Employee Recognition

The great opportunity in reframing The Great Resignation

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. 

Want to improve employee retention? Here's how.

Explore our platformGet retention strategies

5. Embrace flexibility.

Working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic gave many employees their first experience with increased work flexibility—and they don't want to give it up. Surveys show that most employees prefer to spend most or all of their time working remotely, and flexibility ranks only behind compensation for job satisfaction

Your people are rethinking what work means to them and how they spend their time, so a big part of embracing their changing mindset is to give them the flexibility they're craving. For example, you could empower employees to set their own work hours to support personal priorities (like caregiving) or offer them the flexibility to adjust their schedules on the spot when life happens without fear of repercussions. 

We know that complete flexibility may not be attainable or advisable for all employees. Your early career employees, for example, may need more structure and guidance as they figure out their ideal work style and schedule. Still, giving your employees more autonomy to build their work and career around their personal lives, rather than the other way around, will help them achieve better work-life balance and be more productive long-term

6. Help employees find their 'why.'

There are plenty of reasons your employees may want a change of direction, from better pay to more time with their families. But one of the most significant factors is fulfillment.

To help your people find their purpose, make space for them to explore their interests and passions within your company. For example, one team at Intel has a rule that employees devote 20% of their time to passion projects. Things like a nonprofit initiative, pro-bono work, or a new venture. 

Besides helping your employees shake up their workweek, these measures help your people feel more connected to your workplace. They’ll also appreciate the freedom and trust to pursue interests outside their day-to-day roles. 

7. Let people go.

If an employee is ready to leave, your first instinct may be to find out what would make them stay. Instead, ask them what they're looking to do next. Their answer could help you retain them by leading them to a role in a different department or team. You may lose them from your team, but they'll bring their insights and experience to a new part of the company, which is an overall win for your organization.

Of course, good people will sometimes move on. And there may not be anything you can do about that. But you can minimize the pain and awkwardness by treating their exit more like a graduation than a breakup

Celebrate your people as they grow and evolve, maintain a positive, alumni-like relationship with them, and make it clear that there's still a place for them at the organization if they want to come back. 

These are a few reasons why Tim Mann, Director of Sales, Blueboard, returned to work for Blueboard after leaving for another role. 

"From my former VP to the founder, to the reps I worked with, I continued to stay in touch with the [Blueboard] team for guidance, feedback, and perspective," says Tim. "When the opportunity came up to return to Blueboard, it was a no-brainer. If the team was awesome to work with previously and after I left, it was clear that I had a place to return to and thrive."

When it comes to The Great Resignation, exploration is the winning mindset 

We're in a new era of employee advocacy and a long over-due reconsideration of what a successful work environment can (and should) be. The best way to take advantage of The Great Exploration is to see it as a clarifying moment rather than a failure. Make the most of this time by learning why people stay and what they're looking for when they leave. Then, look at how you handle employee exits to see if you can make the experience more positive and affirming. 

Lastly, remember that change can be a good thing. This period is a chance to add fresh, new talent to your teams who could be even better suited to your organization and celebrate your exiting staff as they grow and evolve in their careers.

When will the Great Resignation end? Only time can tell. But reframing the Great Resignation as The Great Exploration can put you in an even better position to attract and retain incredible people and make your employees feel valued and appreciated—even when they're no longer with you. 

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