The Great Resignation: What Organizations Must Learn
With a near-record 11 million job openings across the US, new research finds that prospective employees prioritize well-being benefits — including financial, mental, emotional, social, physical, and career perks. The Great Resignation, as it has been called, has left employers scrambling to figure out new ways to turn the tide of departing talent.
In our own ongoing research, we have surveyed almost 3,000 professionals in our Resilient Leader Assessment (resiliencerank.com). This research points to reasons why so many people left their jobs in the Great Resignation, and ways companies can respond to turn the challenge into an opportunity.
The growth opportunity is to understand at a deeper level why people are leaving, to gain a better understanding of your workplace and your workers, and to leverage the change that’s occurring for your company’s growth.
There are many reasons large numbers of people have left their jobs since the pandemic began. Burnout and exhaustion are commonly cited as reasons medical and other frontline workers have quit their jobs in the pandemic. But what about the countless other employees who have left professional positions that don’t necessarily involve saving lives, directly serving the public, or working in hazardous conditions?
Our research points to another reason people have been resigning: They are seeking to fill a gap between what they say is most important in their lives, and how they are actually allocating their time and energy.
Our assessment is a proprietary 16-question tool designed to gauge the resiliency level of participants. We ask participants to rank their level of agreement or disagreement with a number of statements. Based on the answers, we provide a resiliency rank in each of four areas: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience. We then aggregate those scores to identify trends.
For the statement, “I’m engaged in a livelihood that is in line with my core values and beliefs,” the aggregate score has run surprisingly high (85), putting our participants in what we consider the “green zone” on this measure. However, there is also broad agreement with this statement: “There are significant gaps between what I say is most important in my life and how I actually allocate my time and energy.” That put our participants in the “red zone” with an aggregate score around 55. Their score for the statement “I don’t invest enough time and energy in making a positive difference to others or to the world” is also in the red at 59.
The news is a constant drumbeat of all that is wrong with the world. It’s only natural for compassionate, empathetic, self-aware human beings to ask themselves “What am I doing about it?”
These results support a common narrative around the Great Resignation — that the pandemic is causing people to reevaluate what is most important in their lives. This is good for individuals, but it creates a challenge for organizations losing experienced and talented employees, managers, and top-level leaders.
The growth opportunity in this moment is to understand at a deeper level why people are resigning in order to gain a deeper understanding of your workplace and of your talent. This will make your organization, your culture, and your ability to retain talent stronger and more resilient. But what does resilient really mean?
We define resilience as how we recharge, and leverage change and uncertainty as catalysts for growth. But resilience in corporate culture has traditionally meant something else entirely: being able to endure more than the competition, work longer hours, burn the candle at both ends, take whatever hits come your way, and keep going. That’s not how you develop long-term resilience, performance, engagement, or loyalty. It’s how you burn people out.
Stress and strategy are mutually exclusive. You can’t think creatively when you’re under stress. When you’re tired, you’re toast. When your workforce is too exhausted to deal with ever-present change, they’re either going to perform in a mediocre way or they’re going to get so frustrated that they’re going to leave.
The news of the Great Resignation is organizations have burned people out. For too long they have not cared about the exhaustion of their employees, and whether those employees are spending time on what is important to them versus what they’re being paid to do.
It’s time to change that. Here are a few ways to do it.
Model Transparency for Transformation: In many work cultures, people are not willing to speak honestly about the stress they are under or ask for help. Leaders can change that by speaking truthfully and transparently and listening to their employees’ challenges and needs. Organizations that are open to listening to what’s really going on within the company will learn what they need to be able to help their people become more resilient.
Build Recovery Rituals: There are simple practices anyone can do to recharge. Recovery in the typical workday is just a series of state changes that you are consciously crafting and executing so you can toggle back and forth between being on, with full focus and creativity and everything you’ve got to do for your work, and being off, truly at rest.
Create a Culture of Resilience: How can we operationalize the concept of resilience going forward? It can’t just be words. It has to be tangible, this commitment to our employees’ well-being. We must be willing to make mistakes and to get feedback. We have to genuinely be interested in listening and learning so that we can try something new and find out what works.
Practice “Pause-Ask-Choose”: We developed this strategy to help leaders build resilience within themselves and their organizations.
-What do you do when you’re in an uncontrollable rip tide of rapid change? You stop fighting. Yes, that’s counterintuitive, but pausing will give you an awareness of how much energy you’re expending and how little it’s getting you. It’s a time to literally catch your breath so you can reframe whatever challenge you face.
-This is the chance to discover deeper meaning in the challenge you’re facing by asking questions such as “What is the creative opportunity presented by what is happening?” and “What am I not seeing?” In this way, you begin to reframe what is happening so you can ride the wave of change instead of fighting it.
-This is deciding how we will act based on what we’ve discovered by pausing and asking. We may choose to act or not to act and instead recharge for the time when action will make sense. This might include consciously ritualizing small, daily practices for our personal recovery to create mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual harmony and resilience.
The Great Resignation is just one of the challenges business leaders face in this time of massive and unrelenting change. Now’s the time to be thinking about how you’re going to take care of the people who are staying, the new people you will attract, and even the people who will come back. Instead of looking over their people, leaders must learn to look after them.
About Adam: Best-selling author, keynote speaker, and resilience expert Adam Markel inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption in his upcoming book, “Change-Proof — Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience” (McGraw-Hill, February 2022). Adam is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly best-seller, “Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.” Learn more at AdamMarkel.com.