The past twelve months have seen a tidal wave of resignations across the workforce -both in the UK and around the world. Not only have we witnessed employees leaving their roles, but we have also seen them pursuing entirely new career paths in droves.And it seems that this mass departure is happening across all levels within the workplace and pan sector too,albeit especially evident in the service and retail sectors.
To see the true extent of ‘The Great Resignation’ as it’s been coined, let’s look at some of the data:
- Job “quits” hit a high in September 2021, with over 4.4 million people leaving their jobs, and was followed by a modest reduction of that trend in October – The Bureau of Labor Statistics
- 41% of workers considered quitting or changing professions in 2021 -Microsoft
- In the UK, job vacancies soared to an all-time high in July last year, with available posts surpassing one million for the first time – ONS
- And in May, jobs site Reed.co.uk had its highest number of monthly postings since 2008. In August another 250,000 roles went live on their site – Reed.
- 38% of workers plan to quit their jobs in the next six months to a year – Personio
- In the US alone, April 2021 saw more than four million people quit their jobs – The Department of Labor. The biggest spike on record.
Quite clearly, there is a major issue at stake here. But why has it all come to a head as we start (albeit slowly) to come out of the pandemic?
I think we are seeing this churn as a result of three key reasons:
- Renewed confidence:There has always been churn in the market; people move roles all the time after all. However, over the last two years many people who may have wanted to move jobs have actually put these plans on hold for fear of an unstable job market. Many have favoured simply staying put.However, as we start to see some light at the end of the tunnel, many people are starting to feel more confident, and as a result are starting to actively seek new employment.
- Shifting priorities: For many, the pandemic has also triggered quite a shift in personal priorities too. For instance, it may have encouraged them to pursue a ‘dream job’; transition to being a stay-at-home parent; or perhaps join a purpose-led organisation committed to making changes for the better. It’s fair to say that people did a great deal of reflection and soul searching during the darkest days of the pandemic and as a result, many made a commitment to themselves to make changes and do something which really matters to them. And as time is telling, this is translating into a switch in career or employer.
- Negative perceptions and treatment: Unfortunately for some, the decision to leave their job has come as a direct result of the way their employer has treated them during the pandemic. Whether that be because their employer wasn’t understanding or flexible when it came to juggling childcare;how they dealt with the work from home environment;how safe and secure their employer made them feel during all the uncertainty; or even how the company treated its customers over this period.Subsequently many employees have developed negative perceptions and come to the realisation that enough is enough – they simply want out.
So, what can organisations do about this? And how can they retain, develop and also attract new talent whilst meeting the shifting – and very individual – needs of employees today?
In short, I believe this all comes down to an organisation getting their employee engagement strategy right. It needs to be an inclusive and collaborative programme of engagement, not a top-down directive from management.
Let me explain a little more, because there is often some misunderstanding here about what employee engagement really means. Let’s start with what it is not; employee engagement is not about short-term employee ‘happiness’ gains through receiving material benefits, like extra pay, bonuses, free fruit, reduced gym memberships, pizza Fridays and other similar perks. Rather it refers to the emotional commitment and connection an employee feels towards their employer organisation, specifically to its vision, its purpose and its goals. What I am talking about here is a sense of belonging, where employees feel they are seen, where they want to contribute and feel their contribution counts and where they are acknowledged. They want to know they are making a difference.
There is a lot to be said about belonging and feeling part of the greater whole. Nurturing the emotional connections between an employee and their workplace will motivate them to remain committed to the company in the long term and, of course, bring tangible benefits for everyone.
But the key to creating this sense of belonging is to focus on strategies that will give all employees a voice, an opportunity to contribute and make a difference (beyond understanding their job purpose) and to ensure that their voice is heard and recognised. Enabling and trusting employees at all levels in the workplace to make improvements, through facilitated structured opportunities will ensure employees are a driving force. So rather than feeling like the company is pulling them along with instructions from the top, employees will feel wholly connected and contribute directly toward its purpose and its goals.
We believe the most effective, sustainable and deep-rooted way to foster this is through collaborative problem-solving that embeds a continuous improvement mindset.The Team Improvement Circle Programme (‘TIC’ for short) implemented and managed by DRIVE Engagement is based upon trust, empowerment, teamwork, contribution and non-financial recognition. The Programme focuses on personal development for employees and equips them with fundamental continuous improvement tools and skills that empower them to make positive contributions and improvements in/to their work areas. Participation is voluntary and each team member has purpose in implementing their solution, enabling direct contribution(as well as a feeling of belonging) to the business and for the greater good.‘
Whilst this might sound like something ‘additional’ that many organisations feel they don’t have time(or energy!)for at present, it is absolutely something they should be focusing on right now.TIC is unique. It affords improvement benefits not just to the business but to participating employees too, whilst laying strong engagement foundations.
A holistic engagement and retention strategy along these lines that incorporates personal development, teamwork, contribution, empowerment and recognition (through acknowledgement, not ‘reward’ in a financial sense) can provide purpose, a sense of belonging and upskill team members so that they feel valued, trusted and appreciated. Organisations are already having to re-evaluate their wellbeing strategies quite dramatically in light of the challenges COVID has presented, but I would suggest that leaders would also do well to invest in personal development opportunities for their teams too. These development opportunities, like those gained through TIC,will help build and enable more resilient teams that feel empowered to want ‘go above and beyond’ to improve and contribute in making a difference that benefits personally, collectively and the wider business.
Here are two easy ‘start as you mean to go on’ New Year pledges to re-energise your teams and stimulate an environment where everyone feels willing and enabled to contribute:
- Acknowledge: Really ‘see’ your team(s) by making time for them each day within their working environment – to chat, to observe and to listen. Not only will this give you the opportunity to get to know your team(s) better, it’s also great for leaders to ‘be seen’ too. When people acknowledge us, we feel a connection with them. We feel valued – and this is so important to personal well-being, motivation and for fostering a healthy work culture. However, it’s not always possible to physically ‘see’ everyone, so alternatively a quick, but personal acknowledgement email or call can be a great way to show genuine interest, for example: ‘Sorry I missed you today but just wanted say thanks as I understand you worked through your lunch yesterday. This is much appreciated’. In my opinion, it’s these unexpected and seemingly little human acknowledgements that can really make a difference to how motivated we feel toward work and who we work for.
- Problem-solve together: When faced with a new challenge, trust in the knowledge and experience of your teams (as they know their jobs best!) and openly discuss the steps needed to solve and improve the issue together. Equip your teams with the problem-solving tools to establish root-cause, why and how the problem(s) occurred and put in place countermeasures to ensure that the business can avoid the issue happening again – it’s about empowering and trusting your teams to work together to resolve it for themselves. Not only will this ensure problem-solving becomes a learning process and mindset, but it will also demonstrate respect, trust and allow your teams to feel supported, listened to and able to make a valued contribution.
The start of 2022 is the time for leadership teams to champion and instigate a stronger engagement mindset – one that is both inclusive and collaborative. By ensuring opportunities for employees to develop and contribute, to be heard, to be seen, and by nurturing their sense of belonging, organisations can ensure they don’t become another casualty to ‘The Great Resignation’ – and perhaps unearth and retain some untapped talent from within too…