The Great Resignation is the next big wake up call for leaders

I quit and I couldn't be happier:

Jodie, 38, an insurance sales executive was telling me why she quit her job, without another lined up, and couldn't be happier. I had heard her story, or similar, from so many people in all stages of life, in all industries. Leaders need to take note and listen to their experiences.


"Before the pandemic hit and I was sent home to work, I was happy. Well I didn't know any different so I thought I was happy. I got up, dropped the kids at school, drove into work and sat at my desk for 8 hours a day. I did my job and hit my targets. Then, at the end of the day, I made my way home through the rush hour before parental duties began. Then next day would be the same. 


Working from home was stressful at first. We had a full house and balancing everyones needs was painful. My Managers checked on my hours, my call logs, my sales and expected me to work as I had in the office, but at home whilst home schooling and dealing with a pandemic. I was so stressed. And yet no one phoned me to see how I was. Sure I talked to my managers, but only about work. They added even more stress in my life.


When the kids went back to school life became so much easier. I could work without family interruptions, no commute and rushing here to there. I had balance in my life and I could feel my stress levels ease. Yet there was one feeling I couldn't shift. I felt like my manager and the business as a whole didn't care about me as a person. All they cared about was the work. So when they started telling us that they were going to get us back into the office on set days, my heart sank. I didn't want to return to an office where I didn't actually matter. I didn't want to add hours of commuting and additional stress for people who didn't trust or respect me. They didn't even consult with us about what we wanted or how we felt. They just told us. 


And that's when I decided I didn't want my old life anymore. I wanted something different for me and my family. So I quit and I have never felt more sure about anything in my life."

Problem

 A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year. That's a shocking statistic for any leader. Other surveys across multiple industries are showing the same results. IN the US, 4 million people resigned in April. "The movement of talent is so significant and so sharp that it's different to probably anything we've seen in living memory," behavioural scientist Aaron McEwan. The UK is looking at the Brexit impact, but The Great Resignation is a global movement.


Workers are humans first and foremost

The psychological contract between employee and employer has been rewritten. Money is the basic exchange for effort and reward. Work is so much more complicated than that. Today, employees don't want to be seen as just a payroll number. What they put up with before is over. They want to be seen as complex unique human beings with a life beyond their work. They don't define themselves and success by the job title anymore. They have had time to re-evaluate what really matters to them. People aren't afraid to downsize their career in order to achieve more life fulfillment. 


Many people are choosing to move away from ambition, to emphasise other aspects of life. Even if they are happy to stay in their career or role, they want to quit certain aspects of it. They are willing to say no to overnight trips, 5 days a week commute, long hours or office politics. They are happy to stand up for autonomy, being treated with respect and trust. They want to redefine how they work or they will find an employer who will meet their needs.


Change how you lead

Foremost, workers are taking decisions to leave based on how their employers treated them – or didn’t treat them ­– during the pandemic. Ultimately, the bosses that offered support, care and compassion aren't facing the resignations in volume.

Positive company cultures, leadership styles and management behaviours are reaping the rewards. Those with work to do, are being pushed to a breaking point. Not only are people quitting, people aren't joining either. People are not machines, and those leaders who lead people, not work, connected in a compassionate way. They asked their people what they need and how they want to work. They found solutions that met the needs of the people and the businesses. They consulted, engaged, listened and acted. They adopted a coaching approach to leading their people. They stayed curious and open minded about the future of work and didn't rush to get everyone back on site. They embraced flexibility. They adjusted to peoples new attitudes and personal situations. 

Don't get me wrong, performance management is still critical, but in healthy cultures it is done with a different edge. Rather than getting everyone to perform through management, it helps identify how people can perform better. It removes the blocks and barriers to underperformance rather than forcing its people to fit a mould. 

Boundaries

It's OK to set expectations about what work is done, how people behave and what you expect from your employees. What is not OK is to tell people how to work, when and to simply obey. When you trust your people, you will discover people are far more reasonable than you give them credit for. So set your boundaries and expectations and allow your employees to do the same.

Make sure people are working reasonable hours (not always the hours you dictate) and agree as a team how to communicate with each other. If some people prefer to work late into the evening, sending messages and constant chat can feel like an invitation to always be in work mode. Allow people to not respond at 10pm, log off at 5pm, do work over lunch. Let people find their own rhythm, and continually check in whether the team has got the balance right. Show you care by monitoring peoples workaholic tendencies. Without boundaries or expectations (too much flexibility) you might encourage burnout. So my advice is co-create as a team. Establish the boundaries together.

Make sure people use their holiday. Make sure wellbeing is something you prioritise, not just a tick in the box exercise. Lead by example.

Normalise outside of work experiences. Share your weekend celebrations. Talk about your holiday plans. Ask people about their hobbies, their pets or their children. Allow people to feel like their whole selves matter. 

Pay and Perks

You might worry that you have to pay everyone more to retain and attract talent. Paying people what they are worth is a given. Culture and environment is a far better draw for your people. 

Research some of the new and innovative benefits that companies are introducing:

  • Flexible time off
  • Health care
  • Welfare bundles or gifts
  • Flexible working patterns
  • Career progression and development
  • Partner with other companies for discounts, memberships or perks.
  • Team days, social activities.
  • Regular coaching and development conversations with managers.
  • A learning and development budget that the employee owns.
  • Health and Wellbeing support, help lines, guest speakers
  • A day off for your birthday
  • Free coffee and treats (sent to the home)
  • An audible subscription or gift books.

There are so many ways you can attract top talent and demonstrate that you care, they matter and you trust them. They don't have to cost the earth, but they do need to have some emotional, mental or physical value. Show your people they are valued.

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