What the Great Resignation Means for Leaders
Five things to consider
Suzan’s Fieldnotes is a newsletter about the craft of leadership.
The other day I found myself on LinkedIn. While there, I decided to poke around the feed. As I scrolled, every third post included a job description and a plea for people to work with them. Mixed in were announcements of new jobs. While this platform trades in these kinds of posts, I have never seen so many. These posts are all symptoms of the Great Resignation.
A recent study estimates 40% of all workers are considering leaving their job in the coming year. There’s the woman who quit after a six minute meeting in the office and another an executive who left to go back to school to become a mental health practitioner. Every day I see another story about this trend, many focusing on the office vs remote fight. I’ll be focusing on what it means for leaders.
The departure of team members is not trivial. It can cost their yearly salary to replace someone, not to mention losing the institutional knowledge they take with them. Loads of churn in the company can impact the culture. At a minimum, it means diverting attention away from other priorities. It’s easy to focus on incentives like location and pay. They are important but they aren’t the only levers leaders should consider, maybe not even the most crucial ones. As Morgan Housel says, “The biggest risk is what people aren’t talking about.”
The Great Resignation isn’t only about employees not wanting to return to the office. It’s part of it, but not the whole story. The past year has slowed many of us down, giving us time for existential questions. We've wondered whether we’re fulfilled in our work, what we want out of life now and how we want others to treat us. Existential questions have bubbled up. The extra time has given folks the chance to step back to consider what they want. Some might want a different life, others might need something smaller like a role change or a shift in how they interact.
There are so many things leaders can do other than the location of work or throwing money at the problem. Here are five things to consider.
Most of us like to have input or at least information about decisions that impact our work lives. This can help people feel more empowered and engage and build trust. Not feeling included in decisions or that your input matters erodes those warm feelings that keep people engaged. When this happens they'll start looking elsewhere. Make an effort to ensure information flows equally throughout your organization. Ask for input and take it into consideration.
One of our deepest needs as humans is to feel like we belong. Having a sense of belonging changes how we experience our work. If you have a hybrid model do think about those not in the office. At the same time, belonging shows up in a multitude of ways. Consider how your Black team members experience work. Make adjustments to include their experiences. Belonging also includes work style. We feel accepted when others understand and value our work style. Consider ways in which you favor those who are more like you. Find ways to make space for those whose tendencies might stand out from more dominant styles. People who feel like they’re valued are more likely to stay.
Make sure folks understand the bigger picture and how they fit into it. Rather than slotting people into a role, involve them in the conversation. Understand what they want from their career. For example, don’t assume all senior ICs want to be managers. While they may be good at it, it may not be what they want. This takes conversations about what’s important to them and how they want to grow. People want to grow and contribute to something bigger than themselves. If they feel stagnant or don’t feel like they can be their best they’ll leave.
Time off and comprehensive benefits are a good baseline but won’t create the well-being needed for folks to thrive. The challenging conditions have created extra stress for everyone. Many have experienced loss like routines, hobbies, social life and a sense of security. Loss can be a precursor to emotional burnout, especially when not addressed. Emotional exhaustion is an indicator of burnout. Get better at noticing emotional exhaustion in others and yourself. Leaders don’t need to be therapists. They should understand the mechanisms of burnout and offer resources to reduce stress.
Leaders have an outsized impact on the team. Our style can change the day-to-day experience folks have. The pressure of the pandemic might have hardened our work style. Despite our best efforts, our stress might be leaking out onto others. We might protect the team but it might be more harmful than helpful. We might be so exhausted we don’t notice that gossip has set in.
Though we have the most control over this lever, it might be the hardest. It’s tough to see ourselves objectively. Taking breaks throughout the day and true vacations can help. Be sure to get support from others too. Investing in your leadership development and well-being can help you have a positive impact and change the team’s experience. It may even increase retention.
I’d love to know how you’re adapting the work environment or yourself in these market conditions. Send a comment or reply to this message. I read all emails.
Until next time,
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