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It’s safe to say that we’re living through unique economic times. And that’s probably saying the least.

For one, businesses across the world are dealing with supply chain issues, resulting in shortages, high prices, and frustrated consumers. But it’s not merely products and components that are in short supply—manpower, or labor, is too.

That’s largely due to what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation,” which has seen more people willingly leave their jobs than at perhaps any other time in American history. It’s left business leaders scrambling to both retain their teams and attract new talent, all while maintaining thin margins, and contending with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

There are, however, some tactics and strategies that business leaders can employ to effectively guide their organizations through this particularly perilous stretch of economic circumstances, as Rob Patterson, a senior consultant at CMA, explains.

What is The Great Resignation, and why does it matter?

The term “The Great Resignation” was initially coined by Anthony Klotz, a management professor at Texas A&M. And it refers to the historic recent number of employee resignations.

The data really paints a full picture, too, with the number of resignations totaling around 11.5 million during the months of April, May, and June 2021. It’s continued through the summer, too, with August alone seeing a further 4.3 million people quitting their jobs. That’s roughly 3% of the U.S. workforce.

This is putting the squeeze on employers. A tight labor market, along with lost production and talent acquisitions costs, is eating up significant resources for many organizations.

What is spurring The Great Resignation?

Data from a recent McKinsey & Company report show that 40% of employees are actively looking for new opportunities, and that’s backed up by data from Gallup, which pegs that number at 48%.

So, the million-dollar question is this: Why are so many people quitting? Patterson says it boils down to four key factors:

  • Competition: With the advent of remote work, businesses are facing increased competition for workers from various geographic locations. Organizations that are hiring for remote positions have a greater talent pool from which to draw workers.
  • Control: Workers want more control over their circumstances—where they physically work (office versus at home), who they work with, and what they’re spending their time working on.
  • Lack of respect: Many workers do not or have not felt respected at their organizations, and are looking for alternatives—and the timing is right for those workers to make a change.
  • Leadership misperceptions: In many organizations, managers don’t understand what employees want or need, and these misaligned incentives are creating enough friction to cause churn.

As for which workers, specifically, are quitting en masse, it’s all over the spectrum. But Gallup’s data does find that employees between the ages of 30 and 45 saw a 20% increase in resignation rates during 2020 and 2021.

While there are myriad factors, Patterson notes that employees in this age range (millennials) are more likely to be raising young families, caring for aging parents, and having been in the workforce for many years now, testing the value of their skills and experience on the open market.

With all of this in mind, it’s clear that business leaders need to become more attractive to prospective talent than ever before, and that that’ll require some effort and resources. 

Strategies for combatting resignations

With some insight into what’s happening and why, as it relates to The Great Resignation, the next step for business leaders is to try and find effective strategies to keep talent on staff, attract new employees, and keep business operations running at full capacity.

As Patterson explains, there are a lot of factors and variables at play, and not every organization can reach into the same toolbag to achieve desired outcomes. But ultimately, business owners and managers have the same goal: Keep employees happy, and to make sure their organization is a place that attracts talent.

Patterson says that managers and leaders can focus on a foundational first step, what he calls “the platinum rule,” which is to treat employees the way they want to be treated. To gain more insight into employees’ concerns, leaders can and should conduct surveys and hold one-on-one check-ins, if they aren’t already.

These are important measures for any organization to implement and can help keep your “organizational hygiene” in check.

Getting down to brass tacks: Employees are frustrated by low pay, long hours, and a lack of advancement opportunities. They want organizations that offer them a sense of purpose, the ability to work remotely or on a hybrid basis, to work with good people, and to have opportunities to advance their careers.

It’s that simple. So, how do you do it? Here are some ideas:

  1. Foster advancement opportunities
    Making paths to promotion abundant and obvious isn’t as easy as it may seem. So, some things that leaders can do are to implement performance management protocols and career-pathing plans, and to make them transparent and available to ambitious workers. Job rotation can be another tool that garners workers a wide variety of good experiences, potentially unlocking unknown talents or passions.
  2. Build a healthy organizational culture
    Employees want to work with “good people.” That means it may be worthwhile to take a more active role in assessing and managing a company’s culture. Team-building exercises and outings may be a good way to foster a more cooperative environment, as can assigning mentors or sponsors to junior employees to help further integrate them into the organizational structure. 
  3. Develop a sense of organizational purpose
    Workers want their effort to have meaning, and to make a difference. Otherwise, they may feel rudderless. To get everyone rowing in the same direction, develop a mission statement and organizational vision (if you haven’t already). See if there’s a way to get workers more involved in decisions, and gather feedback from team members to ensure they feel connected.

 Using “The Great Resignation” to build a more solid foundation

Obviously, these are just a few ideas that managers can implement, and depending on your specific organization, not all may apply. But the goal is to find ways to make sure workers feel like they have more control, choices, and agency in their careers. That may require some creative leadership, but given the economic circumstances, leaders will be forced to evolve sooner rather than later.

In the end, leaders that do make the effort to foster a more inclusive and attractive organization will ultimately leave this period of Great Resignation more efficient, more effective, and with a stronger, focused workforce.




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