How Successful Companies are Combating the “Great Resignation.”
Many organizational leaders feel like the deck is stacked against them these days. It's hard to find great employees as the U.S. workforce has shrunk during Covid, and when you do, you have to pay them a good bit more than before
And due to the remote work revolution, many people are approaching their first or second year on the job and still haven't physically met with many of their fellow workers. How is a vibrant culture created in this environment? And, of course, with the pandemic, more family caregiving, and an emotionally burned-out world, many leaders feel like it's almost impossible for their teams to be operating as effectively as they used to.
I wanted to explore this dilemma further, which is why I found this recent MIT Sloan Management Review study, "Toxic Culture is Driving the Great Resignation," particularly insightful. As shown in the graph below, some of the top five influencers on why people leave companies are not too surprising. The top reason employees are leaving is due to toxic cultures, and the second most cited reason is that people leave companies where the financial model feels unstable. Reasons four and five were also not surprising—failure to recognize employee performance and poor response to Covid.
But the big surprise—at least to me—was the fact that "high levels of innovation" (which might have attracted employees in the first place) are now a powerful influence in leading employees to flee. Many employees in these companies realize they'll never find a work-life balance or manageable workload in a company that is growing fast and full of the unpredictability of a rebellious company culture. This is why both Netflix and Tesla have experienced mass exoduses from their ranks in the past two years.
This same study identified four short-term steps that companies are using to boost employee retention — offering lateral career opportunities, remote work, more company social events, and more predictable schedules. On some level, these feel like putting Band-aids on a deep wound. I have three alternative corrective paths that leaders might consider to address the intense dissatisfaction we see organizationally in the U.S.:
1. Job Crafting. Job flexibility is the name of the game for the best employers today: flexible work hours, varied locations for work, consideration for unusual caregiving requirements of employees. The list is long. Use your imagination. The traditional approach, in which an employee has to mold themselves to the company's structure, is no longer viable for many knowledge worker industries. Job crafting has been around for decades, but it's starting to catch on as a means of better aligning employees' personal needs, goals, and skills with what the company needs. Think of it as the "portfolio career" (having a variety of disparate part-time, often consulting assignments) in the context of one company. How many of us joined a company based upon one job description and scope of work, but two years later, our job had evolved without any conscious planning by the company or us? What if a company could identify your strengths and what you loved doing such that they could craft a scope of work and set of deliverables from you that better matched how you could best live up to your potential in the workplace. Giving employees the ability to shape their jobs offers a kind of agency to them that is out of the ordinary today but will become commonplace in the workplace of the future.
2. Boundaries. The pandemic has led to strategy swerves for so many companies, and the challenging hiring environment has led to employees feeling overburdened given they're doing more than one job. Of course, our 24-7 working lifestyle (being texted by the boss at all hours) has become normal, even before the pandemic. Whatever happened to 9 to 5, right? The pandemic has put our MEA team on an emotional rollercoaster. Not only did we have to seriously worry about the health of our employees and guests, but we've had to pivot our business plan multiple times, and it's led to a certain amount of burnout. So, our senior leaders experimented with something recently. We asked the top dozen leaders in the company to outline their strategy for creating boundaries and balance in their work lives so that we could have a central digital location of how we can respect each other's boundaries and share best practices. Here's the kicker: each of these leaders is being offered a year-end bonus equal to 5% of their salary that they can reward themselves if they live up to their boundaries. I know that's wacky, right? The company is paying you extra to work less. It may sound insane, but I think it's going to catch on with senior leaders in companies. As more companies create work flexibility as outlined in this recent NY Times article, the need for boundaries will become more acute.
3. Sabbaticals: When I was CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality for two-dozen years, leading what ultimately grew to 3,500 employees, I recognized how burned-out our teams would become due to the 24/7 nature of hotels. Plus, it was made worse by the fact that guests would travel from all over the world to California to stay at our hotels. Yet, our employees were only offered two weeks of vacation annually, which couldn't be taken consecutively. As a countermeasure, we created a program in which our salaried employees (who'd been with the company for three years) would be given a month-long sabbatical every three years. Well, boy, did that ever improve our employee satisfaction and retention. It allowed our leaders to shift their habits and identities for long enough to mellow their nervous systems. Our MEA friend and guest blogger DJ Didonna outlines the value of sabbaticals in a recent TIME magazine article. Employees who take sabbaticals tend to return to work energized, more productive, and creative. Yet, sabbaticals still aren't mainstream as only 5% of companies offered them in 2019.
For those of you who want to explore this topic more deeply, I recommend this Bustle article, “Have We Been Thinking About Burnout All Wrong.”