There’s considerable consternation around the “Great Resignation.” This past spring, we witnessed job openings at an unprecedented 9.3 million. In August, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that “4.3 million Americans, or 2.9 percent of the entire workforce, quit their jobs,” according to National Public Radio.
One common thread in this workforce movement is a need to reassess what matters most. The pandemic and the rise of remote work have altered how we view our lives, UC Berkeley economist Ulrike Malmendier writes. This kind of revolutionary soul searching demands our attention and shapes our choices.
People are leaving their jobs for a variety of reasons — sometimes toward what might be, other times away from what is. Stagnation — in compensation or scope of work — has made people restless.
Recently a client shared that the business nearly lost a good employee who felt underpaid and burned out. The employee sought relief via a new career path elsewhere, and one that the HR director knew was not a good fit. After extended conversations with the team member, the HR director was able to retain the employee by addressing compensation and revising the role to meet both the individual’s needs and the organization’s needs. She approached the issue with what was first and foremost in the best interest of the employee.
What sustains a person in the topsy-turvy times in which we live? For many, it’s the choice of quality of life over the perceived stability of the status quo. There’s a sense that one’s well-being needs to be prioritized over participation in the daily grind.
Understandably, many employers are struggling with how to address the retention issue. Business leaders are churning over which strategies might preserve their teams. Rather than grasping, handwringing or lamenting, consider this workforce shift a necessary disruption to building a stronger, healthier culture. Think of it as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of team members and your connection to them.
Do you know what they care about? Do you know how they feel respected? Do you know their struggles? People flourish when there is purpose and a sense of belonging. If work is meaningful, and contributions are appreciated, you have a foundation for a more satiated staff.
However, in today’s environment, more may be required. The prevalent idea for some professionals that work is the centerpiece of their identity is starting to rival the notion that meaning might be found elsewhere. Employers who understand that, make room for that, and create workplaces that honor that, will be rewarded.
Nurture a “work community.” Whether our work is a means to an end or a cultivated identity, it can be made richer if the relationships are authentic, supportive and trusted. Relationships are nurtured with real conversations about what really matters, by investing time and energy to get to know each other, by respecting our differences and by keeping our agreements. Healthy team dynamics shape a sense of community that feeds the human need for connection. An investment in people’s abilities to communicate, connect and grow is an investment in a work community.
Build in flexibility. Working from home has unearthed the possibilities of prioritizing our non-work life. Taking care of ourselves, our families, our friends and community has emerged as essential to our well-being. Having flexibility in how we structure our days, how we contribute to a project, or how we deliver on our accountabilities has become an alluring approach to employee happiness. Often, this will require leaders to get clear on roles, responsibilities, deliverables, workflow and priorities so flexibility is achievable. As organizations build flexibility into their DNA, they may also gain the added benefits of being nimble and creative in their work product.
Invite engagement for your team’s sake, not the bottom line. Yes, you are in business to serve your mission and make money. If, however, you understand what team members value and where they find meaning, you are making space for the whole person. And that whole person is more likely to feel inspired to show up in an engaged manner. As you deepen your understanding of what makes your team tick, you are better positioned to build on their strengths and invoke their best selves.
None of this negates the value in making work meaningful. And it is still essential to find the right fit, to cultivate potential, and inspire excellence. These strategies will likely never go out of vogue. It simply acknowledges the reality that work alone neither defines nor satiates someone.
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes that the Great Resignation is ushering in “a centrifugal moment in American economic history.” He believes it’s needed. “Gimme an economy with more quits, more migration, and more entrepreneurship,” he writes. “It will be better for workers, for families, for productivity, and for technological development and innovation.”
If organizations embrace the shifting landscape of the workplace and the needs of its people, the conversation of retention will change fundamentally. The invitation is to think differently, and to think in terms of what will make life better.
Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or [email protected].