The Great Resignation — A Plague or a Revolution?
If you are anywhere on social media these days, you are likely reading about The Great Resignation of 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July.
This employment phenomena was named “The Great Resignation” by Texas A&M management professor Anthony Klotz in 2019 to predict a mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce and it is here. Klotz has expressed that the rise of hybrid and remote work helped cause the phenomenon. “How we spent our time before the pandemic may not be how we want to spend our time after,” says Klotz.
However, there’s got to be more to it than that. Certainly, among our clients we’ve witnessed a number of employees make great life decisions during the pandemic – whether that is moving cross country to go back to their home of origin or take a risk to pursue a new career opportunity or finding new opportunities for income during layoff by utilizing their crafts or skills and starting their own small businesses. These cases are not the majority, though – not everyone is supplementing their full-time income on Etsy.
We do know that often people quit their jobs after experiencing a shock to their lives: a life event that precipitates self-reflection about one’s job satisfaction. Shocks can be positive, like grad school acceptance or a new baby, or negative, like a divorce or sick relative. These circumstances make people reflect on their life as a whole – where they are, what they are doing, where they want to be, and where they find fulfillment. Often, if people look to their work environment and recognize that it is not adding fulfillment to their life, they recognize that it is time to change it.
Personally — from my perspective as an HR professional for enough years to include not only this pandemic but also the 9/11 tragedy, the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, and Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey – I can attest that people take these times to reflect on the purpose in their life. So, in addition to the tactical things you can do to keep your employees (flexibility, wages), the most important thing that you can do is communicate the purpose of your organization in a way that speaks to your employees and shows them how they individually have a positive impact on the world around them.
Does this sound too touchy feely? Think about it like this – people who can live their life purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. If a person feels that their purpose is aligned with that of their company, it’s a boost to their overall life purpose, which breeds better engagement and deeper loyalty.
You may also say, “easy enough for non-profits that are feeding the homeless, but we make cardboard – who’s purpose in life is making cardboard?”. Well, if your company’s sole mission is to make something, sell it, and make money, your company is going to struggle with inspiring employees from day one. However, if your company also has a bigger mission in the global environment, you can inspire your employees. So, for our cardboard analogy, did you know that globally the cardboard box is one of the most recycled items? And that recycling just one ton of cardboard will save 46 gallons of oil, 4000KW of electricity, 6.6 million Btu’s of energy, 9 cubic yards of landfill space, 17 trees and 7000 gallons of water (from www.cardboardbalers.org). So, perhaps as part of your organizational purpose as a cardboard manufacturer, you lead recycling campaigns tied to environmental community activism (because surely you are already recycling cardboard since recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard). Now, you’ve created and communicated purpose for your employees beyond making and selling a product.
If you want to prevent The Great Resignation from your organization, you need to give your employees a reason to want to be there and to do great things – to challenge themselves and to be in for the long haul when things get difficult (like maybe during a pandemic?)
Does all of this sound like where you’d like to be but you don’t know where to start? We at HR Affiliates are passionate about culture and purpose – let us help you Find your Why and earn better engagement from your employees.
Paula Agee, Director of Operations