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How to Build a Better Organization from The Great Resignation

In this article, Dr. Jen Farthing sits down with Joe Kale to discuss the effects of the Great Resignation and what companies can do to retain a workforce that is finding other opportunities daily.

Jen: When I see another article on “The Great Resignation,” I feel two things. First, I know this is important to my role at work, so I should read it. But then, I feel exhausted by the topic – what can it say that I’m not already experiencing? So when my colleague, Joe, presented me with his take on the “GR,” I said, “let’s talk about it.”

Joe: Thanks Jen, and I hear you. You’re in it. And as you’re living this, it’s probably challenging to take a step back and think about it in the abstract, while also finding new ways to retain staff.

As the world emerges from the pandemic, it has fundamentally changed the norms and rules that govern our lives. This is especially true in the workforce where employees have left their jobs in record numbers. A deeper look shows there are many reasons that brought about this change that reach beyond the preference for remote work.

Let us recap:
• A high percentage of workers in lower wage jobs changed roles during the pandemic
• Some employees left the workplace and never returned
• More employees are seeking better work/life balance as experienced while working from home
• A significant portion of the workforce is nearing retirement
• Career moves and changes that were delayed due to uncertainty are now coming to fruition

We now have a volatile labor market that impacts nearly every industry and is likely to continue for a long time. Employees have the upper hand, and we are not going back to the way it was.

Joe: How can an organization recruit and retain the best talent? In a tough, highly competitive labor market, what is important to your employees? Is your culture attracting the best and brightest or leading them elsewhere?

Jen: Joe, simply put, it’s complicated, and it depends. Every Monday, I brace myself for another resignation, and all week while we’re doing the job, I’m also trying to do everything in my power to make work more bearable.

I feel for them because I feel added stress myself. I must motivate them, and motivate myself, all while answering to leadership and the board. Even I feel squeezed by the pressure to deliver results and the need to keep my team whole.

Joe: Exactly, the last thing we want to see on top of the Great Resignation is leader burnout—especially from leaders like you who know the playbook. You’re already practicing these, and let’s take a moment to remember what works. The first thing:

Place a Premium on Culture, Diversity and Inclusion

Company culture is how you do what you do in the workplace. It’s the sum of formal and informal systems and behaviors and values, all of which create an experience for employees and customers.

In its simplest definition, company culture is how things get done. The “How” includes both the formal systems and the informal behaviors. Culture in a company drives everything and new hybrid work will require more intention in sharing values and expectations.

When a culture is built on a strong set of shared values, has a demonstrative commitment to diversity, and is inclusive, equitable and rewarding for all employees, people are willing to stay at a company a long time.

Jen: I think we can all get behind this. Also, we can’t leave this to DEI training alone. That’s just one step. Same with deliberate hiring programs. Leaders need tactics for fostering inclusion once the organization has committed to diversity in hiring.

Though formal Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are helpful, informal opportunities for inclusion and belonging, such as thoughtful, deliberate team building are ways to thread this approach through the organization organically.

Structuring your teams and selecting for group projects with inclusivity in mind build relationships and feelings of belonging. Then there’s the business case: diversity of thought and lived experiences tend to make a better work product.

Joe: Right, which leads me nicely into to the second thing that works:

Create Career Growth Opportunities

Employees want to know that they have a path forward in a company and a road to get there. Embrace a future-looking orientation. Creating those opportunities, along with consistent leadership engagement, will help employees feel that they belong and that the company cares.

New working models need to be created to enhance collaboration and creation. This needs to be practiced equally across all levels, but particularly so in the early and mid-career years.

Jen: Sometimes, even when we’ve identified the high-potential candidates for promotion, there may not be immediate openings for the logical next rung on that particular career ladder. When there aren’t openings for vertical movement, especially in these earlier-career years, horizontal placements can be meaningful.

What I mean is, looking around and beside your team for some different openings, even if they are lateral. The colleague gets fresh experience that could lead to an unexpected career path, while gaining more visibility through the exposure to another team or working group.

When opportunities for promotion arise, the horizontal mover may have greater and varied leverageable experience, as well as sponsorship from more than one leader. For the organization, there is again an opportunity for diversity of thought and experience.

Joe: The third item that I’m keen on provides another way to keep people interested and engaged:

Build in Work/Life Balance and Flexible Work

Among the many things we learned during the pandemic is the multitude of ways that work got done.

We did not have to physically be in an office or travel to a remote location. Companies in every sector were forced to become innovative and creative. Of course, this didn’t apply to the entire workforce, as there are many jobs that can only be accomplished face to face or on-site.

There were downsides to the lack of personal interaction and working remotely often created a dynamic where there was no line of demarcation, causing many to work even harder and longer.

Despite these challenges, it also created a better work/life balance and flexibility in work. By maintaining that going forward, employers create a competitive advantage.

Jen: I agree, Joe. Thinking even of the in-person, face-to-face jobs with flexibility in mind can result in creating better experiences for some. Planning is the right next step. When we know who has an important school event, a kid’s game, a music recital, we can collaborate on new ways to accommodate special events. My team is very good at this, and I welcome their cooperative problem solving.

Once we get beyond keeping score on long lunch breaks to make medical appointments, early departures, or late arrivals to make a school obligation, we invite agency, autonomy, and place a premium on cooperative problem-solving. The whole team wins when we are not feeling guilty or resentful.

Of course, it’s vital to set parameters and expectations individually, and to monitor norms and work product all year round. In many global settings, there are no longer clear cut “core hours,” and we’re seeing upticks in four-day work weeks in all geographies. As a leader, ask yourself: “what would happen if I experimented with flexibility?”

Joe: Well, let’s look at the fourth item that I see out there regarding empowerment:

Provide All the Resources Necessary to Support Your Employees

Employees are the greatest asset of any company or organization and need to know they have the support and resources to be successful.

The pandemic has understandably led to many health-related issues. Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employee physical capability and daily functioning, job performance and productivity, engagement with one’s work, and communication with coworkers.

Workplace health programs have proven to be successful, especially when combining mental and health interventions. Showing compassion and empathy goes a long way in attracting and retaining employees.

Jen: I love this. Remember, the most valuable gift is time. The leaders who walk the talk get a motivated and trustworthy team, leading with feelings of mutual respect.

And, given our multigenerational workforce, I encourage “reverse mentoring.” This is a smart way for leaders to gain an authentic read on opinions and ensure that newer members to the workforce feel seen and heard.

As a Generation Xer, I value my mutual mentoring from my Gen-Z colleague—we both learn and feel comfortable asking questions in a private, 1:1 setting.

By making time for deliberate tactics that are in a manager’s locus of control and not expensive or hard to implement, organizations can emerge and even prosper in the new workforce. Even better, employees can flourish and thrive.

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