If the Great Resignation is Coming, What Can You Do?

The Great Resignation movement is a source of much discussion among workers, recruiters, organizational experts, worried employers, and anyone who likes drama. Just search LinkedIn for #great resignation, flick through TikTok, jump into a Reddit forum, or do a quick Google search. There is much hype, but where there is smoke, there is fire. Things are happening. Almost every candidate I interview lately is fully employed but “looking for something new”.  Few organizations are immune to our current hiring challenges with en masse retirements and worker shortages.

The latest federal Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Quits Levels shows 3.6 million people quit their jobs in May 2021 (compared to 2.2 million in May 2020 with the impact of the pandemic with childcare, health concerns, care of family members, and other variables that resulted in employees exiting). The only industry with lower quit rates than last May 2020 is state and local education – and we can see that one coming, too. Every other industry has quit levels way up. See the link below for the detailed stats per industry and geographic location.

All of that is combined with the fact that some employers have not fully returned to brick and mortar work, and there is building opposition to giving up remote work and other flex arrangements. Let’s face it – our entire landscape has changed.  And the Great Resignation movement is encouraging more en masse exits this fall.

So, let’s presume there are excellent reasons to worry. Our advice is to jump into solution mode immediately. Focus on what you can do proactively now to retain your workforce.

  • Transparent communication. Share what you know, ask for feedback, and really listen. Dump the “need to know only” old-school management approach. Be humble and admit what you don’t know, invite ideas.  Don’t promise things you cannot deliver, though.
  • Treat People as Team Members, Not Employees. No one wants to be the “help,” employee #8675309. Treat them – regardless of position – as people who are working together to make something great with you. Revisit #1.
  • Offer Options. Hybrid options of remote work and weekly or monthly in-person collaboration offer a great mix and benefit. If you are a frontline service organization and remote work is not possible, can flexible scheduling be an option? Could premium pay for undesirable shifts be paid? Can you offer more paid time off or paid family leave in exchange? [While a voluntary paid leave program was passed recently in NH, benefits do not begin until January 1, 2023, unlike our surrounding neighbors.]
  • Don’t Make Overtime a Badge of Honor. When people work many hours including answering emails on Saturday, they are missing something else. Time with family, their fitness, sleep, relaxation, and the list goes on. Many recent candidates – particularly men – have mentioned job changes to spend more time with their children because they realize what they are missing. You cannot reclaim time later.
  • Provide an EAP.  The US is a great country but a stressful place to be right now.  An employee assistance program (EAP) is a confidential resource for counseling, financial and legal guidance, and general resources for life. EAPs are inexpensive with an excellent ROI. Wellness programs are another proactive step to help your team start or continue to focus on their physical and mental health. 211.org is also a free resource in each state to point people in the right direction for public and nonprofit assistance.
  • Plan for Knowledge Loss. When [most] employees leave, knowledge leaves with them, which hurts you – either slowing down customer response, throwing you a step back with R&D, marketing plans, or operational function. Since loss is inevitable, cross-train, encourage growth and learning, job enlargement, building shared knowledge databases, and developing SOPs. Consider part-time employment options for recent and pending retirees. Not everyone is thrilled with 100% retirement, and a flexible work schedule may be welcome.
  • Don’t Lose Track of Performance. Yes, we have new challenges here, but we also have old challenges like failing to manage performance. This problem has existed forever. Focus on clear expectations, frequent feedback, collaborative goal-setting, accountability, documentation, and consequences….in that order. While it may be tempting or just easier to ignore performance issues in this challenging hiring environment, don’t do it!  Poor performance is never isolated to just that poor performer. It impacts your team, creates frustration, wastes time, creates a legal liability, drags down others’ performance, and chases away high performers. These events will negatively impact your customers/clients/patients.

We are in new territory for employers, and hopefully, knowing you are in good company is consolation.  The sooner we realize that we cannot solve it all and that something will fall through the cracks and something will fail, the better. I’m reminded of the Reinhold Niebuhr quote, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”