How To Adapt in “The Great Resignation”

What companies do in the near-term to improve the employee experience will have a significant impact on their future success. “The Great Resignation” is causing a disruptive change in how companies operate, lead, and manage their employees. Leverage has shifted from organizations to employees. The expectation that the company comes first is no longer going to be tolerated by the employees. Companies that fail to recognize this, or that react too slowly, will find themselves in serious trouble. The opposite is also true. With every disruptive change there will be companies that adapt quickly and prosper. The question becomes this: Will your organization be one that prospers or one that fails?

To understand how companies need to adapt, it’s important to understand why people are quitting. The answer is not as simple as the pandemic, stimulus packages, or laziness. A recent Gallup article coined it nicely by saying, “It’s not an industry, role or pay issue. It’s a workplace issue.” To say it another way, companies have an engagement issue. Many organizations have inadvertently designed out the things that create engagement and instead have created stagnate, disconnected, or even toxic workplaces. According to the Gallup survey, the three most common reasons employees are disengaged were:

  1. Not seeing opportunities for development
  2. Not feeling connected to the company’s purpose
  3. Not having strong relationships at work

Companies need to move away from organizational designs that see the workforce as expendable to ones that treat their employees (truly) as their best asset. This might require significant shifts in how companies operate, develop and compensate employees, design work, and manage their workforce.

Here are three ideas companies could start using now to help create a more engaging organization:

Customize the work to meet the needs of the company and the employee, equally. Expecting people to return to the office just because is not going to work. A recent survey by Grant Thornton showed that 79% of people want flexibility in when and where they work, and 40% said they would begin looking for another job if their company forced them to return to the office full-time. Many companies are leading the charge in going partial or fully remote, including companies like Ford, Microsoft, and PWC. Obviously, there are jobs that require more time in the office than others, so finding the right mix is critical. Consider this approach to help companies find that mix: have divisions or teams determine what works best for them and create a system that allows for adjustments (i.e., a quarterly assessment). This can be done by having a Leave Your Title at the Door session to identify or clarify KPIs, goals, or projects to be completed and what success looks like for the team. Then have an open discussion about how much time is required in the office to achieve those results and identify when that time should be. Follow the plan and use the achieved goals and measures to determine if revisions need to be made during the assessment meeting. This system allows for flexibility based on workload and determines success based on results, not just office time.

Invest heavily in leadership training. Being a good leader requires a complex set of skills and developing those skills well takes deliberate action. Companies should move away from the idea that creating leadership skills can be done fast and cheap, and instead focus on what their return on investment is for developing quality leaders. In the recent Gallop survey, they found it would take more than a 20% pay increase to get employees to leave a good manager and no pay increase to get them to leave a leader who creates disengagement. The purposeful development of key leadership behaviors is more important than ever. This includes identifying what those key leadership behaviors are at every level, training knowledge gaps, and providing coaching to ensure those skills are transferred to the workplace. Understanding why people do what they do and how to maximize their influence on other people’s behaviors both in person and virtually will be vital as companies create the new working environment.     

Create a shared sense of winning. There are two parts to this recommendation: 1) Organizations need to better communicate what winning looks like and why it’s important, and 2) Organizations need to develop clear paths for employees to learn, develop, and help the organization be successful. Clear communication around winning can increase the reinforcing value of achieving results. Other ways to increase the value around achieving results include having employees select what results they want to focus on or setting goals that are aligned with the organization’s strategic initiatives. Providing paths for employees to learn, grow new skills, and have clear advancement opportunities will also increase engagement within your organization. Once these recommendations are established, then compensation systems can be adapted to create alignment between organization success and the success of the workforce.

Based on the recent survey data and labor market, expecting employees to go back to the way things used to be is unrealistic. Organizations need to decide if they want to prosper by adapting or risk decline by ignoring the issue. Companies at the forefront of adapting will find themselves surrounded by an engaged and productive workforce. Using these strategies can help an organization directly address disengagement while instilling new systems, processes, and leadership strategies to elevate engagement and the employee experience.    

Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.