People Want To Work, Not Feel They Have To Work
Like many other things, humans love to romanticize significant events, referring to them in a dramatic manner. Adding the adjective “great” to something tends to do this well. And just like we romanticized the 2008 Great Recession, we’re now witnessing what people are calling the Great Resignation arising from this once-in-a-generation pandemic.
If you haven’t noticed, there happens to be much discussion and attention around the Great Resignation. On the surface, the Great Resignation is about employees (primarily U.S.-based but the evidence is growing in other countries) quitting their jobs in record numbers during the latter part of the pandemic. It’s about employees who feel trapped in their jobs, realizing they have the freedom to explore new opportunities resulting from being confined to remote work.
The Great Resignation is not about people not wanting to work, it’s about finding meaning in their work. It’s more about why they work and having the inspiration for working toward a better future for themselves. Everyone realizes work is important, but for most, it has become a means for survival. What was forgotten is that work was meant to lead to a purpose. The pandemic reminded many of this.
This is the employee perspective but what does it mean for employers? Before jumping to implicit conclusions, it’s critical to consider why the Great Resignation is happening and what employers can do to build a committed team and mitigate the resignation of valued employees.
Maybe You Should Let Them Leave
Hiring employees can be a tricky and involved situation. Every employer wants to hire employees that fit with the culture while possessing relevant skills. Even if you do find the dream employee, expect things to change over time. Whether you have that nightmare employee or they’re no longer a good fit, an employer’s biggest challenge is letting them go. The simplest way is for the employee to realize they need to leave. This is a challenge since some employees are oblivious to their lack of fit so it may take time for them to take a hint. Also, handling it in this manner is not respectful or professional.
The Great Resignation is a moment to encourage them to leave, to help them realize new opportunities not necessarily with your company. This may sound harsh but it’s best for both of you to part ways before resentment sets in and festers. Ultimately, you want the employee to be happy and pursue new opportunities elsewhere, allowing you to focus on those employees you value. But it’s not just about pushing them out of the door. Do your best to provide support and resources so they can move on and become successful in the next step of their journey. This will foster goodwill with the departing employee, respect within your team, and develop a compassionate reputation.
Maybe You Want Them To Stay
Hiring is expensive. It costs money and a significant amount of time to hire people. When you get it right, you want to hold on to them. This means the Great Resignation is a nightmare for employers who want to retain their valued employees.
Even if your organization is one of the best places for people to work, you must be attentive to this societal trend. Feeding into the belief of being a wonderful work environment may become more of a hindrance. First, you implicitly take the belief for granted, and second, you may attract new people who may not be a good fit. Employer complacency is dangerous (any complacency is dangerous) and lulls you into a false comfort that things are going well. Those employers that consciously recognize potential complacency are those that look to continually improve their work environment.
Steps To Get Them To Stay
First, never take your employees and the favorable work culture for granted. It will never be perfect but as long as you demonstrate clear communication with employees and you are receptive to their suggestions and needs, existential threats like the Great Resignation won’t affect you too much. It may benefit you by helping shed off the deadwood. If you’re still nervous and hesitant about the Great Resignation and worried about how it may impact your organization, consider doing the following:
1. Offer Meaningful Work
As stated previously, people want to have a reason to work, or rather a purpose. If they’re working for basic survival, then you’ve lost them. This means they’re minimally engaging in the work and not committed to anything you say or what the organization believes in. Give them a “why” to work and complement that with reasonable wages. Help them focus on what’s relevant and valued for them and the organization and, when possible, align their expectations with those of the organization. This will give them the why.
2. Offer Balance
The pandemic was (is) a tragedy. Out of this tragedy, progressive employers are recognizing that the pre-pandemic way we worked is irrelevant. The past normal won’t return and nor should it. Work must, and will, evolve into something different from what we were used to. It’s no longer about “where” we work but rather “why” and “how” we work. The industrial age introduced a 9-5 location-based work approach because we were building stuff. This required a standardized approach to time and location to manufacture products. This is no longer the case, but our society continues to hang on to this outdated approach in an information-based, digital age world…That is until the arrival of the pandemic.
Balance is more than allowing your staff to work remotely. It’s rethinking how you measure their performance. Performance is no longer about “showing up” to measure what I do at the location. It’s also no longer about “9-5.” True, there is a need for some common times to collaborate and to communicate with others, but you should consider accommodating your employees to work when they’re most productive. Like me, this may be between 7 pm and 3 am!
Balance is also helping your employees accommodate other obligations, like their personal and family needs. One company we dealt with recently implemented a “tutorial subsidy” for employees who have to homeschool their kids during the pandemic. This did two things for the company and employees. First, it relieved employee stress about teaching their kids which is something they may not be comfortable with, and second, the company gained productivity time and increased employee work commitment and commitment to the company.
3. Offer Them Hope
This pandemic was (is) a big one. It had a tremendous impact on mental well-being for many. It led to a significant shift and change in virtually everything we do and are accustomed to. The first step is to demonstrate your and the organization’s commitment toward those employees you want to retain. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this would be safety, the second level. Take that uncertainty and fear away. Doing so will be a huge step in providing stability in a very uncertain world.
Next, show promise and aspiration. As previously mentioned, people want purpose in their work and what they do. Showing the “why” in their work and efforts is key to their retention, engagement, and ability to improve outcomes. What you want to do is to gain their authentic buy-in. Provide them with a reason and path to help them achieve aspirational goals, but make sure it also aligns with their values.
4. Pay A Fair, Living Wage
One of the biggest myths about work is that pay does not motivate employees. While there is some truth that offering raises provides a short-term productivity boost, your first objective should not be on productivity but to eliminate your employees’ worry about surviving. This is just common sense and is again the first step in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Every person, including yourself, has fundamental physiological needs like the need for shelter, food, and clothing…you know, the basics for survival. If your employees worry about meeting next month’s rent, paying for their medication, or how they’re going to pay for their children’s school supplies, then they’re not focused on the work you want them to complete. And if they are trying to focus on the work, it’s not 100%. These other needs are weighing on their minds.
Providing a fair wage is also more than addressing basic needs. The wage/salary you offer represents how much value and respect you have for their role. Recently, I came across a posting for a bilingual Instructional Designer with a specific set of required skills and experience. The wage? They were offering a “generous” $14/hour…not even minimum wage in some jurisdictions. This is truly disrespectful and reprehensible. The message is simple. Pay a competitive, livable wage to your staff. Help take their minds off the preoccupation with money by paying them a respectful value for the work they do. Doing so helps retain them by avoiding their eyes wandering for better-paying employment, and thoughts as to whether they are valued.
Becoming The Light In Dark Times
The Great Resignation is not a bad thing, although many seem to want to paint that picture. It’s a realization that work should have meaning and purpose. For employees, it’s enlightenment and questioning what they value and deem relevant. For employers, it’s an opportunity to rebuild their culture with those they value and part ways with those holding them back.
Be careful. If your organization has higher than usual attrition, then start questioning why this is the case. Is it a coincidence (I don’t believe so)? Or, could it be that the organizational culture is stale and outdated and hasn’t adapted to the needs of the post-pandemic world and a new way of working? Be honest and act before it’s too late.
Fundamentally, people never want to “work.” They want to invest their effort toward having purpose and living a better life, and if work doesn’t do that for them, then the Great Resignation was inevitable.
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