5 Actions Leaders Should Take Now

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While “The Great Resignation” may seem like a passing phenomenon, it’s more complex and potentially serious than you may think. It’s quickly morphing into The Great Revolt.

October has seen the launch of worker strikes across a range of industries because the current labor shortage has tipped the balance of power to employees. The Washington Post reported that low-wage workers are revolting against years of poor pay and stressful conditions.

Many of the strikers are essential workers who feel betrayed after working long hours in dangerous conditions to keep the economy and their organizations afloat during the pandemic. Now they’re watching the executives and shareholders reap the benefits. The strike at John Deere is a perfect example.

Those who aren’t striking are resigning in record numbers—quitting has hit the highest level in two decades. Nearly 12% of workers have quit since April and 95% of workers are currently considering changing jobs. The biggest group is mid-level employees, ages 30 to 45.

Who is leaving? It comes as no surprise that healthcare workers are leaving in droves. They’re physically and emotionally exhausted. The quit rate in the hotel/restaurant industry was 6.8%, over double the average rate across all industries. Even white collar workers, who were able to work from home, are resigning.

Tech workers bore the burden of enabling work to continue through the lockdowns by pivoting their entire workforce to online tools for communication and collaboration. Futurist Amy Webb says, “2020 saw a decade of digital transformation in the span of a few months.”

Women have also resigned in record numbers, many to handle childcare and school closures. In September alone 309,000 women left the workforce compared to 182,000 men.

In her article for Inc., Jessica Stillman states, “Workers aren’t just looking for higher pay, more time off, or more days at home…They’re actually questioning the whole meaning of the daily grind. Why do we put so much of ourselves into our careers? And are we getting a fair deal from our employers in return for all this stress and heartache? Holding on to employees [is] about showing them their work has meaning and that the company actually cares about them as human beings.”

Here are five strategies executives need to take action on now.

1. Create a better workplace

Nearly half of executives say they’re seeing elevated turnover, but many are not realizing they need to make critical changes.

At a minimum, you need to offer a living wage, physically safe work environments, and a workplace where people feel they are treated with fairness and respect. Wages and salaries are going up as organizations compete for employees. Many now offer $15-20/hour along with other perks like free college tuition and childcare. White collar workers are landing new jobs with at least a 10% salary increase along with better opportunities for development and advancement. If you want to keep your current talent or hire new people, you have to offer competitive packages.

Another vital action is to train your managers. Consider these recent findings:

  • 84% of U.S. workers say poorly trained managers create a lot of unnecessary stress

  • 57% say they have quit a job because of a bad boss

  • 50% of employees feel their own performance would improve if their boss received the right kind of manager training

When given the right training, managers not only improve, they can become the secret sauce that turns a good organization into a great one. A Gallup study shows that good managers increase the productivity and engagement of their teams as well as attract new top performers. Investing in manager training pays for itself tenfold.

Related: 5 Strategies for Effectively Managing People in the New Hybrid World

2. Actively address burnout

Burnout is the number one reason employees cite for leaving their current jobs. Burnout is actually a diagnosable state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion brought on by long-term stress. A recent study found that 89% of employees are burned out.

In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski identify three main components of burnout: emotional exhaustion, lack of accomplishment, and depletion of empathy.

No matter how hard people work, they feel like they’re spinning their wheels and they just don’t have the capacity to feel compassion for others or themselves.

Burnout creeps up slowly making us too tired to care or take positive action. Psychologist Christine Hohlbaum, states “Sadly, most people don’t even notice its gradual grip over their lives until it’s too late. By then, external intervention is necessary to move burnout patients toward positive change.” This is why burnout is also called “the erosion of the soul.”

The truth is that the only real cure for burnout is to rest, not start another job. This is why hiring managers are seeing an increase in ghosting, both by applicants as well as up to 25% of new hires who fail to show for their first day.

Savvy leaders are investing in services to help their people reduce stress and burnout, such as paid time off, office closures, wellness programs like mindfulness, and expanded mental health and therapy services. Today’s workers are looking for leaders who genuinely care about and invest in their wellbeing.

Related: 5 Ways Leaders Can Fight Burnout Culture

3. Change how you define and measure work

Much of how we define work dates back to the industrial revolution. While the lockdowns pushed many organizations to pivot to remote work and online collaboration, it’s time we take a deeper look at these old notions.

Measure work in outcomes, not hours. Unless you provide your service in hours, pivot to measuring outcomes or results. This allows for more flexibility in work schedules as well as clarifies how performance is evaluated. People want to be measured for their contributions and implementing this kind of system also reduces bias and the effects of discrimination.

Implement job sharing and rotations. With people wanting more work/life balance, job sharing is a great solution that offers many benefits. Job rotation is another great way to meet the needs of your employees while upleveling their skills and providing professional development opportunities.

Ditch the meetings, or at least one-third of them. Meetings take up far too much of our time with very little to show for that time spent. During the pandemic meeting time increased to record levels. A 2021 study on the Hybrid Workplace found that 77% of workers have experienced “zoom fatigue” and a Harvard study found that 65% of workers said that meetings keep them from completing their own work.

Take a fresh look at using new online and asynchronous tools for communication and collaboration. Bringing people together should be saved for when it truly facilitates trust building or decision making. And definitely set a few times during the week when meetings cannot be scheduled and firmly hold that line.

4. Recognize and reward your loyal talent

As the competition for talent grows, companies are investing in programs like signing bonuses, higher salaries, and better benefits. But don’t forget to recognize your loyal employees who have stayed with you. They worked hard over the pandemic, pivoting with every unexpected change. Have you thanked them yet?

People hunger to have their contributions seen and valued, so now is the time to show them some appreciation. Offer financial rewards like bonuses, extra paid time off, or a “staying/loyalty” bonus. And don’t underestimate the power of a handwritten note from their manager or leader stating how much they matter.

For your top talent, whom losing will create challenges for your organization, give them extra attention. Many companies are offering sabbaticals, so that they can recover from burnout. It’s far better to lose them for a couple months than to lose them forever.

Bottom line, people want to work for places where they are truly valued and cared for. Make sure you are sending those signals frequently and consistently.

Related: Career Break: Let Us Call It ‘Fashionable Sabbatical’

5. Dial up your talent team

All of the above shifts in hiring and workplace culture rely on your HR team. They’re likely burned out and in need of rest and appreciation too. You may also need to hire more recruiters to handle the increased turnover predicted in the coming months. Look at your onboarding practices and ensure your managers know how to set their new hires up for success.

Also invest in a great learning and development team. Did you know that “opportunities to learn and grow” are consistently one of the top qualities candidates look for in an employer? In fact, 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as a top factor when job hunting. Your organization should be offering a robust range of learning opportunities including Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion initiatives, wellness, and manager training. Invest in cutting edge programs and use best practices to drive real behavior change.

Making it through The Great Resignation and keeping it from becoming The Great Revolt requires you to authentically rethink work and build a better workplace that will attract great talent now and well into the future. It needs to be safe, flexible, inclusive, and meaningful.

Organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, who coined the term The Great Resignation, says this: “One hopefully silver lining of this horrible pandemic would be if the world of work transitioned to a more healthy, sustainable place for employee well-being.”

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