Most everyone will agree that 2021 was filled with brief moments of hope, but there were also numerous setbacks for many companies. The uncertainty of the future has caused a plethora of emotions for employers and employees in every industry. We are currently living in an environment that has been labeled ‘The Great Resignation’ a term coined by Professor Anthony Klotz, Texas A&M University. This environment is also known as the ‘Big Quit’ by economists. It is the new phenomena on every employee and employer’s mind.
Could this current environment provide meaningful, long-term change to workplace culture and the way companies invest in their employees?
Alison Omens, Chief Strategy Officer of JUST Capital, believes the answer is yes. “The change was happening before the pandemic, with a real increase in what people are looking for in terms of their expectations of CEOs and companies.” Clearly, the pandemic just brought this mindset to the forefront.
Every Challenge is an Opportunity
As someone who works regularly with leaders and companies all over the world, I have witnessed many challenges both personally and professionally. I am a firm believer that for every challenge we are faced with, an even greater opportunity presents itself to capitalize on this moment that will help companies succeed in the future and win. The determining factor is always how leaders decide to show up and respond.
As we are nearing the end of another calendar year, leaders and organizations are presented with a unique challenge, but also a unique and pivotal opportunity to drive impact from now until the end of the year. In 2020 and 2021, there was an undeniable havoc on the workplace. For both employers and employees. Globally, the working hours and income lost in 2020 added up to the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs. Workplace closures, layoffs and a steep rise in unemployment are enough to make anyone who’s managed to hold onto their job feel some measure of gratitude—or, at least, pressure to be grateful.
A Microsoft survey in 2021, of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year, and a study from Personio, the HR Software Company, workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor—the biggest spike on record.
With as many as 95% of workers considering a job change, 9.3 million openings, and 4 million workers resigning in just one month, it’s a valid concern.
So why is this happening?
Poor Company Culture and Unsupportive Environments
Workers who, pre-pandemic, were already teetering on the edge of quitting companies with existing poor company culture saw themselves pushed to a breaking point. That’s because, as evidenced by a recent Stanford Study, many of these companies with bad environments doubled-down on decisions that didn’t support workers, such as layoffs or salary cuts (while, conversely, companies that had good culture tended to treat employees well). This drove out already disgruntled workers who survived the layoffs but could plainly see they were working in unsupportive environments.
Although workers have always cared about the environments in which they work, the pandemic added an entirely new dimension: an increased willingness to act, says Alison Omens, Chief Strategy Officer of JUST Capital, the research firm that collected much of the data for the study. “Our data over the years has always shown that the thing people care about most is how companies treat their employees,” according to Omens. “That’s measured by multiple metrics, including wages, benefits and security, opportunities for advancement, safety and commitment to equity. And the early days of the pandemic reminded us that people are not machines. If you’re worried about your kids, about your health, financial insecurity and covering your bills, and all the things that come with being human, you’re less likely to be productive. And we were all worried about those things.”
And now, according to the Prudential Pulse of the American Worker Survey, nearly 45% of workers say their decision to stay in their jobs hinges on how their employers handle workplace reentry. As an employer, it may be worrying to hear the statistics and new concerns of your employees, but it doesn’t have to be.
Following are a few actionable ideas that leaders can implement from now until the end of the year to launch a strong impact for 2022.
Consider Offering Flexibility
Consider creating and/or maintaining a Hybrid Workplace for your employees if you have an office environment, and if it is possible. The Hybrid Workplace became prevalent with Zoom in 2020. And it is still popular for many businesses. According to the latest quarterly Randstad US Work Monitor survey, 82% of U.S. workers polled say the ability to work from anywhere at any time allows them to maintain a healthy work-life balance, but more than half (62%) still prefer to work in the office—and this number is even higher among young workers.
Sixty-five percent of those aged 18–24 said they prefer working in a traditional office environment, challenging the widespread perception that millennial and Gen Z workers tend to prefer digital interactions over personal ones.
A smart hybrid model is about so much more than simply offering employees a level of flexibility in work location. After all, a hybrid environment impacts everything from company culture to employees’ perceived opportunities for advancement.
Create a Workplace Wellness Solution
Mental health is at an all-time low for employees. There is rampant employee burnout. This creates an additional crisis for employers struggling to address the challenges of the pandemic. Employees reported a 48% increase for risk of depression between November and December, according to the Mental Health Index by Total Brain and the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchase Coalitions.
As an employer, work diligently to create a Wellness Platform with your team’s health in mind. From fitness and meditation sessions to cooking classes, art workshops and expert-led workshops, you can keep your team healthy, happy, and engaged. Everywhere you turn, you read about the mental health challenges employees all around the country are facing and trying to cope with. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago for that matter, telling an organization and its leaders to address mental well-being would be laughable. It wasn’t even remotely a focus as a key ingredient to not only enhance the employee experience, but also drive organizational performance.
Today, the exact opposite is true. An organization that doesn’t address burnout and mental well-being will be an organization that watches a major percentage of its workforce walk out. I believe it’s the responsibility for every organization to build an environment for its people to excel at their job, but also thrive in life. When this is a focus of an organization, it will not only be able to keep top talent, but it will also positively shape their talent attraction efforts. Now a days, this isn’t a perk. It’s a requirement to compete and win in the future of work.
There are multiple ways an organization can address this mounting concern. One of the easiest and most powerful ways is for leaders to set the tone by publicly acknowledging the matter in an authentic and open way. Until this important step happens, all other initiatives and efforts are in risk of missing the mark in the fear of others speaking up. Once the leaders set the tone, you can then offer employee resource groups, provide workshops centered around health and mindfulness, or explore other avenues to address this growing concern head on.
Don’t Stop Communicating
It’s amazing to me how companies drastically increased their communication at the beginning of the pandemic but eventually, that died down. Keep communicating and don’t stop. Be open. Empathetic. Caring. Talking with your employees and describing what’s happening in your company’s near future is crucial. This has proven to be an extremely effective morale booster time and time again. Every employee has a deep desire to know where the company stands, where the company is going, and what to expect moving forward. Encouraging your employees to speak up and share their concerns with you will help foster an environment of understanding and empathy in your workplace and will inform your upcoming moves and decisions regarding workplace policy and culture.
As a Leader, Be Clear About Your 2022 Expectations
Your expectations of your employees work hand-in-hand with your communication. Communicate to them what you expect! Many employers forget this. When employees are asked, “What does your manager expect of you in 2022?” what do you think they will say? As a leader, your people deserve to know what’s expected of them and what they can do to grow within their specific role to help the company progress. You can’t just wait a week before the end of the year during their year-end review and briefly touch on 2022 expectations. Be clear and open. Talk about your expectations now!
Celebrate Accomplishments: It’s the Little Things
With a month and a half left in the year, this is a great time to build excitement and celebrate the employees’ accomplishments, along with your accomplishments as an organization. It’s extremely powerful when the leaders of an organization prioritize the acknowledgement and success, both little and small, and consistently communicate those wins. Whether you hand out awards, spend thirty minutes highlighting important successes during a company-wide meeting, host a celebration for a team’s performance, or throw a big holiday party, make it a priority to celebrate accomplishments. This may seem like a small gesture, but after the challenging two years that we all have experienced, sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. You can help set the tone for 2022 by celebrating accomplishments during challenging times along with the good, and it will help ignite enthusiasm for the future.
Be A Visionary: Think Big
A visionary is someone who never lets their current circumstances get the best of them while they relentlessly envision a bigger future for themselves, their employees, and for their communities.
There are passionate men and women who outshine others simply because of their desire to constantly expand their vision as to what is possible. Brilliant thinkers and dreamers across the gamut of human knowledge, from anthropology to neuroscience, from the writer to the painter, from consumerism to brand advertising, from farmer to entrepreneur, from poetry to mathematics, from philosophy to engineering, from history to cognitive psychology—who have all been passionate visionaries who continually improve and change our world, no matter what the circumstances are.
Don’t let this current environment of ‘The Great Resignation’ get the better of you and your employees. We need visionaries now more than ever.
You can be one of them, too.