Jonathan Caballero, a software developer in Maryland, had gotten comfortable working from home during the pandemic. Without his 45-minute commute, he had more time for hobbies and home projects. So when his employer asked people to return to the office last year, Jonathan decided it was time to leave. Now he has a new, fully remote job that gives him the flexibility to end his day with a swim or guitar break.
"I think the pandemic has changed my mindset in a way," Jonathan told NPR. "I really value my time now."
North of the US border, patient navigator and research assistant Nick Kathen faced the opposite dilemma. As an outgoing person, working from home wasn't working for him. So he pivoted into the food industry and now works as a guest services manager at a restaurant in downtown Ottawa.
"It really meshes with my personality… I'm also learning a lot about the business side of things," Nick told CBC about his new career.
These are just two of the millions of stories behind "The Great Resignation." Employees continue to leave their jobs at record rates, and this trend isn't slowing down anytime soon. Arguably, that's because it's not a trend but a fundamental shift in how people approach their careers and personal life. The pandemic may have accelerated the movement, but the lifestyle and mindset changes are here to stay.
Fortunately, this "Great Exploration" (as some are calling it) presents a major opportunity for organizations.
What is The Great Exploration–and why does it matter?
While employers are still feeling the impacts of increased turnover rates, there are upsides to embracing The Great Resignation rather than fearing it. Instead of focusing solely on trying to stop people from quitting, The Great Exploration considers the benefits of refocusing on understanding why people want to leave in the first place.
"A lot of times, employees feel this loss of purpose—but they're not given space and time to explore these in the normal workplace. And as a result, they think the only way to do this is to push eject. But the reality is if we meet them to find their 'why,' we have an opportunity to retain them," said Keith Ferrazzi, chairman of the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, on a recent Marketplace podcast episode.
Dubbed The Great Exploration, this new outlook shifts the focus from treating the symptom (i.e., resignation) to uncovering the root cause of the problem. If you have a headache and take a painkiller, you're treating the symptom. But if you went to an optometrist and found out that you're having headaches because you're wearing the wrong glasses prescription, getting new glasses would address the root cause of the problem.
The Great Exploration works similarly. Although many employers responded to the Great Resignation with pay increases or cash bonuses, compensation is just one part of the employee satisfaction equation. If an employee isn’t feeling fulfilled or challenged enough in their role, more money won’t fix that.
A better first step would be to diagnose the root cause of employee dissatisfaction and attrition. This deeper understanding will help you retain your workers for the long haul, attract people who will add value to your organization, and be the happiest and most successful in their roles.
7 ways to make the most of The Great Exploration.
There's a lot to gain if you approach The Great Resignation through the glass half-full lens of The Great Exploration. It's never easy to say goodbye to good employees. But the opportunity to learn why they left can set your business up for success in future hiring. Getting the right people in the right seats positions your company as one that cares about employee wellbeing. It also sends the message to current and prospective employees that support is available even if it's not the best fit.
With The Great Exploration in mind, here are seven steps you can take to optimize your employee experience.
1. Review your overall comp package.
Compensation isn't everything, but it is still the number one priority for most employees. According to a 2022 survey of more than 52,000 workers, fair compensation was the main reason people wanted to change jobs.
Take the time to evaluate your overall compensation package, from pay and bonuses to wellness and mental health benefits, to equity and salary bands. For example, at digital strategy agency ntegrity, CEO Richenda Vermeulen reviewed employees' salaries to make sure they were competitive and made adjustments where necessary.
You might also want to tailor your compensation packages to align with your employees' most pressing needs and wants. For example, providing access to counseling services could help your employees manage their mental health and prevent burnout.
2. Collect employee feedback—and act on it.
Talk to your people to determine the root causes of employee turnover at your organization. How happy are they? How aligned do they feel with your organization's values and mission? You should also know what they think of your company's culture. How would they describe it? What do they like or don't like about it?
You can collect this feedback anonymously and at scale through engagement surveys or more casually through 1:1 conversations or team huddles. Just remember that the goal is understanding. Listen to your employees and figure out what they need. They may still need to exit, but you won't know for sure until you ask.
Finally, use the insights to double down on what's working and improve what's not. But keep in mind that your employees will get impatient if they don’t see any significant changes in a reasonable timeframe. Set a timeline for implementing the feedback and do your best to stick to it.
3. Clarify your employee value proposition.
Your organization won't be a fit for everybody—and that's okay. But do you know why people stay? Beyond the pay and the perks, why do your best employees choose to work with you? What makes your organization special?
Your employee value proposition is made up of the unique benefits your employees get in exchange for the time, skills, capabilities, and experience they bring to the table. When you understand why people want to work–and stay–at your organization, you can use these insights to find more amazing people who add value to your organization.
4. Clearly define personal and professional growth opportunities.
If your employees are checked out, tired, or need a change, they might not need a new job but a new sense of direction. For example, a stretch project or a role in a different department could do the trick.
Reengage employees by showing them how they can grow personally and professionally with you. For example, ntregrity redesigned its organizational structure to align with its three-year strategy, so staff could see their impact inside of the team. Leadership also met one-on-one with each employee to walk them through their role and show them what the near and far future could look like.
Your employees' tenure still may not be as long as you'd like—as of 2021, the median employee tenure is 4.1 years. But showing your employees how they can achieve their career goals with you and how you will support them along the way may encourage them to stick around longer.