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How conscious leaders can stave off the ‘great resignation’

Natasha Wallace, Founder & CEO - Conscious Leadership Co (TCLC)

At the heart of every organisation is its people. As we work, we develop myriad human relationships and interactions that are always responding to the environment around us.  Yet, the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic have hugely changed our working environments.

To respond to the constant uncertainty we have been faced with has required immense resilience from employees and steadfast leadership from employers. It is a pressure that has caused 82% of leaders to report exhaustion since the start of the pandemic and 41% of employees to consider leaving their jobs, according to a recent Microsoft Corps survey.

During this time of crisis, teams have required support and proactive decision-making from their leaders. Subsequently, for those organisations that failed to deliver, 2021 became the year of the “great resignation”, where workers quit their jobs at historic rates. In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an annual peak of 4.4 million people leaving their jobs in September 2021, and by November there were 1.5 jobs per unemployed person. In the UK, 91% of HR leaders expressed concern about employee turnover, according to Gartner. Meanwhile, companies that did invest in the wellbeing of their employees found performance improving markedly.

Retaining and attracting talent has never been more challenging. It is a complex situation that has prompted many organisations to rethink their existing, ingrained ways of working. Now, more than ever, culture change and creating workplaces that keep employees engaged is on the HR agenda.

Long before the pandemic became a watchword, there were multiple reasons why an organisation might prompt a culture change and alter the ways things were done in their business. Challenge-based issues such as low retention rates, not attracting the right talent, or the need to increase performance and productivity were all drivers of change.

Now – seizing the current conditions as an opportunity – there is a pool of experienced talent waiting to join the organisations that are creating the best cultures. It is one of the biggest differentiators and a clear, competitive advantage. Get culture right, especially in a post-pandemic world, and you’ll win “the war for talent”.

Wellbeing is a key tenant of building a great culture. It is increasingly central to fostering positive workplace environments since recent years have also seen mental health become a vital consideration for employers, with a McKinsey report finding that working parents were far more likely to experience burnout than their childless counterparts during Covid. Yet, many leaders have never previously had the experience dealing with mental health in the workplace. High-pressure environments may have dictated that their workplaces were governed by a “push through” mentality – one that encouraged employees to put their own feelings aside in service of the rapidly escalating pace of their work. Consequently, a recent Mind Share Partners survey found that only 41% of respondents felt mental health was prioritised at their organisation, while 37% viewed their leaders as advocates for mental health at work. Taking a proactive approach to supporting mental health in the workplace is indicative of a healthy culture and it’s something that prospective employees are paying attention to.

How, therefore, can business leaders ensure that the culture they create is one that people want to be a part of and stave off resignations, attracting the best talent? The answer lies in fostering consciousness.

Cultivating such awareness, empathy, and connection with the people that you lead requires you as a leader to create an environment of psychological safety – environments where people can be honest, open, and ultimately, be themselves. Without a reasonable level of awareness as a leader, creating safety is harder to do.

While many leaders might struggle to be conscious of their needs or the needs of their teams – owing to increased workloads and pressures to deliver competing demands – there is a growing body of leaders bucking the trend. They are giving themselves permission to manage their own needs and are aware of their own mindsets, making them better placed to develop a positive culture. This, in turn, contributes towards better individual and team wellbeing and crucially, better results. Indeed, researcher Josh Bersin found in a recent report that companies that invest in the wellbeing of their employees and make it central to their organisation are almost four times more likely to be market leaders in their industry.

Ultimately, a healthy workplace culture is a “conscious” culture. It is one where people feel seen, where leaders have the permission to speak up and meet their own needs, and where there is a group mindset that recognises the value of health, in the pursuit of performance.

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