By Deborah Gray, Director, Totum Partners
One of the legacies of the pandemic will be that the Great Resignation enters the lexicon of HR-speak, a term with an echo of times gone by when great migrations followed famines and pandemics, driving people to seek new lives in new worlds. But in true 21st century style, the migration we now see is one that leads employees out of the workplace in search of a better quality of life without going too far.
In many ways, that is laudable. Having the freedom to make that choice says a lot for the spirit, confidence and aspirations of those who opt for a better work-life balance. More time for gardening and watching your favourite box set is good for a healthy mind and personal well-being.
But for employers, it presents a challenge: how to make work more attractive so that employees think twice about leaving. Staff retention is a critical issue right now for businesses looking to grow back strongly after the pandemic and all the uncertainty. After all, the reality is that for talent with relevant experience to offer, it’s a sellers’ market.
The Great Resignation is a term that originates in the US. Last year, the so-called “quit rate” average 3.95 million a month in the US, peaking at 4.5 million in November, easily the record. In the UK, it hasn’t got to that stage, but as is the norm in a recovery phase from an economic downturn, staff turnover is up. And that looks set to continue.
Almost a third considering new jobs this year
A recent survey of UK workers shows that almost a third (29%) are considering moving to a new job this year. The sectors most likely to be affected are legal (44%), IT & Telecoms Legal (42%), and Sales, Media & Marketing (40%). Of course, some of these jobs tend to see relatively high turnover, particularly at a more junior level and employees look advance quickly in terms of job role and salary.
For all businesses, however, the fundamentals of employee retention lie in onboarding, values and culture, and retaining diversity. These are qualities that are clearly valued by millennials and Gen Z employees.
Even before the pandemic, only one out of ten employees “strongly agreed” that their company was successful with onboarding new employees. That sink-or-swim being thrown-in-at-the-deep-end approach was – and still is – very often the default onboarding process, particularly with smaller companies. But at least before Covid, those newbies floundering around could easy seek help.
Since the pandemic outbreak, onboarding is mostly done remotely, creating a greater disconnect between new workers and their employers – it’s no one’s fault, but onboarding by Teams is just not the same. Without the ease of in-person contact, it becomes more difficult for employees to truly connect with their company, seek help from co-workers and familiarise with the culture.
Company values matter
The company culture and values that underpin it are critically important. Employees work better if they buy into what the company stands for and can feel as if they are on a mission. The company mission is ideally developed with input from the staff in order to engage with them and get buy-in – the top-down approach tends to be less effective.
Of course, the nature of the mission needs and supporting messaging needs to be calibrated according to the nature of the business. So, if it’s a global business, it needs global perspective and awareness of local sensitivities to be effective. A very high-level example of the latter would be Google’s “Don’t be evil”.
There is plenty of research to show that millennials and Gen Z prefer to work for – and invest in – companies with a commitment for net zero carbon emissions, good governance and strong society and community impact. All things they can be proud to represent.
However, the culture must go beyond a mission statement or supporting messaging. It goes much deeper. For staff at any level, personal development is very important and a source of loyalty. So, for example, one very successful company adopts what it calls the 70-20-10 principle. This means 70% of development is through on-the-job learning; 20% through coaching and mentoring, and 10% is achieved through formal training programs. It aims to develop staff and leadership abilities.
Nurturing an inclusive workplace
Alongside that, employees at that company are encouraged to have a ‘growth mindset,’ which is ultimately about thinking differently and taking on new, elevated levels of ownership for those in leadership positions. It can become an important differentiator. It requires leaders to have the confidence to be more inclusive, recognising the unique needs and perspectives of others, and being generous in sharing knowledge and experience.
Besides corporate culture, gender remains a significant barrier in the workplace, with women having the lowest percentage of participation. During the pandemic, this situation has to an extent been exacerbated as parents – particularly mothers – have had to spend more time taking care of their children. The pandemic has seen a resurgence of the inequalities in parents’ gender roles, with more than 25% of mothers taking parental leave compared to less than 10% of fathers.
A recent survey shows how companies that offer hybrid or remote working are less likely to be affected by resignations, with almost one in three (28%) workers admitting that flexible working policies are encouraging them to stay in their current job. That works better for working parents.
Finally, staff retention can be helped along by day-to-day light-touch staff management. All individuals have their own unique strengths. Good managers build on these, draw confidence from them and develop new skills, while encouraging colleagues to do likewise. A very easy starting point is by building recognition and appreciation into daily habits.
And, finally, the words “thank you” form a really powerful phrase.
Simple things, backed by a strong company culture and values that staff relate to will go a long way towards ensuring the Great Resignation stays Stateside.