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Are you using the great resignation as an excuse for attrition?

Jayson Darby, Head of Science - Thomas International

The great resignation is possibly one of the worst-ever crises HR teams have had to deal with. And it’s still in full swing. Two in five workers could still leave their workplaces in six to twelve months according to recent research.

But while the trend is borne out of a major post-pandemic rethink among employees of what they want out of work and life, employers shouldn’t be blind to underlying systemic problems within their organisations. For every employee completely changing careers or taking a year out to travel, there will be others lost for more fundamental reasons.

Instead of blaming the great resignation as the reason for high attrition, it’s important that employers assess each departure in its own right and understand the causes, big and small. Because for many organisations, there will be significant, but addressable issues driving employees away.

The bigger picture
Drilling into the reasons employees are leaving, research suggests that nearly half of UK workers say that they would leave their role for a better income, a third for better work-life balance, and one-in-five said they would leave to escape a toxic culture. 

Clearly, it’s often organisational structure that’s leading the charge in the great resignation – not just employees ‘looking for a new gig’. 

Rather than resenting employees who choose to walk away, employers should channel their energies into building more meaningful workplace experiences that encourage teams to thrive. This is the key to responding effectively the great resignation. Ultimately, once employers own up to their mistakes and learn from them, it will be far easier for them to improve retention and build back talent that’s been lost.

So, how can employers climb out of the great resignation hole and better engage with their employees? 

Look to existing talent
Engagement and recruitment crises are two sides of the same coin, yet organisations often treat them as independent processes. This disconnect is fuelling the attrition problem. Recent research found that nearly half of UK employees do not see a clear path to progression, with three quarters facing delayed career growth due to a lack of support from their line managers and HR teams. To address this, businesses must create pathways and mechanisms for rapid upskilling.

Also, if we look more widely at the skills shortage, our own research found that 43% of global business leaders think the skills shortage is felt more keenly in soft skills (leadership, teamwork and communication), compared to just 17% who feel it in hard skills (technical). 

Encouraging ‘underwhelmed’ employees who have the requisite hard skills to switch teams means hiring managers can focus on finding new talent that possesses in-demand soft skills. This will help fill any skills gaps within businesses. What’s more, hiring internally is a much quicker process. Current employees are prescreened to fit culture and are onboard with wider business goals. 

Offer greater flexibility
Good managers know that flexibility doesn’t equal loss of control. It shows that managers trust employees to get their work done, even when life gets in the way. Research suggests that on average, those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.

Flexible working gives people more time for themselves and time to rediscover the joys of life that don’t involve spending nine or ten hours a day at work. However, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to flexible working. Employers must encourage their employees to define it for themselves by creating an environment that aims to accommodate their lives inside and outside of work. This in turn will strengthen employee loyalty.

Prioritise wellbeing
Stress and anxiety at work are key drivers for employee resignations. And both played a role in the great resignation. For many, the stresses of furlough and redundancies throughout the pandemic encouraged overworking in a bid to stay employed. Unfortunately, this resulted in overworking and, over the years, in a burnout crisis. 

To tackle attrition, employers must encourage teams to value wellbeing. Successfully cultivating an improved culture of wellbeing relies on multiple HR functions, not just mental health benefits such as Headspace subscriptions. Engaging leaders at all levels in wellbeing strategies means they can spot the signs of those who are struggling far more easily. Investing in tools – such as psychometric assessments to measure emotional intelligence – can also help leaders better understand their teams’ emotions and how they approach certain situations in the workplace. Doing so will help employees feel supported.

Playing the new talent game
The great resignation isn’t just a media buzzword. Anthony Klotz, the psychologist who coined the famous phrase, predicts that it will continue for at least a few years, as people continue to re-evaluate what they want out of work.

Though the problem is not entirely of business’ making, it’s now theirs to deal with. By putting employee needs and wants first, and building cultures that empower engagement, companies can begin to tackle the root causes behind the great resignation. And although we hopefully won’t face another era-defining pandemic in the coming years, organisations that address these issues will be more resilient in addressing the challenges ahead. 

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