We are in the midst of a reckoning. Coined by a professor at Texas A&M University, ‘The Great Resignation’ is causing concern for employers. The idea is that when things begin to return to ‘normal’, companies will see an exodus of employees who now feel secure enough in their post-pandemic lives to change jobs.
Recent market surveys support this, including a Microsoft survey that showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting their jobs or changing professions this year. Another survey by career site Monster found that 95% of workers are currently considering changing jobs and 92% are willing to switch industries to land a new position.
Those are huge numbers. Why are so many people looking for a change?
For some, it’s a personal choice. The pandemic caused them to pause and think about what’s most important. Be closer to family, pursue their dream job, or make other lifestyle changes. For others, it’s a lack of engagement with their job—sometimes as a direct result of how they feel they’ve been treated by their employer through the pandemic.
Whether people have reprioritized what’s important or their roles have changed, it all comes down to the same thing: they want to feel they’re living their best life. They want to feel cared for, valued, and connected to what they’re doing. And much of that responsibility rests on the shoulders of employers.
“Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.” – Simon Sinek
At the same time, companies are facing their biggest ever cultural challenge: How can we create an engaging culture through hybrid working? How will we recruit the best talent in an already tight labor market?
How companies respond to these questions will determine their ability to retain their best people and attract top talent. Companies that truly care about people, and who proactively focus their leadership efforts on engaging their people, will avoid ‘The Great Resignation’ and position themselves as an employer of choice.
Why it matters
High levels of attrition impact your ability to succeed as a business. It takes 6-9 months to fully onboard the average worker. Your top talent, on the other hand, is irreplaceable and a big loss if departed. Taking care of your people and making the effort to inspire and engage them is not only good business practice, it brings intangible satisfaction and benefits to the company and its employees.
In the words of best-selling author, Simon Sinek, “Returning from work feeling inspired, safe, fulfilled and grateful is a natural human right to which we are all entitled and not a modern luxury that only a few lucky ones are able to find.”
Sinek understands the psychology behind inspiring leadership that gets results. “When a leader embraces their responsibility to care for people instead of caring for numbers, then people will follow, solve problems and see to it that that leader’s vision comes to life the right way.” In short, engaged people work ‘with’ great leaders, not ‘for’ great leaders.
If you’ve fallen behind in your leadership efforts for whatever reason during the pandemic (and hey, it’s been a tough run for everyone), you have a chance to turn it around. It won’t be easy. But the payoff will be very much worth the effort.
How to engage your people in the new hybrid working environment
1. Let your teams help define what ‘hybrid’ looks like
We’ve all been watching how the biggest companies are responding to the ‘back to the office’ question. Some companies have shifted to remote only, others mandated a return to the office full time, and some do a mix of both. While you can look to other companies for examples, you have to do what’s right for your business, brand, and people. Allow your team to share their input and ideas, both as you plan a return to the office and as you navigate through it.
Employers who don’t listen to their people, and/or who swing too far one way or the other risk alienating a large percentage of their workforce and may face retention and recruitment challenges in the future.
Although it may not be possible to accommodate everyone’s wishes, allowing them to share how they work best will demonstrate that they’ve been heard and were able to participate in the development of the return to office plan.
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It’s also an opportunity to establish new ways of working—harness what worked well before and during the pandemic, and create a way forward for everyone. And perhaps most importantly, be flexible about it as everyone adapts.
Acknowledge that remote working causes a culture shift no matter what. A new hybrid model will require an even more conscious effort to engage teams.
2. Communicate intentionally and effectively
It almost seems cliche to state that communication is key. But it’s more true now than ever. Failure to ensure communication is prioritized will lead to gaps in knowledge, delayed or broken information flow, and alienation of team members. Everyone on the team is responsible for effective communication and everyone should be made aware of their role in this. Here are a few key ways to make it work well:
- Unless all team members are present or a specific meeting needs to be in-person, hold meetings virtually by default. Having some team members meet in a room while others join remotely can be disengaging for remote workers.
- Avoid the need for excessive meetings, which can become disengaging through Zoom, especially for introverted workers. Use Slack or Teams for quick conversations.
- Encourage each team to define which meetings need to be held in-person, how to communicate when working remotely, and how to communicate on/offline presence.
- Make the time to connect in person wherever and whenever possible, if it’s an option.
3. Create connection to purpose
The power of creating a meaningful connection between an employee and the work they do is crucial to their engagement and the success of the organization. It’s also more difficult in hybrid and remote working situations.
My own academic research demonstrates that companies that help their employees understand ‘why’ what they do matters experience higher levels of employee engagement and better brand performance.
How do you do this? At a company level, ensure your mission reflects what you do in the new world. Pre-pandemic, you may have had a clear vision. During the pandemic, your mission may have centred around survival. Now? Redefine what you do, and communicate this to your employees.
At the employee level, celebrate how you’re delivering on your mission. Share customer stories, talk about great work, highlight successes, and demonstrate how they’re making a difference so they understand why you do what you do and why what they do matters. Talk about what you’re doing next, and how they’ll help. And again, talk about why it’s important.
4. Support your team to deliver their best
Once your team understands the ‘why’, help them to understand the ‘what’. Create clarity around the work that they’re doing, what the expected outcomes are, and how success is measured. This is especially important in a hybrid working environment where they’re not able to casually check in with each other or with you as they once were.
The way we measure employee performance has undergone a shift (and it’s about time), from time in the office to outcomes of work. You shouldn’t need to monitor everything your team members are doing. Autonomy is one of the key drivers of motivation—spend the time to help workers understand what success looks like, but allow them to define their path to get there.
Some tips to help you manage and engage your team based on outcomes:
- Clearly define what success means: What are the objectives we want to achieve? What results do we want?
- Ensure you’ve developed systems to reward and recognize great work in a hybrid environment: Are your social channels set up to allow for team member recognition? Do you have other remote recognition platforms in place?
- Keep your 1:1 meetings and cover topics like:
- How they’re doing, at home and at work.
- Progress on what they’re working on; short and long-term goals.
- Any blockers and how you can help to remove these.
- How they are working and collaborating with the team.
- Recent achievements and recognition.
- How you can better support them as a leader.
If, for any reason, an employee isn’t delivering what’s expected, have the conversations early and often, increasing the frequency of 1:1 meetings. Share how they can improve, and keep the discussion happening regularly. If you expect your team members to deliver their best work while working from home, you have to be prepared to adjust how you give feedback.
5. Be mindful of employee wellbeing
The implications of the pandemic on mental health will not fade away quickly. So as we all adjust to this new way of working, employees are likely to experience stress concerning health, returning to the office, and trying to balance work and life in new ways. Here are some tips that can help support your team:
- Provide support to your employees through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) so that they can get advice and guidance on managing new processes and concerns.
- Schedule start and end times and don’t expect your teams to be ‘always on’. Promote a ‘quiet hour’ during the day (e.g. 12pm to 1pm) and discourage meetings to be held during this time. Encourage your team members to take 30 minutes during this hour away from the screen, to have lunch, take a walk, and re-focus.
- Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of potential mental health issues. Are they regularly showing up late online? Are they ignoring messages? Are they reluctant to appear on camera? These may be signs that they are struggling with their mental health, and it may be time to check in with them and/or point them to your EAP.
- Continue to encourage your team members to keep their own mental health in check and to watch for signs and symptoms of burnout.
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6. Create a sense of belonging
Many companies started hiring nationally through the pandemic because we were now equipped to work from home and could broaden talent nets accordingly. The challenge going forward is to ensure that we promote a sense of belonging, inclusion, and connection that supports all of our team members.
Find ways to create connection between everyone; through a mix of in-person events and by creating online social spaces and occasions for remote workers to feel connected. Whether it’s lunch together on Zoom or inviting your remote team members into the meeting room to celebrate a birthday or baby shower, ensure they aren’t forgotten.
Finally, make sure that you establish and reinforce connections from the outset. Whether you’re onboarding a new remote worker, or a new team member who has peers who work remotely, be sure to schedule lots of virtual face time (e.g. have lunch together on the new team member’s first day) to replicate the in-person onboarding experience.
I’ll close with another quote from Simon Sinek, from his book Leaders Eat Last: “Leadership takes work. It takes time and energy. The effects are not always easily measured and they are not always immediate. Leadership is always a commitment to human beings.”
‘The Great Resignation’ doesn’t have to become your reality. Supporting our team members through this next transition will take intentional leadership, and the outcome will be the creation of more engaged, loyal teams. You have the opportunity to capitalize on ‘The Great Resignation’ by being the place that employees run to, and where they’ll stay.