COUNTERING THE GREAT RESIGNATION
How to address staffing challenges with improved employee engagement and culture
By Maura C. Ciccarelli
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the Great Resignation. It’s true that a record-number of Americans—47 million—left their jobs voluntarily in 2021 and that the job switching continues this year. But, stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that it’s part of a longer-term trend that got kicked into higher gear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What workers want—particularly younger ones—has accelerated talent migration since the pandemic started, but it wasn’t unexpected, says Ali Payne, president of ethOs, a Holmes Murphy Company. It’s a challenge that the employee experience, environmental, social and governance (ESG), and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) consulting firm has seen frequently as it helps organizations improve their employees’ experience through customized employee engagement and well-being programs.
It’s a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution that harnesses the power of engagement, culture, and more.
The next generations
“When we think about the Great Resignation, we really think about the next generation,” says Payne. “The Millennial and younger generations … want and need something different from their employer than what the Boomer or Traditional [generations] wanted.”
Today’s workforce spans five generations, according to the Society for Human Resource Management—Traditionalist (age 76+), Baby Boomer (57-75 years old), Generation X (41-56 years old), Millennial (26-40 years old), and Generation Z (25 years old and younger).
“[The Great Resignation/job switching is] a long-term problem that requires a
long-term solution that harnesses the power of
engagement, culture, and more.”
For example, the younger generation isn’t afraid to move around in their career, unlike previous generations. “The younger generation is really just saying, ‘I’m okay with having five, six, or seven jobs on my resume by the time I turn 40,’” says Payne, who adds that they also aren’t shy about speaking up if they disagree with what the company is doing.
Plus, the pandemic has made people o fall generations realize that they wanted to do good things and work for organizations that have a greater purpose.
In response, the ongoing trend of employer support of local communities and charities has continued. Companies have also paid more attention to framing their products and services as doing good in the world.
“[Employees] want to know what [the organization is] doing to make an impact in the community … and an impact in the environment. Those are things that are coming through (in surveys) and it doesn’t seem to matter what industry or market you’re in,” Payne says. “It’s not just about money anymore.”
What else employees want
Some companies have gotten creative about retention, Payne notes. Instead of simply letting top talent leave, they educate workers about different roles that take advantage of transferrable skills. They can take jobs elsewhere in the company on a temporary or perm-anent basis.
Work location flexibility can also be an advantage, as many agencies and brokers discovered during the remote-work period of the pandemic.
As for benefits, increasingly popular discounted childcare services is just the start. Knowing your workers’ generationally-based interest has been a bonus for some organizations. For example, Starbucks offers not only a 401(k) match but also a Spotify Premium subscription—both of which ended up in the company’s list of most valued benefits, Payne says.
The secret of benefits success is to tailor the offerings to the generational interest.
Engagement and culture
At the heart of all these examples is how well the employer understands the things that engage employees and create a strong culture. For Payne, engagement and culture are intertwined. Understanding what they mean is critical for knowing how they will impact employee retention.
Many times, employers will define engagement as participation—e.g., if employees “show up” to do their work, either in person or remotely. That’s an easy-to-track metric from a productivity perspective, but not necessarily an important one for engagement, she notes.
A better approach is for organizations to investigate the wide variety of available metrics that can be tracked and determine which ones are the most important to them to assess engagement. Payne says the key here, though, is that organizations should not just do an engagement survey for the sake of doing a survey. Organizations should be mindful about the questions they’re asking and how they’re going to use the data to potentially make changes that address what their employees are asking.
She also says the employee experience is not just “what happens when I walk in the front door or when I turn my laptop on. I’m talking about the overall. Your whole person comes to work every day. If in the morning you got up on the wrong side of the bed or your kids are driving you crazy or you had something happen in the middle of the night, that will impact your experience.”
Measuring engagement is an on-going process, she says, because it’s based on the ongoing—and hopefully amazing—experiences that employees have with their co-workers, managers, leaders, and clients/customers.
“There’s really no end to this. It’s An ongoing, living, breathing thing,” she says.
“Most employers today use engagement data just to see where they’re at,” she warns. “They may make some minor changes to something that they’re doing that they hear in the engagement survey.”
Payne notes that that’s not getting the most out of the process.
“I think in this new world, a lot of employers are trying to figure out, how do we connect hybrid remote telecommuters with the people that are coming into the office and vice versa,” she says.
That leads to the issue of culture and how it impacts the experiences employees—and top talent—have.
“We define culture as a feeling,” says Payne. “A lot of organizations define it as a place. It’s not a thing you can touch. [It’s] how do your employees feel about being part of your organization. It’s different for every organization.”
She says ethOs helps its clients define what its culture is and how to improve or change it.
Another thing to pay attention to is what’s in the outside world about your company, whether it’s on Glassdoor or social media. “It’s another piece of culture that you own as an employer. You have to understand what your employees and former employees say about you.”
Four retention strategies
Taking into consideration the inter-play of employee engagement and culture when it comes to retaining top talent, Payne offers these key steps:
Redefine your employer value proposition (EVP). Make sure you’re hitting the areas the younger generations are interested in, such as flexible work situations, the ability to up-skill for different roles, and a positive culture and a meaningful purpose for employees and the wider community.
Prioritize communication. This ranges from making sure employees know everything in your benefits package to promoting the company culture externally through the website and social media.
Promote company culture without relying on physical locations. This means making sure that an organization’s words match their deeds at every employee level. Payne says the days of organizations just saying things like “that’s just how things are done around here” is a thing of the past. The younger generations are challenging that notion every day. Being able to have a culture of innovation and an open door notion that takes into account that different employee backgrounds bring different perspectives that we haven’t traditionally thought about is important.
Make the off-boarding experience as good as the onboarding. Sometimes, people decide to leave, even if you don’t want them to. Find out “why”. Conduct exit interviews to learn why employees resigned and what changes could have kept them on board, but challenge how you’re thinking about that exit interview. Know that the first answer will almost always be about money. Employers can check that box automatically.
Maura Ciccarelli is a freelance journalist originally from Philadelphia who now writes about business and more from the road full-time.