7 Strategies Leaders Can Implement Now to Win The Great Resignation

Author: Britt Andreatta
Posted On: December 17, 2021

This post is the third in a three-part series. In case you missed it, here’s Part 1: Why Are People Quitting Their Jobs? Burnout & The Great Resignation and Part 2: How Did We Get Here? The Perfect Storm of Loss, Overworking, and Safety

In the first two posts in this series, we explored the critical factors that have led to this unique moment in time. Now we focus on the future and seven strategies leaders can implement now to win The Great Resignation.

1. Take this worker crisis seriously. 

While nearly half of executives say their companies are seeing elevated turnover, many of them are not realizing that they need to make critical changes. I recently facilitated a discussion among HR leaders about what is keeping them awake at night. One stated, “My leadership isn't onboard with remote work. This is causing us major retention/recruitment issues.” And another said, “Leadership doesn't seem to understand that there is no staff available, or rather they have a lot more options. We have to build a better [hiring] package.”

Researchers in business, economics, and psychology are all seeing the same writing on the wall—this shift in power is not going to pass quickly. The organizations that are going to survive will be the ones where leaders took quick and decisive action to create better workplaces.

Lorna Borenstein, the CEO of Grokker states, Many companies are already experiencing painful employee turnover and bracing for more, which has sent them urgently seeking solutions to an attraction and retention crisis we haven’t seen before… it presents employers with an opportunity to transform their approach to caring for employees, become an employer of choice and safeguard their future.”

 2. Create a better workplace.

Your employees have likely already been telling you what they want and need. So listen. At a minimum, you need to offer a living wage, physically safe work environments, and psychological safety in the workplace where people feel they are treated with fairness and respect.

Wages and salaries are going up as organizations compete for employees. According to USA Today, budgets for wages have increased nearly 4%, the biggest leap in over a decade. Many restaurant chains and companies like Costco and Walgreens now offer $15-20/hour and companies like Amazon, Target, and Walmart are adding other perks like free college tuition and childcare.

One national survey found that white collar workers are landing new jobs with at least a 10% salary increase along with better opportunities for development and advancement. If you want to keep your current talent or hire new people, you have to offer competitive packages. The message is clear, if you want to attract good talent, you have to offer better pay.

Another vital action is to train your managers. Consider these recent findings:

  • 84% of U.S. workers say poorly trained managers create a lot of unnecessary stress
  • 57% say they have quit a job because of a bad boss, and of those who stayed, 1/3 seriously considered leaving
  • 50% of employees feel their own performance would improve if their boss received the right kind of manager training

When given the right training, managers not only improve, they can become the “secret sauce” that turns a good organization into a great one. A study by Gallup shows that good managers increase the productivity and engagement of their teams as well as attract new top performers. Use this ROI Calculator to determine the damage that poor managers are doing in your organization and the payoff for implementing manager training.

 When given the right training, managers not only improve, they can become the “secret sauce” that turns a good organization into a great one.

3. Actively address burnout… starting with your own.

Before the pandemic, the most at-risk group for burnout was high achievers who work more than 40 hours per week and have perfectionistic tendencies. Most executives and senior leaders are burned out but not necessarily aware that they are. Leaders tend to drive more change and innovation as a way to deal with ambiguity or stress. If this is coupled with some of the symptoms of burnout (irritability, anger, depleted empathy), you may be coming across as insensitive or even threatening to your employees’ wellbeing.

The pressure to lead has been intense over the past 24 months and you deserve the chance to rest and recharge. More importantly, your people need to see you role model this crucial behavior—schedule your vacation, talk about the importance of time off, and then strongly encourage or incentivize your people to get some rest and relaxation. Some companies are offering more paid time off, closing the office for long weekends, and offering bonuses for people to take their vacation. These efforts save money in the long run since it costs 50-250% of an employee’s annual salary plus benefits to replace them.

Besides rest, other things that help reduce burnout and build resilience include:

  • Doing a regular mindfulness practice. Dr. Richard Davidson’s research shows that regular meditators, with as little as 10 minutes today, reap a whole host of benefits including increased resilience to stressors, decreased anxiety and depression, reduced emotional reactivity, and slowed aging. Invest in tools like Desk Yogi, Calm, Headspace to share the benefit of mindfulness with your employees.
  • Expressing gratitude. Studies show that gratitude improves our quality of sleep, reduces stress, boosts our immune systems, and increases our overall sense of well-being, including making us happier and calmer. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers several strategies for transforming your workplace through gratitude practices.
  • Spending time in nature. We now spend 93% of our time indoors, which has significant implications for our health. Being in nature brings all kinds of benefits and scientists discovered that the magic formula is at least 20 minutes outside for three times per week. It has the greatest impact on reducing cortisol, the stress hormone. Water also can have healing effects, leading us to be more calm, connected, and creative. Read more in biologist Dr. Wallace Nichol’s book, The Blue Mind.
  • Playing with others. Yes, play. Like most species, humans are biologically wired to only play when we feel safe enough to relax. The lockdowns deprived many of us of our normal forms of play—socializing with coworkers, physical activities like sports, and game nights with friends. Returning to play signals the body that things are better and also brings us much needed moments of joy. Continue to be safe but consider how you can add play and social events back into your life as a way to boost your recovery from burnout.
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Good leaders invest in services to help their people reduce stress and recover from burnout. This includes paid time off along with wellness programs like mindfulness, and expanded mental health and therapy services. Today’s workers are looking for leaders who genuinely care about and invest in their wellbeing.

4. Focus on purpose and meaningful work

Even before the pandemic, workers seeking purpose was on the rise with related headlines in Fast Company, Forbes, and The Guardian. In 2015 Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy states, “We are in the early days of emergence of a ‘purpose economy’. It is likely that in fewer than 20 years, the pursuit of purpose will eclipse the third American economy—the Information Economy.” It appears that the pandemic has accelerated his prediction.

Other studies supported Hurst’s claim. One found that 71% of Millennials ranked “finding work that is meaningful” as one of their top 3 factors for determining career success and 94% wanted to use their skill to benefit a cause. But only half of employees said that they felt a level of meaning and significance at work.

Now, the hunger for purpose and meaning at work has reached an all-time high. What many people experienced during the pandemic moved them toward pursuing more meaningful experiences. To no surprise, many are looking to satisfy this drive in the workplace. Jessica Stillman states, “The Great Resignation isn't primarily about the logistics of work. It's about its meaning.”

Companies that focus on creating a sense of purpose and meaning at work will be a magnet for new employees and will likely hold on to their current employees at higher numbers. A recent Harvard Business Review article featured HR executives from organizations that are not experiencing elevated turnover. All six of them “cited purpose as fundamental to a culture that retains top talent.”

Purpose is not just feel-good talk for these uncertain times—it drives business success. Research by Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe, and Jag Sheth found that companies that focus on purpose and passion outperformed the S&P 500 by 14 times. Another study by Price Waterhouse Cooper found that purpose-driven companies had 400% higher productivity.

A sense of purpose also brings amazing health benefits. It offers neural protection that reduces the risk for stroke, age-related decline like dementia, and depression. In addition, people with a sense of purpose experience other health benefits like reduced risk for heart attacks, lower levels of inflammatory response, and even longer life spans. Dr. Vic Strecher, author of Life On Purpose, states “We find that people with a strong sense of purpose literally have their DNA repaired more effectively, they have more antibodies and fewer pro-inflammatory cells. We find that people with a strong purpose live longer.”

5. Change how you define and measure work.

Much of how we define work dates back to the industrial revolution. While the global pandemic pushed many organizations to pivot to remote work and online collaboration, it’s time we take a deeper look and revolutionize these ancient notions.

Measure work in outcomes, not hours. Unless you provide your service in hours, you should pivot to measuring outcomes or results. This allows for much more flexibility in work schedules as well as clarifies how performance is evaluated. People want to be measured for their contributions and implementing this kind of system also reduces bias and the effects of discrimination.

Implement job sharing and rotations. With people wanting more work-life balance, job sharing is a great solution that offers many benefits. Job rotation is another way to meet the needs of your employees while upleveling their skills and providing professional development opportunities.

Ditch the meetings. Seriously. Meetings take up far too much of our time with very little to show for that time spent. According to a study at MIT, the average worker spends approximately 22 years of their 45-year career in meetings. About 33% of that time (or 7 years!) is spent in meetings where there's no value added. Meetings are often scheduled by managers to “ease insecurities they have around communication” but can undermine productivity and collaboration.

During the pandemic meeting time increased to record levels. Workers now spend 25% more time in meetings than they did before the pandemic.  A study by Voodle found that 77% of workers have experienced “zoom fatigue” and a Harvard study found that 65% of workers said that meetings keep them from completing their own work.

To solve this problem, ask yourself if the work can be done asynchronously. If so, use new tools like Voodle for short video messaging and Miro for collaborative ideation. If you need to meet together, use AI meeting optimizers like Xembly or Grain. To aid productivity, consider a day or a couple windows when no meetings are allowed and hold that line firmly. The key to making hybrid work schedules effective is to maximize in-person time for important activities like building trust and psychological safety as well as decision making.

Rehumanize the office. While hybrid work is likely the norm for many years to come, there are still important changes you need to make at the office. Ask your employees what they want and do your best to provide them. Discover what perks they most value and what would support their success.

Treat your employees as nicely as you treat your customers. Take a look at the break rooms or the “behind the scenes” spaces where your employees gather. In certain industries, they are often unattractive and uncomfortable, which sends a daily message that you don’t value them. In this Forbes article, Lorna Borenstein writes, “When 50% of service and hospitality workers refuse to return to their jobs post-pandemic and a third won’t even consider a return to the industry, can you really afford to cling to these old ways of thinking?”

6. Recognize and reward your current talent.

As the competition for talent grows, companies are investing in programs like signing bonuses, higher salaries, and better benefits. But don’t forget to recognize your current employees who have been loyal to your organization.

They worked hard over the pandemic, pivoting with every unexpected change. Have you thanked them yet? People hunger to have their contributions seen and valued, so now is a great time to show them some love. Don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten notefrom their manager or leader, stating how much they are valued and appreciated. Offer financial rewards like bonuses, extra paid time off, or a “staying or loyalty” bonus.

For your top talent, whom losing will create challenges for your organization, give them some extra attention. Many companies are now offering this important group sabbatical, so that they can recover from burnout. It’s far better to lose them for a couple months than to lose them forever.

Bottom line, people want to work for places where they are truly valued and cared for. Make sure you are sending those signals frequently and consistently.

7. Dial up your talent team.

Last but not least, all of the above shifts in hiring and workplace culture will rely on your HR team. They are likely burned out and in need of rest and appreciation, so make that your first priority. You may also need to hire more recruiters to handle the increased turnover predicted in the coming months. Invest in competitive hiring packages so they can get your positions filled quickly. Also look at your onboarding practices and ensure your managers know how to set their new hires up for success.

It’s important to also invest in a great learning and development team. Did you know that “opportunities to learn and grow” are consistently one of the top qualities candidates look for in an employer? In fact, Gallup found that 87% of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities'' as a top factor when job hunting.

Your organization should be offering a robust range of learning opportunities including DE&I initiatives, wellness programs, and manager training. Invest in cutting edge programs and use best practices to drive real behavior change. One great perk is to give people a learning budget they can spend on developing their skills and interests. Don’t just limit it to college programs but meet or exceed the flexibility that your competitors are offering.

In conclusion

While it’s easy to blame The Great Resignation on the pandemic, the truth is that it only accelerated problems that had been brewing for decades. The blessing of the past 2 years is that we were forced to break long-standing habits and challenge outdated assumptions. We now have an amazing opportunity to re-vision work.

Making it through The Great Resignation and turning it into The Great Rebuilding requires us to authentically explore how to make work more meaningful, connected, and productive while supporting wellness and balance. The organizations that do so will attract great talent now and well into the future.

Organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, who coined the term The Great Resignation, says this: “One hopefully silver lining of this horrible pandemic would be if the world of work transitioned to a more healthy, sustainable place for employee well-being.”

In case you missed the previous posts in this series, here they are:

Part 1:  Why Are People Quitting Their Jobs? Burnout & The Great Resignation

Part 2: How Did We Get Here? The Perfect Storm of Loss, Overworking, and Safety

You might also be interested in this upcoming webinar on Addressing Burnout: Strategies for Leaders During The Great Resignation on February 2, 2022. Click here to register.

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