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  • Kirsty Rowlinson

Re-imagining Work to Dodge the Great Resignation

Re-imagining the work environment to dodge The Great Resignation

You’re probably already sick of the term “The Great Resignation”, but even so, you can’t ignore it, and furthermore, you should be thinking of how to be proactive in order to limit its impact.

2021 saw a global shift in the labor force where workers have quit their jobs at historic rates. The reasons for this trend are varied, ranging from pandemic burnout to a psychological shift to seek greater fulfilment from work. Considering this labor market will most likely continue through 2022, we can consider why some industries are being affected by mass exodus compared to others that have maintained their employee relationship and fostered a positive work environment.

What sectors are seeing a wave of quitting?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average quit rate in the U.S. for November was 3%. That may not seem too high, but when you look at specific industries, some have been affected more than others. These industries include Leisure and Hospitality (6.4% quit rate), Professional and Business Services (3.7%), and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (3.6%).

Despite hospitality and retail trade traditionally having a high turnover rate, these rates are still notably higher than previous years. While these industries were heavily impacted by the disruption of the pandemic, the pandemic also exposed how these trades failed to effectively support their workers. These two industries are low-wage and notorious in their maltreatment of employees, both internally and externally from patrons. The pandemic saw added pressure on this already challenging industry, where workers were accosted for enforcing COVID protocols or being slow when understaffed, all while putting themselves on the frontline and jeopardizing their own health. Consequently, many workers may have simply seen little motivation to return to these jobs where they were overworked and underpaid.

The high quit rate from professional and business services also raises questions as to the nature of the corporate profession and why people are no longer feeling fulfilled in this sector. While these careers offer more stability than hospitality and retail trade, they are not without flaws. During the pandemic, business services saw extended hours, inflexibility in child-care despite school closures, and a high stress environment without social entertainment to counteract work life. This resulted in workers re-evaluating their priorities in day-to-day life, with the consensus being a desire to dedicate more time to their families and life outside of work.

How to create a more supportive work environment for employees

The mass exodus is sending a signal to employers. Certain work standards that have been previously tolerated are now exposed as outdated and inflexible in the current climate. As a result, there is an imperative for employers to acknowledge this shift in worker values and adapt their work life expectations accordingly. While this includes systematic changes, such as flexibility to work remotely and extended time for leave, it also includes creating a genuine work environment that is committed to supporting employee wellbeing.

A supportive work environment can be fostered through developing a larger sense of belonging in the work community. The emphasis on creating a workforce with diversity, equity, and inclusion lends itself to the larger ethos of welcoming and valuing every employee for who they are. This removes the need for workers to intentionally hide aspects of themselves if they feel the need to fit in and downplay a stigmatized identity to belong.

Creating an environment where all people feel they belong not only removes the added labor of trying to hide certain aspects of themself, but also allows workers to contribute at their highest level by developing an affinity to the organization.

Work environments should also pivot away from the mantra of “business as usual”, as the reality is this is very much not business as usual. People are struggling, facing issues that range from illnesses and quarantines to financial instability and inconsistent childcare availability. It is important to recognize that previous business targets may no longer be reasonable in our current climate due to the added layers of stress on your employees. Businesses must make time for their employees and consider what additional support structures they can implement to help and encourage their team to be healthy first, and then productive. This could include accommodating flexible hours, working from home, redistributing resources, or providing extended leave where possible. The bottom line is for businesses to not drive out workers who are already stressed due to extraordinary circumstances and instead serve as a point of stability by accommodating their concerns.

Finally, it is important for businesses to be proactive in creating a culture of caring, focusing on the needs and wellbeing of their workers. People want to feel safe in their work environment and should be able to bring forward their concerns and strengths knowing that it will be heard by their leaders. Having leaders who displays empathy and who demonstrate a sense of caring makes people feel safe to be more vulnerable. People feel safer to speak up and work through barriers rather than simply giving up and trying to find an alternative place to work for fear of being judged or looking weak. Research demonstrates that caring about workers improves employee engagement, resulting in higher motivation, better performance, and greater likelihood to go above and beyond what is required of them.

Work norms in a post-COVID world

What is significant about the Great Resignation is not the fact that people are looking for new work, but the reasons for which they are leaving their previous work. These reasons are different to typical reasons of the past, where people are after more flexibility in working remotely, the ability to move from a 5-day working week to a 4-day week, extended time off, or wanting greater benefits and compensation packages. There’s a desire to establish a better work-life balance and have a work environment which is supportive in facilitating this. People also want to feel their work is connected to a meaningful purpose. These are extraordinary times, but perhaps a positive to come out of COVID-19 is the re-imagining of work standards which bring to the forefront the values of their workers.

HBD provides tailored programs that support employee health and wellbeing. Our programs have been shown to reduce stress, improve health, and improve employee engagement scores. We can develop programs for total populations, or specific groups such as managers or executives. If you want to improve the support you offer your people and improve metrics around health, mental health, and engagement, then we'd love to hear from you.


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