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Checking in with your Culture and Why the Great Resignation isn’t all Bad

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One of the biggest workplace topics last year was how many employees were leaving and moving on to pastures new. Research found that a third of UK workers are considering a career change in 2022. Dubbed the Great Resignation, it became something people feared and something of huge concern for leaders grappling with recruitment and retention.

But the Great Resignation really isn’t something to fear.

If we look at the workplace, it’s all about relationships – one between the employee and employer. And, as with many relationships, they sometimes come to an end. And that’s ok. People change, values shift, things evolve and sometimes one party does something that hurts the other. There are lots of reasons why a relationship ending is not always a bad thing.

The global pandemic has changed a lot for many around the world. People have relocated to different parts of the country or different countries entirely. People have chosen to retire early, spend more time with their family, take a break… we’ve all been given valuable time to reflect and revaluate. With that comes change.

It’s important to remember that organizations can’t be all things to all people. There’s no point clinging to things and attempting to make things right for everybody – it’s just not possible. This is something that's worth being mindful of when it comes to culture, purpose, and values.

Where the Great Resignation requires focus is where people are leaving in high numbers inside one organization that is now experiencing chaos. What I mean by organizational chaos isn’t people going crazy or running around not knowing what to do. Employee retention is a key indicator and in the case of the Great Resignation, it could be experiencing symptoms like:

  • Inability to get work done because someone has left mid-way through a project
  • Lots of meetings but no real decision making or accountability
  • People taking time off with stress because they’ve been given extra workload
  • Team friction and people blocking progress
  • A lack of strategic clarity if multiple leaders have left.

There are lots of possible ways this can impact productivity, efficiency, and engagement.

High turnover is a symptom of chaos and, therefore, we need to understand the root cause of it. If people are leaving simply because of changes that have happened as a result of the pandemic, that’s one thing. If they are leaving because they don’t feel listened to, cared about, or engaged with, that’s a whole other issue.

What’s interesting about the Great Resignation concept is that it’s seen as such a negative thing, but if a person is making changes in their work for reasons that better suit their lifestyle, that can only be good. Obviously, there are costs implications to this for any organization. But equally, fresh talent and bringing in new people who are aligned with organizational values can be a great benefit.

When it comes to chaos, this is important because it is the values that create balance. We look to harmonize personal values with organizational values… exploring the values of individuals in the recruitment process would help ensure everyone is behind the purpose”. Jenni Field, Influential Internal Communication

I think, having gone through the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns, we’ll continue to look at the world of work differently. I coined the phrase “the pandemic revolution” to describe the current opportunity to change the traditional constructs that have governed how we work for decades. But a true reset will take time; there won’t be an overnight success as we grapple with what this change feels like for employees. The challenge of global workforces, reduced office time and accelerated change in automation and e-commerce are a confusing concoction for leaders everywhere.

Leaders and boards of organizations need to explore what changes are happening for them and why. The why is what is important. We must diagnose the root cause of the symptoms that leaders are experiencing, and we must address those with laser focus and realistic timescales. The Field ModelTM consists of three stages of understanding, diagnosing and fixing issues in organizations and is a framework I describe in detail in Influential Internal Communication.

Although the book focuses on improving communications within organizations, The Field Model is not just for communications professionals. It’s a structure to resolve chaos and can support any CEO, leader, line manager or team:

Understand

If we don’t understand the problems, how can we solve them? So many conversations about challenges in getting work done or growing an organization are hampered by assumptions. Listening and understanding every facet of the situation helps us explore why change is needed.

Diagnose

This is all about the why. There will be reasons for things not being right, and we need to uncover what’s really going on. Perhaps the Great Resignation is only affecting certain employee groups or teams – but you can use a variety of tools to diagnose what’s going on. It’s about using the right tools and asking the right questions to get to the bottom of issues. In this case, it may involve thorough exit interviews, as well as stay interviews for the high performing employees that remain. We need to actively listen.

Fix

The insight from the diagnosis phase will help leaders to align with what employees really want. And bring into sharp focus what they don’t. This stage will require aspects of vulnerability, bravery, courage and listening to others. This will often include solutions that impact the whole organization – including recruitment and retention policies and organisational design changes that add value.

Checking in with your company culture

Toxic cultures have recently been blamed for the Great Resignation. Research found that a toxic culture is: “10.4 times more powerful than compensation in predicting a company’s attrition rate compared with its industry.” The research cited “failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behaviour” as key contributors to a toxic culture.

The Great Resignation has put an even bigger emphasis on the importance of company culture in recruitment and retention. Although I don’t believe the Great Resignation is a big cause for concern, it has highlighted the ongoing need to concentrate on people first. A focus on wellbeing and support, flexible work practices, and an inclusive environment will all reap rewards in the long term. Now is the time to re-evaluate your culture and look at the opportunities ahead of us to change how we work and live today and in the future.