The “Great Resignation” + 4 ways to check in with your team.

The Great Resignation is a term that has been used to describe employee turnover during the Coronavirus pandemic. It sounds fearful, as if employees are running away from the workforce in droves. Each time I hear that term, I think of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a tribute to a cultural generation fighting for country, family, and a way of life. Yes, these two cultural moments are vastly different. Still, as the data around the Great Resignation is more closely examined, the Great Resignation is not an escape but rather a period of “free agency,” where low-income workers are finding jobs that pay more, instances of early retirement are on the rise, and where the highest resignation rates are being seen increasingly with mid-career employees who report that they are highly disengaged in their jobs. A Gallop analysis has found that 48% of the working population is actively searching or watching for new employment opportunities. This is quite astounding, or is it?

Is this the first time we have experienced such discontent in the workforce? What does or should this signal to managers and leaders? Well, I did what I do best, and that is Googled my heart out to see what I could find. I happened upon a 1979 Harvard Business Review article titled Changing Employee Values: Deepening Discontent? by M.R. Cooper, B.S. Morgan, P.M. Foley, and L.B. Kaplan. In this article, the authors review employee attitudinal data from 1950-to 1975 and report that “employee values are changing, and that dissatisfaction is increasing and manifesting itself in ways that have major implications for management.” The article goes on to say that there are three explanations for the trend: “first, that the newer workforce values different things; second, that the older workforce has changed what it values; and third, that the workforce is just beginning to overtly articulate what it has always covertly valued.” Sound familiar?

So, what if anything is different this time? Though the result is the same, the precipitating factor is different. We are in the midst of a world-altering event that has directly impacted us, our loved ones, and our colleagues. This crisis has been a catalyst where everyone is rethinking, reflecting, and reevaluating as we race towards self-actualization on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Employees need to feel connected, have a sense of belonging and stability.

Here are four ways to check in with your team:

1. Have a stay conversation. According to Gallop, 52% of employees surveyed who voluntarily left a job said their manager could have prevented them from leaving. Having a stay conversation is the first step in engaging in a meaningful performance development conversation with each of your direct reporting team members. Here is a stay conversation guide that will get you acclimated to the process. Reach out to your Human Resource leader to see if they have additional resources. If you do not have a Human Resource leader in your company or organization, many resources can be found online. These conversations should never be a surprise; send an email in advance of your discussion to your team member explaining what the meeting is about and include the questions you will cover so they can think about them in advance.

2. Provide organizational resources about employee well-being.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are all fragile and have diverse needs at various times. Some employees are vocal about their needs, but many are not. As managers, we can’t pry and ask our team members personal questions about their health, but we can let them know that we care about their health and provide them with resources they can take advantage of if needed.

Make sure you are up to date on all the employee resources available in your company or organization. Let your staff know you care by sending out an email sharing those resources, so they are easily accessible. Realizing that not everyone has resources available, an additional source of assistance in the United States is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a federal agency in the Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the nation’s behavioral health.

3. Discuss office flexibility; in 2022, it’s the elephant in the room.

According to an April 2021 McKinsey study, approximately 40% of organizations have not clearly communicated a strategy for post-pandemic work, and 28% have vaguely expressed a plan. The lack of communication has created anxiety among employees. A year hence, the percentages might have shifted slightly, but many managers are still wrestling with the stress their team members are feeling around remote, hybrid, and office work arrangements.

When having a conversation, lead with empathy and be clear on the rules and protocols for your company or organization. Understand where you have flexibility as a manager and where you don’t. Have a clear plan for your team or teams. Be honest about what is possible and what is not possible.

4. Ask for feedback.

Creating a feedback loop with your team is very important for building psychological safety, which creates trust. Trust is the elixir of employee engagement. One of the best ways to engage with a team member is by asking questions. I like to use one or two questions in the Q12 Gallup Employee Engagement Survey. I suggest using the same questions for each employee on your team to assess a commonality in the answers. You may have taken this survey before. The questions seem simple, but they reveal a great deal when asked and answered. Employee feedback is a gift.

If you ask a question, you are responsible for authentic follow-up. You don’t have to have a solution or answer, but you can share that you have noted the feedback with your leadership and discuss the parameters available for solution building.

What other methods do you use to check in with your teams?

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