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How Employers Need to Manage the Great Resignation

Over in the US they are calling this immediate post-pandemic period ‘The Great Resignation.’ The Harvard Business Review recently asked the question ‘how can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?’

Over in the US they are calling this immediate post-pandemic period ‘The Great Resignation.’ The Harvard Business Review recently asked the question ‘how can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?’

The statistics are stunning. Over 4 million Americans quit their job in July 2021 and at the end of July, almost 11 million open jobs were available. The US has seen the most extreme employee reaction to the pandemic, but a similar effect is taking place in the UK and Europe. The BBC has even explicitly blamed employers.

it’s true that some employees were thinking about changing job before the pandemic began. However, once lockdowns and furlough became a reality then job-hopping was not realistic. It’s clear that a proportion of this activity can be attributed to greater confidence in a post-Covid recovery – however, that’s not the complete picture.

Many employees are suggesting that the behaviour of their employer during the pandemic is now influencing their decision to move on. Employers that were not supportive or flexible enough to make changes that helped employees cope with this unusual situation are now being judged. This also applies to employers that are now assuming that a return to normal means that nothing has changed in the past 18 months.

The business magazine Forbes has commented on the flexibility of work-from-home policies as a major part of the problem. During the lockdown period of the pandemic almost all office-based workers carried on working from home. Now some employers are asking them back to the office and the employees are asking why, when they have been just as productive without the need to spend hours commuting.

One survey has even suggested that one in three workers will quit if their employer forces them to work from the office again – many people do not want a return to the employment expectations of 2019. In many cases, employees have experienced far greater flexibility over their working hours and commuting time for a year and a half and they don’t want to give up on that.

The bottom line is that draconian policies are going to drive employees away. Companies that insist on a complete return to the office, without even asking how employees feel, will find that this insensitivity is greeted with a wave of resignations.

The answer is to take a human-centric approach. We are managing human resources, and this involves helping our people manage their work and careers. If employers start from the assumption that employee attitudes have changed since 2019 then they can begin to create a path back to how the office will function in future.

The first step is to talk to your employees. Everyone has different circumstances. Some will be keen to return to the office because they don’t have enough space to keep on working from home. Some will never want to return to the office. Some may have moved away from the office assuming they could continue to work remotely. It has been 18 months of disruption and lives have changed.

Once you have a better picture of what your team actually wants then you can plan for the future. It may involve reducing your office footprint, introducing hot desks, or using managed office services like WeWork to introduce more flexibility. There are many possibilities, and no single option will be correct for everyone so build flexibility into your hybrid plans – let people choose.

However, you design the future for your company, just remember that your continued success depends on your people. The Great Resignation has been triggered by insensitive employers assuming that we can now immediately return to ‘normal.’ We actually need to be planning for the next normal – whatever that looks like inside your organisation.

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