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Tackling The Great Resignation Head On

It is true, there has been much talk about ‘The Great Resignation’. The term has been a prevalent topic for well over a year. A combination of factors, accelerated by the recent pandemic, has created a catalyst for people to take action on their careers, rather than opting for complacency. For many, their job was one aspect of their lives they could control while many other elements were being swept away. The Great Resignation may well be happening, but should it have surprised us as much as it seems to have done, given the circumstances in which it has arisen?


The Great Resignation - Empathy


What has caused The Great Resignation?

Taking a moment to understand what is going on; there are many factors that have prompted dissatisfaction for many people. These may be purely observations, but it is worth viewing them with an open mind. Whether you agree with them or not, understanding some of the background and sentiment of the situation will also help work through tactics and routes to move forwards.


Harvard Business Review states that employees between 30 and 45 years old

have experienced the greatest increase in resignation rates.

An average of 20% increase between 2020 and 2021.


Firstly, looking at the dates, maybe these employees sat tight in 2020, while watching how the pandemic was going to play out. Most people are risk averse and these figures surely reflect that. The uncertainty of what the future held probably encouraged many to stay in roles they were uninspired by. So, when things shifted, the result was over 12 months of repressed resignations. Secondly, this dissatisfaction may have combined with many re-evaluating their relationship to work. This became particularly pertinent when people were able to explore what else was happening in their lives. Questions were then raised as to where they were going in their career.

Thirdly, all of this was further exacerbated with people having more time to think. While the world paused, many reflected on what had probably been there all the time - a long-term unhappiness. Significantly, a Microsoft study highlighted in HR Magazine has indicated that 41% of the global workforce are considering resigning within the year. Some are even suggesting the number could be as a high as a staggering 55%. Scary statistics!

Many see this as a once-in-a-generation moment. It is largely giving them the upper hand, where they have bided their time before taking action. Then when their moment came, they stepped out of their comfort zones and looked to embrace change. Equally telling is what we read when we are caught up in a time of turbulence. How apt is this quote from a book launched just prior to the pandemic, which became an international bestseller.


“Isn't it odd. We can only see our outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside”
Charlie Mackesy, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse


Littered with perceptions and emotions, the success of the book typifies how people were reflecting inwardly and assessing their lives. This quiet picture book captured the sentiment of our nation and beyond, at a time when people were deeply troubled; and gave hope!


How are businesses typically responding to The Great Resignation?




From observations and direct personal experience with clients, it appears there are typically four approaches that companies are adopting. Unsurprisingly, the first couple fall into a recognised fight or flight response, reacting to a situation of stress. Let’s explore these in more detail:



Businesses are recognising that there is a strong risk of them being left vulnerable. The ‘good’ people are leaving and taking with them their talent, skills, and contacts. The response reaction is to tackle it hard. To fight and restrict their ability to act, by adopting methods that could be perceived as aggressive by some employees, such as openly challenging their loyalty.


Flight - The Great Resignation - Empathy

If we don’t accept that this is happening, then it won’t happen! The ignore it and hope it will go away approach. This may involve bringing in some interim soft-touch measures. Maybe some lip service to flexible, hybrid ways of working. Realistically though, things have probably permanently changed and therefore actions need to be stronger and, more importantly, actually delivered.



We know this is happening and we need to do something about it, so let’s throw initiatives at people in the hope that it will encourage them to stick round. While pay rises, long service awards, extra holiday allowance and more are attractive, they may not necessarily lead to a decrease in attrition, as the cause is deeper rooted.


Flex - The Great Resignation - Empathy

Take strength from the situation and offer as much flexibility as you can. The emphasis here being on ‘as you can’ as realistically not all can encourage a work from home or hybrid policy. Take a hospitality venue – it is not practical to adopt a work from home policy for front of house staff. Therefore a compromise must be made that works for all.



However, Gallup believe the highest quit rate is amongst those that are not engaged or the actively disengaged. Therefore, these tactics might work in the short term, but are unlikely to completely stop the resignations. And this is where it comes down to the core of the business and how people are encouraged to operate. With probably the best ones to solve it being the managers.




How should businesses react to The Great Resignation threat?

The real takeaway here is why are people leaving their jobs in the first place? It is time to step away and take a longer, wider view at the way people work. It does not matter whether that is in an office, shop, restaurant, factory or at home. Or even a combination! A large proportion of people don’t leave a job, they leave a manager. This direct interaction is key.

Building a more understanding approach throughout the business should be integral as the world moves forwards. Everyone has experienced a traumatic shift in their lives (whether they accept that or not) and that should be recognised by how we work, how we respect others and understanding how people operate best. These behaviours and actions should be openly visible, not just paid homage to in annual reports. Instead, it's time to be inquisitive about people’s lifestyle choices and why they choose to work with you.

According to Forbes, “This pivotal moment in history is taking the workforce in a positive direction…a new chance to re-engage with each other from a place of trust and support that’s been lacking in the workplace.” It is obviously a ‘yes’ to flexibility and training, but something more is required, something less tangible, but longer term, much more powerful – empathy!

Going back to HR Magazine, they recognise the need for a culture where empathy flows through good conversation. Everyone’s speaking and listening styles reflect previous experiences and where we are within our lives. Instilling empathy at every level of a business will enable connections to be made, whether it is during intimate or more complex conversations. Taking the time to properly understand how people feel.


Will empathy in the workplace be a positive output from the pandemic?


Employees working in empathic workplaces raised sales by 37%,

productivity by 31% and accuracy of tasks by 19%.


Empathy is a critical, but an often missed and unrecognised workplace skill. It is now seen as being critical for leaders and one that is increasingly valuable for anyone who works with other people. 9 out of 10 employees, HR professionals and CEOs believe that empathy is important to an organisation, especially when the company recognises the importance of mental health. It is a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global market, benefiting leadership effectiveness and workplace engagement. If instilling empathy formed an integral part of a wellbeing strategy, the result would be a positive impact on retention, absenteeism, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. Teams would be more productive and collaborative, while moving away from assumptions, leading to an ability to understand more.

This is equally reflected in the Korn Ferry research exploring Work Trends for this year. It cites that reconnecting will be at the heart of 2022. Here, they use the term ‘intentional empathy’. Where how you operate and engage with your teams through an empathic approach will make people feel valued, respected and want to stay working with you. They also emphasise that working relationships require emotional investments from both managers and employees.

Typically, exhibiting empathy is associated with compassion when people are distressed or need emotional support. Practically, while we are in the infancy of coming through the other side of the pandemic, we should not see having empathy in the workplace as a short-term approach. Yes, it is part of wellbeing and mental health, but it plays a critical role in many other ways too. Longer term adoption of these strong communication foundations will only strengthen approaches leading to a reduction in employee attrition, connecting people, enhancing customer experience and creating more resilient businesses. We all need empathy in order to thrive, show up and do our best!





Korn Ferry Research: Future of Work Trends 2022 – A New Era of Humanity

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