchpoints with the company have a higher impact on perception than others. These points in the employee journey are referred to as Moments of Truth and they are crucial to get right.
If creating an employee journey map is not an option though, here are some things I would do if I was looking to stem The Great Resignation at my own company.
Start with purpose
One of the best books I read this year was The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek in which he proposes the practice of ‘advancing a just cause’ as part of leading with an infinite mindset. A ‘just cause’ is the reason your company exists and if it is perceived as being just and is articulated well, it will inspire shareholders to invest in you, customers to buy from you, and employees to work for you. Find something that the company contributes to beyond profits. Something larger than the organisation. What positive impact on the world does your organisation have? If you can find that and articulate it, you’ll give employees a reason beyond pay and benefits to sacrifice their time and effort for you.
Listen and act on feedback
People are much more likely to engage at work if they feel they’re being listened to so take the time to get their thoughts (either through 1-on-1’s with managers or via employee surveys) and then, and this is the important part, act on what they’re telling you. Operationalise the analysis of feedback and the resultant change initiatives that come from that feedback. Allocate accountability for the changes and ensure that a reporting structure is put in place to keep track of progress. Importantly, keep employees updated on the changes through regular communication.
Prepare for change
To meet that challenge of The Great Resignation, organisations are going to need to change. Step 1 is to accept that. Step 2 is to prepare for those changes. Do you know what percentage of organisational change projects fail? Seventy percent. That’s huge. So companies need to give themselves the best chance of success by employing change management specialists as part of the project team implementing change initiatives to manage the human impact of changes. It’s not process or technology that usually kills off changes. It’s people. So manage them carefully. Ensure they understand the reason for the change, how they can assist with it, and how it will make their lives better once implemented.
Retrain middle management
In large organisations there’s an entire layer of middle management that have never managed a remote workforce before. For a manager used to the comfort of seeing someone in the office every day, that can be challenging. With employees now spending a lot of their week working from home, middle managers need to be trained on how to manage the new dynamic where the majority of their interactions with direct reports will take place over videoconference and a healthy amount of trust is required that employees will be ‘doing the right thing’. I’ve got no doubt that there would be people walking away from their jobs right now because they perceive that trust isn’t there and feel that they’re being micromanaged or that their claims are being viewed with scepticism.
It’s always been important to build trust with employees but during a crisis such as a pandemic, it’s critical. If you’re looking to even up the ledger in an employee’s mind about what they give to and receive from work, building trust helps to tip the scales in the organisation’s favour. And it’s not that difficult to do, nor is it expensive. Be transparent, act according to the organisation’s values, follow through on commitments, communicate openly and often, and encourage responsibility and accountability (including, of course, your own).
The Great Resignation is proving to be a wake-up call to organisations around the world that to keep good staff they need to change. Some of these changes will not be easy but the long-term payoffs of improved employee and customer experience, a better culture, and higher staff retention will more than justify the pain of making them.
Image courtesy of UnSplash.
This post first appeared on the ICMI blog in February, 2022. I started my career in my early 20’s working
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