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The Great Resignation will get worse in 2022. It doesn’t have to.

Omicron has brought a new uncertainty to businesses, families and economies. The crisis has hit multiple sectors still suffering from the first COVID pandemic and has occurred as employees across the land have begun to reimagine the world of work.   

Omicron has brought a new uncertainty to businesses, families and economies. The crisis has hit multiple sectors still suffering from the first COVID pandemic and has occurred as employees across the land have begun to reimagine the world of work.    

The first lockdowns held many in jobs they may not have wanted, creating a backlog of dissatisfied staff that has driven the Great Resignation this year. Now, again, I expect many will be waiting for Christmas and the Omicron panic to pass before seeking opportunities elsewhere.

In the US, new research shows that 73% of workers are considering quitting their jobs next year. In the UK, similar surveys also found that three in four would look for new work in 2022. The onus on businesses now to retain their talent. 

Many businesses have made tangible progress towards delivering fairer outcomes for staff, such as offering flexible working and designating a physical office space to promote better staff relationships. The blurring of lines between home and work life last month led Portugal to ban bosses from texting their staff after hours– a small but significant step in the right direction.

However, such concessions may soothe staff anxieties but they do not fundamentally tackle the root cause of dissatisfaction. This is not about remote or hybrid. It’s about the disconnection between employees and their work. Alienation – built up by half-hearted diversity and inclusion policies, fragmented ESG commitments and weak communication through hierarchies – has left staff unable to see the point in what they do.

These issues are complex and multifaceted. In the UK, house prices are 65 times higher than they were in 1970 but wages have only risen by a factor of 36. It is unsurprising that when 72% are hoping for a Christmas bonus or pay rise and only 28% of firms will shell out, two-thirds of staff expect to start job hunting in the new year: what is the alternative?

But it is not just the money. Nine in ten would take a pay cut for a more meaningful job. And nearly half of those prepared to leave next year put it down to not feeling cared about by their employer through the pandemic. Something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong with the culture of work.

This year, coming out of the pandemic, we spoke to thousands of SMEs across the US to help make sense of the trend. The Inclusivity Index is our diagnostic tool for measuring how well these organisations deliver inclusive and sustainable operations internally to support workers. It also shows the link between inclusivity and long-term business success. 

Employers in 2021 are rightly concerned about diversity, inclusion and offering meaningful work to staff. Employers are starting to realise – in line with the 2020 McKinsey report – that comprehensive Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies that go beyond box-ticking spur growth and productivity. The intention is there to do right by the workforce, offering ‘support’ with flexible working and wellbeing concerns. The problem is that, offered in isolation, it is seldom as effective as it needs to be.

In order to avoid high staff turnover into 2022, businesses need a fundamental rethink of what inclusivity means and looks like at work. In our own findings, 85% of key performance indicators recognised by managers do not link directly to long-term employee success. 65% of employees do not think their managers are effectively implementing their company’s purpose. Here we see the gap between intent and outcome. Staff do not feel listened to and employers have failed to communicate purpose down the ranks.

In the last two years businesses have tried to be more flexible and supportive of staff. But instead of reactively putting out fires, HR professionals must now help steer their companies towards a more holistic model of inclusivity, stressing open communication, collaboration and transparency in decision making. Hierarchies must be flattened and diverse voices amplified to ensure consistent messaging is spread across the organisation. Distance working has drawn attention to – but not caused – the fundamental problem of synchronisation within companies in 2021.

Progress cannot justify complacency. The next 12 months promise a whole new set of challenges, but if we are to transition out of treating symptoms and towards curing company cultures, we must get serious about promoting inclusivity within our organisations.   

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