All kinds of rational people are leaving steady jobs for all kinds of rational reasons. One study found that as many as 95% of workers would consider a job change. To call that a significant number is an understatement. Frankly, it’s alarming.
The Great Resignation is a movement with momentum. The people you’re hoping to save are likely already negotiating with their next employer. Other people considering leaving are feeling emboldened witnessing the fearlessness of their peers.
Given the scale of the workforce migration, individual employees’ reasons for leaving are pretty varied, but they generally come down to three main factors.
#1 There is certainty in the booming job market, and certainty drives behavior.
Anyone searching for a greener pasture right now has a good chance of finding one. The media reports of an increase in available jobs provides a new level of certainty among people once hesitant in considering a change. With a record number of job openings, the more people see “we’re hiring!” the more confident they will feel that there is a job out there for them.
In previous years with a tighter job market, career advisors might have recommended that employees in a comfortable position consider their individual growth trajectory, set a strategy for developing skills, and build their résumé, all while remaining in a position that they had outgrown. The relative increase in certainty offsets the potential risk that previously made us hesitant to transition careers. Suddenly we are seeing a mass movement of job seekers who are stepping away from unsatisfying work situations regardless of whether they have landed their next gig, with less fear of being without a paycheck for long.
ACTION ITEM FOR YOU:
Organizations need to establish and publicize their own internal job market. Give people options for a career move internally at this time – show them all available opportunities and encourage them to find the place where they feel they can grow. Many employees would rather find a new opportunity within a familiar setting.
Demonstrating awareness of The Great Resignation and offering people an easy way to get a new job or promotion internally without having to take a drastic leap into unchartered territory can provide a comfortable change for many employees who may simply be seeking something new.
#2 Autonomy is something employees crave, so finally having some feels good.
After a year of being locked down with less control than ever over many aspects of our lives, leaving a job may feel like the first autonomous choice we’ve had in a long time. And it feels amazing. The gains in perceived certainty that have come from seeing so many job openings posted have fueled the inspiration to access other sources of social reward, and the joys of acting on autonomy are now in play.
Certainty and autonomy, when combined, can create an upward spiral of energy and engagement—especially when we see that energy in our peers. Today, employees want to build a life true to their own authentic priorities. Those priorities became undeniably apparent for workers of all ages over the past year and a half.
The pandemic, and its lockdowns, resulted in some form of loss for each of us, but it seemed some workers bore an unfair share of those losses. Our brains react to that threat to our sense of fairness by seeking rewards in domains such as certainty and autonomy, and now with a renewed focus on our individual needs. When those needs aren’t met, people will seek to find a place where they might have a little more control over them.
ACTION ITEM FOR YOU:
Leverage the power of unexpected autonomy and weave it into everyday aspects of their work, even where it may seem trivial. The easy way to keep employees from searching outside your organization for autonomy is to simply let them choose where they work, and when. Some people enjoy working from home while others prefer an office, so if flexibility in work settings is possible, it’s important to leave that decision to the individual.
If flexible work settings aren’t possible, there are other ways to provide autonomy. One example that showed tremendous response was when General Mills rolled out the Gift of Choice to around 10,000 workers in its North America manufacturing plants. With a whopping 85% engagement, it demonstrated that workers really enjoy unexpected autonomy and it can be delivered in creative ways, without hindering the way the organization needs to work. The trick is to make it unexpected. Surprising employees with the gift of autonomy takes a little effort, but it’s worth it.
#3 Employees have had a taste of wellness, and want more.
Never before has there been a work-life issue that has spanned generations of workers the way wellness has in recent months. After a year of being told to look after our health, it should be no surprise that many of the behaviors associated with fairness at work have centered around the theme of work-life balance. For a lot of jobs, that balance doesn’t exist. Sales, management, and business ownership require some people to be “on” or at least available during the hours that others dedicate to the life part of our work-life balance.
If your work-life lines are blurred, wellness is an even more critical goal. When both work and life roles were forced into the same physical space, many people got better at managing self-care, recognizing that when they have autonomy with their day, they make choices that improve both work and life. For those workers facing a return to the office, they may fear a threat to the wellness routines they have come to appreciate.
ACTION ITEM FOR YOU:
Lean into thoughtful and significant efforts that are meaningful to the individual, not just the organization. That could mean creating opportunities for employees to be insightful about what constitutes wellness, for them. At NLI, we have a program centered around a shared everyday habit of “taking care of yourself and others.” Employees are empowered, within a reasonable financial constraint, to discover ways to make their hybrid work more comfortable. That stipend could be used to pay for internet services, home office comforts like coffee, or treating a coworker to a meal. The important part is centering wellness efforts around the individual, because that’s who is writing your story.
The story of your company is told by your former employees.
Organizations can solve all three of these issues–which come down to autonomy, certainty, and fairness– with the actions laid out above. The result is something entirely within the organization’s control—they give employees reasons to stay. And if an employee does join The Great Resignation movement, at least you’ve written a positive story for an employee to take with them when they leave.
Author: Joy VerPlanck, D.E.T. , Jeanine Stewart, Ph.D.