Don’t Call It the Great Resignation. It’s Actually the Great Awakening

“Do you have a minute to speak?”

It’s a dreaded question for any manager to hear, especially with the implied “in private” hanging over it. Invariably, it’s unwelcome news, and often it means that someone is about to resign.

great resignation

It’s the start of an uncomfortable conversation that used to unfold in quiet meeting rooms but is now as likely to happen via Zoom, Slack, or email. And, with The Great Resignation now well and truly underway, it’s a dialogue that is becoming worryingly common.

People around the world are leaving their jobs in record numbers—4.3 million Americans quit in August alone—and part of the reason is a pandemic-prompted reevaluation of what is truly important. Not so very long ago, perks such as well-stocked office pantries, complimentary gym memberships, and free-to-play arcade games were viewed as the kind of fringe benefits that could help attract and retain talent. Post-pandemic, however, people want a feeling of security and flexibility, not free ice cream. Call it The Great Awakening.

A consequence of this is that the size and financial muscle of your organization may now play second fiddle to the culture that has been adopted during the pandemic. And while that creates opportunities for businesses of all sizes to realign their retention goals around new, flexible work styles, it’s only one piece of the overall equation.

Here are the key factors that should be at the forefront of your planning:

How Flexible Can You Be?

One of the things I appreciate about where I work is that we try not to impose too-strict rules and processes on decisions that require humanity. Given the psychological impact of the past two years, it’s crucial that company policy doesn’t lose touch with the reality that people are dealing with every day. This could mean:

  • Allowing people longer holidays, or the ability to combine holidays with periods of fully remote work, particularly if they live in a different city or country from their family.
  • Letting people work from wherever they want (including another country) year-round.
  • Factoring in more break times during the day to manage personal or family tasks.

While these might have been considered “perks” prior to the pandemic, they should now be considered mental health necessities. Kids certainly don’t take heed of your meeting schedule or that you happen to be on a Zoom call, and other family members might need more support as well. Like it or not, the world has changed irrevocably in the past two years, and the way we think about work and schedules needs to change too.

By way of example, a friend of mine from the UK wanted to move to Tokyo for one year to be closer to his Japanese partner’s family. His company initially said no as their old “in the office” policy didn’t allow for distance work. Undeterred, he created a plan that balanced time zones and appealed to their rational side. After a lot of hand-wringing, they agreed. Many companies would have stood firm and said no, however, and in that situation he would have had to make the choice to prioritize his family or his work. Is that a decision you want to force your employees to make?

Communicate a Clear Plan

There’s a certain irony to the fact that a culture of flexibility needs to be built on a platform of stability, and many companies are getting this part very wrong. When it comes to big decisions, employees want clarity and consistency, not flip-flopping. So make a decision and communicate it clearly.

For instance, is your company going to be remote, fully in-office, or hybrid? And has your organization communicated a clear office vision for the future? If you’ve been sitting on the fence for the past 12 months without a well-defined plan, it’s high time you made one.

If your plan is to be fully back in the office, you have to communicate that, even if you aren’t sure on the date yet. Uncertainty at organizational level has a huge impact on the morale of employees: not knowing what the situation will be in three to six months could lead people to look for a new opportunity with an organization that has already outlined a clear policy. Put yourself in their shoes—how would you feel if you had no idea what your work/life balance would be in six months’ time? What if you had concerns about your safety or the safety of loved ones? Would that be enough to make you look for a job that didn’t require a blind leap of faith?

In my previous role leading a tech recruitment business, I saw these kinds of problems play out all the time, and not just with remote work. Other upheavals like reorganizations, budget cuts, or changes in leadership can cause anxiety. And while these things can be inevitable, the clarity of the communication makes all the difference. It’s worth noting that many people have a high need for security, and if you can’t provide it, someone else will.

Get to Grips with Intrinsic Motivation

While most people are happy to get a raise, a bonus, or more holidays, we’re learning more and more that it’s Intrinsic Motivation rather than incentives that really drives engagement. Indeed, there’s growing evidence that incentives can even undermine motivation. Gaining a deeper understanding of the values and preferences that motivate your employees, both individually and collectively, allows you to improve communication, identify blindspots, and personalize the work experience. It also lays the foundations for creating a culture in which Psychological Safety can flourish.

Attuned is a platform that draws upon decades of psychological research and a sprinkling of AI to help you quickly identify the top Intrinsic Motivators of each individual, team, and across your entire organization. By making these unseen values visible, leaders can see what makes their team tick better and quicker, paving the way for a level of mutual understanding and trust that would normally take months or even years to develop.

Understanding Intrinsic Motivation also allows leaders and managers to tailor their communication style according to the individual, and to inspire or incentivize teams more effectively without relying on assumptions. And team members benefit too: as well as having the opportunity to develop a common language with their managers, they can build the same transparent and open communication channels with other team members, which in turn improves Psychological Safety.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, while The Great Resignation may be caused by The Great Awakening, the antidote is surely The Great Understanding. Companies that take the time to really understand what’s important to their employees, and how their work lives intersect with their day-to-day realities, have an unprecedented opportunity to craft new and better ways of working that are based on both data and humanity. Those that don’t should prepare for more uncomfortable conversations.

Chad Lafferty is the VP of Global Sales at Attuned, a psychology-powered platform that helps companies understand what really motivates their employees, making it easy for leaders to manage teams more effectively and empathetically and create environments in which Psychological Safety can flourish. The Tokyo-based company uses a 55-question AI-powered motivator assessment to determine what drives individual employees.

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