looking towards the future

The Great Resignation: 5 Actions Leaders Should Take Now

The world watched as the increase in attrition happened in the U.S. as a result of the pandemic when people needed to work from home. The term ‘The Great Resignation’ was conceived in late 2020 by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University. The total recorded number of separations in the U.S has now reached 4.4 million.

Not here yet?

Here in Australia, The Great Resignation is not yet evident. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there are still more workers staying with their jobs as we move out from all the lockdowns. Yet, Professor Nick Wailes, Deputy Dean, UNSW Business School and Program Director of the Master of Management, predicts the trend might happen after the holidays as we usher in the new year. People will have reconsidered their priorities and may be taking action by then.

The struggle is real for employees as employers try to snap back to pre-pandemic work norms and get workers back into the office. What organisations need to accept is that employees are awake to the many realities of work: how they work, why they work, and how they have managed working from home. They are looking for greater flexibility and fulfillment.

Majority of workers do not want to return to the office

According to research by PWC earlier this year, the majority if workers do not want to return to the office full-time. The majority of Australians want to keep working from home, in some capacity. Are we really surprised by this?

What I believe the survey results are tapping into is our inherent need as humans for autonomy. We want to ‘do it our way’, and with other motivating forces of mastery and belonging, autonomy can be what makes the difference between whether we will flourish as employees or languish in a business culture that does not optimise our strengths and skills. 

The survey also found that mental health and well-being for staff is a growing concern. The majority of workers are still not encouraged to take breaks in their work day and only 21 per cent said their employers encouraged incorporating wellbeing initiatives into their daily routine.

Ninety per cent of Australians want to keep working from home, in some capacity. Nearly one -third think their job will be obsolete in five years. More than half of Australians think few people will have stable, long-term jobs in the future. Another 16 per cent say they'd prefer a wholly virtual workplace where they can contribute from any location.

Flexibility to differentiate your company

Not optimising flexibility is a dangerous zone to be in as business leaders especially given the current ‘war on talent’. The other challenge forecasted by the PWC survey is skills shortages as country borders remain closed. Being able to do business virtually will differentiate companies in their search for top talent. How is your business adapting to a hybrid workplace?

Here are 5 actions leaders should take now to ensure that companies support employee needs for flexibility, respect, and purpose.

1. Create a better workplace

People are exhausted from the pandemic and want a workplace that respects and values them. Investing in front line management training needs to incorporate how to tap into motivational drivers for workers around respect and recognition increase employee engagement and productivity.

2. Address burnout

Burnout includes the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion experienced by a person accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others. A common cry from workers is that they feel they are already running on empty, having depleted their personal resources amidst ever increasing work demands. Burnout doesn’t just happen overnight. It is a slow and steady rise.

Leaders can look out for stressors at work and provide services and programs that could mitigate burnout. Workers are looking for leaders to invest in their mental health and well-being.

3. Change how you define and measure work

Productivity should not be measured by inputs but by the outcomes produced by employees. People feel more valued when they are recognised for their effort rather than the amount of time they have spent at work. In addition, many employees and leaders are struggling to integrate personal life and work. Leaders can assist employees to maintain a work-life balance by allowing more work flexibility and encouraging collaboration, and by role modelling these characteristics themselves. Providing employees with opportunities to develop skills and capabilities is also critical for enabling a productive workforce. leaders can co-design opportunities for professional development with their employees and these can include internal opportunities, as well as external skills development opportunities.

4. Recognise and reward your loyal talent

More companies are offering sabbaticals to help their loyal employees recover and regroup. Sometimes people need a change of scenery and perspective to appreciate the work they currently do and the future contributions they can make to their organisation.

A good leader creates a climate for workers to better appreciate their own work effort and their contribution to their organisation.

5. Build and maintain an engaged team

People are motivated by a sense of purpose, recognition, and achievement. Leaders can create an environment whereby employees flourish and recognised for their contributions, not only as individuals but as members of a team. When employees realise they are part of a whole team’s success, they have higher productivity and engagement.

We have seen the world recover from the great depression and the great recession. It is with great hope that we will survive this great resignation. The pandemic has made us rethink our careers and what work means for us. Workers need a safe, inclusive, flexible and meaningful workplace that will propel all of us to a sustainable future.

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