Over the last year, the “Great Resignation” headlines have flooded the news, workplace blogs, and social media timelines. Many, if not all of us, are eager to graduate from this discussion, but employers are still very much stuck in the thick of it.

CNN reported that February’s turnover numbers in the US were just shy of November’s record high, and recent research by Gloat indicates almost half of the workforce is either actively job searching or planning to do so soon.

It is interesting, however, that all trends from the research conducted indicate that what is required of employers to navigate the great recession is not new. They reinforce what we know, feel, and discuss—previously at the water cooler, now via quips, memes, and reels over Slack and Teams. Employees want their employers to raise the bar as it relates to core elements of the employee experience that have struggled to evolve.

Employers need to go beyond the traditional and ad hoc endeavors in workplace health, workers’ careers, and social activities to create value for employees by delivering work/life balance, opportunities for professional advancement, and meaningful workplace relationships. Together, these spell ‘BAR’—and they represent the critical areas that need to be addressed to retain employees and navigate the great resignation.

Balance: Elevate well-being & thriving

Robert Half reports that almost 50% of workers report burnout and high levels of workplace stress, and WHO now defines burnout as a major job-related challenge. Causing severe health concerns like anxiety and depression, burnout is unsurprisingly one of the main culprits of turnover. Employers have therefore begun focusing on well-being, given that employees who have higher well-being also have lower levels of burnout. Despite this focus, the work-life balance needed to achieve this well-being continues to be elusive.

EAP programs and mental health days are certainly steps in the right direction, but these interventions are not enough. To effect balance, a more holistic approach should be adopted. Consider using Gallup’s five elements of well-being (physical, financial, career, social, and community) to augment endeavors by introducing programs and benefits in these areas as part of the wellness strategy.

The workplace concerns also need to be tackled at the root. Adopt a more people-centric approach to managing employee output by allowing greater flexibility and autonomy. One way to do so is through workload prioritization and distribution. Employees should know what their top priorities are and be empowered to discuss readjusting them as needed. This reduces burnout that emerges from being stretched across multiple pressing goals. Let employees take control over the way they work, doing so at times that are conducive to their own productivity. Embrace more asynchronous collaboration to decrease feelings of overwhelm and meeting fatigue.

Well-being accountability should also be facilitated. Taking time at meetings to share how team members are making time for their own well-being or sending a nudge when someone on holiday sends numerous emails are ways to put this into practice. This helps to change the ‘always-on’ narrative and ‘leavism’ habits that fuel stress and make it difficult to unplug. The goal is to move beyond wellness initiatives to integrating offerings systems and practices that create an environment where employees truly thrive.

Advancement: Improve career development & growth

According to Gallup’s research, the #1 reason people seek job change is career-growth opportunities. People demand opportunities to learn, grow, and develop. Businesses should seek to enhance workers’ career equity by integrating these into the various facets of the employee lifecycle and experience. This will increase engagement levels and in turn, retention. You’ll want to consider some of the following questions as you do so.

  • What are the opportunities for internal mobility?
  • What can be done for job enrichment to support of career paths?
  • What are the skills needed to move to the next level?
  • Are there resources readily available to help with skill acquisition?
  • How can I access lateral moves in the organization that may be beneficial to my professional success?
  • Can I explore other areas of the business to enhance my career trajectory?
  • Are there opportunities for relocation to give my knowledge of the business or industry greater depth?

To answer these, the business may need to reimagine career growth, especially if it considers that growth to only be the traditionally linear path up the corporate ladder. Some solutions that can be more immediate for organizations include offering individual career guidance sessions that employees can take advantage of, creating forums where employees can submit career questions anonymously and responses can be crowdsourced from in-house experts, or even sessions where senior leaders can share their own career paths as inspiration for employees.

Connecting talent to opportunity in the workplace has never been more imperative. People will leave companies that do not provide these opportunities for companies that do. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report reinforces this, as it notes, “Companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees for an average of 5.4 years, nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it.”

Relationship: Increase connections & belonging

The need for relationships has remained a constant for employees. However, enabling teams to build relationships in remote and hybrid environments can be a challenge. Businesses are unable to benefit from the casual workplace interactions that create connection and belonging and as such, will need to be deliberate.

Scheduling these opportunities will prove advantageous. For connection, perhaps transition some of the virtual happy hours into networking sessions by creating and rotating colleagues through breakout rooms, speed dating style. To improve belonging, go beyond mere activities for social purposes to implement team-building that promotes a greater shared understanding of colleagues. These may be personality assessments, strengths finders, or a zones of genius quiz. Be sure to also leverage the in-office days of a hybrid schedule, not for more Zoom meetings but for in-person collaboration whenever possible. This will require some extra planning to ensure the critical persons have at least one shared office day a month, for example, but it will be well worth it by helping to re-establish a sense of community.

What is most helpful to remember is that studies show that when employees have high social capital in the workplace, turnover risk is reduced by 140%. Thought must therefore be given to how strong, beneficial networks and peer-to-peer relationships can be forged.

The role of culture & leadership

Leadership matters: “42% of the reasons people are quitting are tied to how they feel about their bosses and organizational cultures,” according to Gallup research. Values are at the core of this exodus.

Employees are seeking cultures where they connect with values and feel valued. Respect, appreciation, recognition of performance, transparency, ethical behavior, and equity are some of the components of a healthy organizational culture that retains the best talent.

Additionally, employees want leaders who value them enough to act as their coaches. After all, the best leaders are coaches: they set clear expectations, listen and utilize feedback, leverage strengths, and continuously cultivate employees. Effective leaders also help to reduce turnover more effectively than any other organizational roles.

Culture and leadership therefore present a unique opportunity for businesses to leverage as they face the Great Resignation. If balance, advancement, and relationships are the ‘what’ of employee retention, culture and leadership are the how. They are integral to effecting sustainable change.

The support of learning & development

L&D’s core mandate is to facilitate the mindset shift to ‘raise the bar’ in order to translate theory into tangible improvements in the workplace. There’s very little point to discussing concerns and ideating without being able to devise a plan of action that addresses pain points. Therefore, promoting application is paramount to this process. L&D can support companies during the Great Resignation in the ways captured below.

Balance: Ensure that practical resources on various aspects of well-being are readily available to the workforce whilst equipping leaders to take charge of embedding efforts within their departments. The latter can be achieved by ensuring that they know ways in which they can actively and efficiently promote greater autonomy, flexibility, and accountability within their teams. Consider sharing short guides with links to curated learning to deepen their mastery in areas most relevant to them.

Advancement: Reorganize L&D priorities to include internal mobility and career pathing in support of advancing career development and growth. Venture beyond eLearning courses to include knowledge sharing between employees, job enrichment projects, and more real-life experiences. Be sure to arm employees with the information needed to shape their own careers. Work closely with leaders and other key stakeholders to improve the access employees have to growth opportunities. Ensure that all programs developed to support career growth have robust communications campaigns for optimal visibility.

Relationships: Consider how learning opportunities foster connection and collaboration to amplify belonging. For example, bring together cross-functional leaders who may not often interact with each other for the sharing of team management best practices during leadership development programs. This could be further enhanced by giving these leaders opportunities to collaborate on shared challenges that may arise during the program and encouraging them to bring their respective teams together for similar exercises.

Integrating work/life balance, career advancement opportunities, and meaningful workplace relationships into the day-to-day of work will make a difference in the organization’s culture. Leaders that champion this and can leverage L&D as a resource on this journey will raise the bar and succeed during the Great Resignation.

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