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What's Up With the Great Resignation/Reshuffle/Upgrade?

It’s come up again: I was asked to explain why people are leaving their jobs. This client professes a deep belief in valuing their employees and the work they create, and they’ve been affected by the “great resignation” like so many others. 

There’s been a lot of suggestions lately to rename "The Great Resignation” - I’ve seen or heard: 

  • The Great Reshuffling
  • The Great Job Hop
  • The Great Upgrade 
  • and early on, The Turnover Tsunami

Personally, I like “The Great Upgrade” because it captures the fact that most who are changing jobs are doing so to find something better. I'm also hopeful that, as employers do things differently to attract and retain talent, perhaps our work experiences themselves and the many organizations we work for will also be upgraded.

Whatever you call it, millions of people have changed jobs over the past 18 months or so. At the same time, more women are dropping out of the workforce entirely, or have considered it. According to the latest McKinsey/LeanIn report on Women in the Workplace

More than 50% of women who are responsible for managing teams are often or almost always burned out, and almost 40% have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers.

Life is complex, and work is complex, and the pandemic made everything even more complicated. So there is no single factor driving people to leave jobs. 

Yet the reasons aren’t really all that surprising, if you think about how we work.

🔶 Pay

  • We know that, historically, there’s a wider gap than ever between what general workers earn and what company owners, shareholders, and senior leaders earn. 
  • Pay disparities based on demographic factors - sex, gender identity, race, national origin, disabilities, etc - have been stagnant for decades.
  • And even paying $1-$5/hour over minimum wage still means you’re paying a poverty wage.

🔶 Engagement

We know that employee engagement levels have almost never polled higher than one-third - meaning, consistently for decades, across industries, between 60% and 70% of employees are either unengaged (just getting through the day) or actively disengaged (behaving in ways that intentionally or unintentionally sabotage the team or company’s mission).  

  • Consider organizational culture & the autonomy employees get. 
  • It's not enough to just offer interesting perks or have a decent insurance policy that's covered by the company. 
  • People want to feel trusted to choose HOW to get their work done, not how others want them to get tasks done.

🔶 The Role of the Manager

Let’s face it: It has ALWAYS been true that if you don't get along well with your manager, you're more likely to leave the job. 

I see this with clients & I see this with friends & I read about this trend all the time. According to Gallup’s research, a full 70% of variance in employee engagement levels is entirely due to manager behavior. In other words, company policies designed to foster employee engagement will only ever move the needle about 30%! The rest of the effort falls on the individual supervisor.

This is why investing in quality training and coaching for managers makes a difference. 

🔶 Social Shifts Matter

The pandemic and previous political and social shifts over the course of the past 30 years or so have collectively laid bare some pretty stark differences in the ways people see the world. 

Just a single example: 

If I mention “my wife” at my job, and I’m male, I am likely to be viewed positively. If I mention “my wife” at my job, and I’m female, there are many folks who are likely to look at me… well, differently. Maybe negatively, maybe just with an expectation that I’m more different than they are and we must have little in common. Is the solution to hide who I’m married to? That’s a pretty gigantic thing to hide, so to hide it is asking a lot; we know authenticity is tied to employees feeling engaged; AND if I work from home and have online meetings someone is probably going to see or hear my wife in the background at some point. 

Moving past the assumptions we automatically make about others - whether those assumptions are about sexuality or anything else - takes work, and it’s the kind of work that requires one’s full attention. It’s the kind of work that’s much harder to do when you are stressed out (like, because we’re entering year three of a global pandemic). 

If people who work together can't come together over shared values, then the glue that holds the relationship together is - what? Crafting those widgets you make? Is that enough? More and more people are saying no.

So what do you do? 

A recent mediation client is an excellent case in point for all of this. There were things she loved about her job, yet she was feeling very burned out. When asked where she wanted to be in relation to this particular work conflict in six months or a year, she ultimately came to the conclusion that she needed to not just be away from the conflict, but away from the company. When fully empowered to determine her own future, the best decision she could make was to resign and find a new job. 

If I had to capture “the great upgrade” in a nutshell, people, en masse, are basically making the same decision she made.

Another case in point comes from one of the articles I’ve read about this “Great Reshuffle” or whatever we choose to call it. The Atlanta Black Star focused specifically on Black people’s experiences. They quote one Black male employee who observed company management holding racial sensitivity meetings in 2020 (post-George Floyd’s murder) and wondered: “Why not just talk to your employees, talk to us like we’re people?”

“Talk to us like we’re people.” 

🔵 The sum is: People want to be treated as fully autonomous human beings at work, and feel a sense of connection to each other and even, perhaps, a sense of community with colleagues. 

At both the individual and organizational level, this makes a lot of sense - but we often can’t “talk to employees like they’re people” if we tend to rely on biases to guide our conversations. And we can’t learn not to rely on biases unless we first learn what our biases are and then figure out how they drive our interactions. 

🔵 But really, Gina, what do we DO?

Here are some actions to start or consider:

    • Examine your pay structures. Eliminate disparities and poverty wages.
    • Provide people skills trainings for managers and people eligible to be promoted into management. 
    • Offer voluntary assistance for personal growth: coaching, mediation for conflicts, mental health support, emotional intelligence assessments, sabbaticals. 
    • Offer designated “quiet time” hours when people don’t have meetings (regardless of location).
    • Encourage people to use all their time off, and keep enough staff on board so that work still gets done while any given employee is out, rather than piling up. 
    • Don’t require video or even facetime (in the older sense of the word) for all the meetings. Audio or sometimes even emails can work just fine. 
  • Consider getting an external perspective:
    • Trainers, facilitators, consultants - we can help. 

 Give one of these ideas a try and let me know how it goes!


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