The ‘Great Resignation’ is a term coined to explain the mass exodus of the workforce in the wake of the pandemic, observed in the US and Europe. Experts are predicting it’s going to hit Australia in March.
The great resignation is coming – doesn’t that sound ominous. I know a number of Australian business owners and leaders who have already felt the effects of the Great Resignation in their businesses. If it hasn’t hit your business yet, it may hit in the new year. Now is the time to put strategies in place to build your workplace culture, and hopefully keep your great people for a bit longer.
What is Causing the Great Resignation?
In the US, the data shows that for employees between 30 and 45 years old, resignation rates have increased by more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. What’s causing this? The way I see it, there are four key reasons.
Some people have changed their view on what work means to them, versus what their home life means. They may want to take a step back from their career and reduce hours. Or they may want to drop out of the mainstream workforce and join the gig economy or move into further study.
The normal turnover and churn in organisations was not so apparent in 2020. When the pandemic hit there was a great deal of uncertainty. A lot of people who were intending to change jobs in 2020 decided to stay put until things stabilised. So we’re now seeing all those resignations that would have happened over 12-18 months ago, ballooning at this one moment.
The way that we treat our people in a crisis shows our true colours. While some businesses pay lip service to workplace culture and the importance of their people, their actions in the crisis of the pandemic told a different story. They cut salaries, made redundancies and did not give people any flexibility, autonomy or choice around their return to the office at the end of lockdown.
All of these things build up in people’s minds and have an impact on the psychological contract they have with your organisation and their willingness, or not, to be engaged and to stick around with the business.
At the same time, states like New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT have moved out of lockdown, international borders are opening, we have very high vaccination rates and many leaders have assured us that lockdowns won’t be a part of the landscape in the future. So there’s a sense that things are changing for the better. People sense that now is the right time to leave.
Desire to work from home
Many organisations want to get back to the office, whether that means five days a week, or perhaps three or two days per week. However for some employees, that is just not appealing and they have noticed that some organisations have moved to permanent working from home, while others are offering more flexibility and freedom and choice to their employees to decide.
Rather than a hybrid work model that requires people to come to the office, say, two days per week, the default arrangement is that everyone works from home, though the office is kept open and available for those who like working there, and for collaboration, and sharing ideas. For people who like working remotely, the flexibility to work from home as much as they like is extremely appealing.
For people who like working remotely, the flexibility to work from home as much as they like is extremely appealing.
How Can You Stop the Great Resignation in Your Business?
The first thing you need to do is to ask questions of your employees and listen to the answers. We really need to listen and understand before we act. Although workplace culture is the responsibility of everyone in the business, and we all have an impact on our culture, it’s the leadership behaviours that will set the tone for the organisation. So it’s got to be led through leadership.
You need to be able to understand the following things about your employees:
- What workplace conditions make the most difference to you?
- How do you want to work in the future?
- What are the things that are going to help us to retain you?
Many books have been written on the topic of how to build workplace culture and retain employees. But I want to focus on two key things you can do right now to prepare your business for the great resignation.
Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey
1. What is employee engagement and satisfaction?
Job satisfaction is about being fulfilled in your work. Employee engagement describes the psychological state of being engaged, which is more related to motivation. Employee engagement and job satisfaction are different but they are related, because you’re going to have higher job satisfaction if you’re engaged. Every organisation wants engaged employees, because it means that your people are:
- invested in your organisation’s purpose
- getting things done
- going above and beyond to achieve goals
- willing to do more, put forward ideas and collaborate
- taking less time off work
- attracting and retaining customers
- increasing your profits.
So the first thing to do in preparing for the Great Resignation, between now and the end of the year, is to get an engagement satisfaction survey happening in your business and use it to activate a retention plan.
2. How do you conduct an engagement satisfaction survey?
You can use an external organisation, such as Amplify HR, to run a survey, or you can create your own. Either way, ensure the questions make sense for your organisation, and that your employees feel safe in answering them.
One of the reasons our clients use us to do their surveys is to ensure the data is secured on our servers. We are able to assure respondents that they will be anonymous and only the de-identified results are collated and provided to their managers.
We recommend conducting yearly surveys. If you haven’t done one within the last two years, now is the time. It will give you a baseline and a way to measure your culture over time. It’s also the perfect time to ask your people how they want to work in the future – whether that’s in the office, remotely or a hybrid.
You could do a big survey once per year, and then smaller pulse checks through the year. These are no more than 10 questions put to a small group of employees across the year. They allow you to zone in on key areas and check the pulse of what’s happening in your organisation.
4. Using the results
Many organisations run employee satisfaction and engagement surveys, but unfortunately they often don’t do much with the information. They just keep the score and perhaps reference it in reports.
But if you’re only measuring engagement you’re not doing anything to increase it, which means it’s unlikely to improve over time. In fact, you’re probably going to decrease engagement because your employees will become demotivated and disenfranchised about engagement surveys. They won’t see any changes happening and they won’t bother doing the survey next time.
It’s important to examine the data critically. This is often really, really difficult, especially on your first survey of your own business. It can feel very personal to get negative feedback about the workplace. But it’s important to look at the good results too. If you are getting high scores in certain areas, you can leverage them in your business.
So for example, if you get great scores around development opportunities, this should become part of your employer brand. And that’s what you sell out to the market when you’re looking for candidates. But if you get a low score on development, this should become an area to improve. And then you should track your progress as you would for other core business goals.
5. Focus groups
Another great tip, depending on the size of your business and your results, is to arrange focus groups of employees to discuss the results to get more understanding about the context, before you put an action plan together. This is a critical step, and it’s also often the most fun part of the survey process, because consulting with your staff on a plan can create terrific buy-in.
One of the great benefits of working in smaller businesses is having direct access to the founder and to the senior team. A roundtable discussion can achieve the same sort of thing in large or small organisations. It involves sitting down with a random group of staff, that you normally wouldn’t interact with, and listening directly to what’s going on for them in the business.
You invite a random group of six to eight employees to a meeting with the founder or with a senior manager, just someone that’s not their direct manager, and they’re invited to have an open and confidential discussion. We recommend trying this when you’ve got about 40 employees, because that’s when you start to have a separation between the higher levels of the organisation and the rest of the staff.
Ask questions like:
- Why did you join our business?
- What keeps you here?
- Why do you think people leave?
- How would you describe the culture?
- Do you think we’re focusing on the right things?
- How am I doing, what can I do differently?
This might feel awkward at first, but as you get into a regular process of conducting roundtables a couple of times per year, you might find that employees and leaders start to look forward to them.