In the early stages of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many employers sought to downsize their staff and moved to lay off or fire employees to save costs. Now as the impacts of the pandemic subside, the situation is reversed. Many employees are deciding to leave companies – a phenomenon happening in large enough numbers that this new era has been defined as the Great Resignation.
Many employers were caught unprepared for this shift, leading to significant staffing gaps as they lost talent. While the narrative around the Great Resignation often focuses on the employees as the driving force.
The Great Resignation was a direct result of a problem with corporate culture. Many employers did not address existing cultural issues within their organisations, and those issues became exacerbated during the pandemic. As a result, mental health and wellbeing have come to the fore for many individuals, leading to more dialogues on the issue. Social isolation, a lack of engagement with employers and co-workers, unusual work expectations, a lack of empathy, losing loved ones, friends, and colleagues, and an inability to comprehend the nature of the crisis have taken a toll on the mental health of individuals and led to an increased focus on mental wellbeing for organisations.
Unfortunately, many companies have not been able to effectively address this shift. Mental health was not the cause of the Great Resignation. It was a symptom of poor workplace cultures. Working from home, spending increased time with family members or roommates, and just being forced to do things differently have given employees a different perspective on their expectations from their employers.
When people leave an organisation in large numbers, it often lowers the morale of those left behind. If employers don’t take suitable action to emphasise the culture and build the morale of remaining staff members, it can have a debilitating effect on both the employees and the organisation. Productivity can drop, especially if employees feel that management does not appreciate their efforts. It may be worse if management does not care about those leaving as remaining employees can be left feeling that it does not matter whether they stay or leave.
Organisations need to realise that remuneration and added monetary benefits are not motivational drivers for many team members. Employees are not simply cogs in a wheel but thinking, emotional beings who crave satisfaction in their work. Many are looking for a connection to their colleagues and a purpose in their work, and if it is not available with their current employer, they may try to find it elsewhere. A recent report by Microsoft on hybrid work culture globally, including in India, noted that 60% of employees felt that they had no growth opportunities in their current organisation and that the only way to advance in their careers was to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
The good news is that there are steps for organisations to take to retain talent and ensure that employees feel safe and secure in the post-pandemic world.
Focus on empathy
Employees need to know that their employers are listening to them and understanding what they are going through. If an employee’s family has suffered during the pandemic, either financially or health-wise, employers should acknowledge the hardship and respond with empathy. That doesn’t mean the organisation should provide the support directly (although that is an option) but should at least help employees find aid resources. An organisation can thrive only if its employees are happy, satisfied, and emotionally stable.
Employees are looking for greater flexibility in terms of working hours, locations, and better terms and companies must respond to these preferences. Remote working has made people realise the significant time required to commute and how it can be used in other and often better ways. It has also highlighted that many roles can be done effectively irrespective of location. Often a hybrid working model, where individuals can work remotely at times but also come into an office setting to enable engagement and connections, works best for all parties. Employers must explore incorporating flexibility within the corporate culture to retain talent and attract new hires.
Companies must make greater efforts to engage with employees in terms of their goals, skills, and expectations and guide them in their career paths. Many employees are looking for direct, personal interactions with management, and members of the management teams must make concerted efforts to show that they are present and involved. Studies have shown that employee feedback is missing in most companies. Even something as simple and basic as seating arrangements can impinge on an employee’s comfort within the organisation. Listening to team members and making them part of decisions that impact their work arrangements is an important step towards true engagement.
The Covid-19 pandemic is more than a global health crisis
it has also been a driver of emotional crisis for many individuals. Companies must be aware of the impact the pandemic continues to have on team members as what affects employees will ultimately affect organisations as well. A focus on building a workplace culture that is supportive of individuals and inclusive of their perspectives will help organisations retain team members and attract new talent, reducing the organisational impact of the Great Resignation and creating a workplace where individuals feel valued and are reluctant to leave.