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It’s no surprise that many people clung onto their jobs so tightly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anyone that could continue by working from home did so and protected their position. Many people that had been thinking about new opportunities just paused their search, because the middle of a pandemic lockdown is not an easy time to go looking for a job.

This is one of the drivers that has triggered what American commentators are calling the Great Resignation. The situation is more complex than just the pent-up demand of job seekers who put their plans on hold. Many people are taking this opportunity to revise their career choice or to put their lifestyle and family before their job.

CNBC featured an interesting example of a cook in an Alaskan tourist resort who decided that she no longer wanted to tolerate the grueling hours. She took a coding boot-camp and got a job as a software engineer. A career change inside a year.

Anthony Klotz, a management professor at Texas A&M University is credited as the first person to use the phrase “Great Resignation” to explain what is happening to employment in 2021. He said: “When we come into contact with life-threatening events, we tend to reflect on death and consider whether we are happy with our lives or whether we would like to make changes to them.”

Many experts, such as Mr Klotz, have predicted that we will see a major shift in the entire workforce dynamic. This means more demands for flexibility from employees and potentially a greater use of gig economy platforms, rather than wages paid by the hour.

This emphasis on being paid for what you do, rather than how long you spend on the job, could dramatically change how employers need to structure work and how employees will seek out jobs. It may be that there is a stronger focus on projects that have a defined life, rather than an ongoing job with an employer.

But a recent feature in Forbes suggested that HR leaders could use this situation to create a ‘great retention’ effect and the reason why is simple. We need to listen.

Most of the coverage of the great resignation points to employee dissatisfaction. They want more control of their hours, they want the flexibility to work from home or from the office, they want to be able to block out meeting-free days. They just want more of a say in how their jobs actually function.

The opportunity is to listen to your employees and be proactive. Go and ask them what you can do to support them and to create a more flexible working environment. Find all the reasons for dissatisfaction and then take action. There has never been a more unusual time in our working lives so all ideas should be on the table – find out what your employees really want.

This proactivity could not only turn the great resignation into the great retention, but I believe it could lead to the “great attraction” once the word gets out that you are listening and making real changes to help your employees. The opportunity is with all HR leaders right now. Doing nothing is not an option because then your business will simply be one more ingredient in the great resignation.

Significant change often requires a crisis as a catalyst. Let’s use this time to rebuild our organisations in a way that we would all prefer them to be, rather than just attempting to return to 2019.

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