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How can you stop being impacted by the ‘great resignation’?

Nahla Summers, Cultural Change Consultant, Workshop leader and Public Speaker, A Culture of Kindness
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I attended a networking event a few months ago and was chatting in a small group when the conversation of hiring and retaining staff was bought up.  A gentleman from a solicitor’s firm exasperatedly added to the conversation, “We just can’t pay them enough to get them on board, or to stay.” 

“Ah yes”, I said, “but people care less about the money now, they care about the culture.”

He looked at me blankly and the conversation moved on without further comment.  I could see he didn’t get it, but more worryingly, he didn’t care to understand it.  I later learnt from a third party that indeed that firm had a culture issue.

When the person doesn’t take the job or hands in the resignation, they might say its money, but that isn’t always what they mean, they’ve checked out your company ratings, they’ve heard the rumours, they see through the recruitment process and make a decision from that information.  When deciding to take a job, money is no longer the only voice.

Let me share why that brief conversation with that solicitor is evidence to support the research I have been working on in the past 8 years.

Lets look at the problem first.

Firstly, lets establish the idea of the ‘Great resignation’.  There are facts and figures for every country for this phenomena of the term apparently coined by Anthony Klotz, a Professor of Management at Texas A & M University when he predicted this would happen in May 2021, and promptly the figures started to confirm his theory. Wikipedia is your friend to find out more. 

However, let’s talk about the UK as an example, (of the which the US is not far different) and how the figures shed some light on a problem that is not going away. In 2019, 270,000 resigned from their jobs (so this is pre Covid), in 2021 that number had risen to over 400,000.  In percentage terms that’s a 48% increase of people leaving their jobs.  In addition to this, the workforce got smaller, people retired, Brexit happened, and people’s priorities changed.  It meant that in 2021 a record high of 1.3 million jobs were vacant in December 2021, and this too was not just a small percentage increase.  This had been previous sat at 0.5 million from Pre-Covid in January 2020, making 160% increase.

If you think the days of controlling your workforce to dance to your tune is still here, think again.  The new generations have arrived, and they are demanding to see workplaces with purpose, they want to be involved with decision making, they want to have safety and kindness within workplaces and if they don’t get it, they are moving on fearlessly.  They will drive your organisations to be the best and quickly, but leaders have to understand they are no longer there to impart wisdom and then dictate but simply ask the right questions, provide knowledge and when required provide a final decision in a kinder leadership style.

The different generations have never felt so misunderstood, and we can be pretty confident that technology has had an influencing factor on the severe difference between the priorities of these generations.   Coupled with the difference in financial stability, environment and the mental health and self-care conversation it means that organisations with age diverse workplaces have got their work cut out for them.

Many will have come across the idea of psychological safety in the workplace.  Ultimately, it allows people to feel comfortable speaking up, sharing ideas including their knowledge and experience, they feel they can do this without judgement.  For an organisation to be stable, all leadership requires an adoption of certain methods to ensure safety in workplaces is a prerequisite.

Why hire an expert into your organisation or want them to be an expert through training and then remove their voice by telling them what you want them to do?  However, this is not an uncommon leadership style.  It causes frustrated employees, it is potentially unsafe, and your company creativity is lost; among other damaging effects on the organisation.   You may consider yourself in this environment and you would not be alone.  According to 2017 Gallup poll, 3 out of 10 employees strongly agree that their opinions don’t count at work. 

We have never had to care about what people do or don’t do in their lives outside work.   However, as we start to consider organisational purpose and its importance, so too is it important for each individual to understand their personal purpose and how that links with their work for an organisation.  Not something workplaces have ever had to consider, who cares, that’s your responsibility for your life.  But supporting employees to build purpose not only supports each employee’s emotional health that they bring into work but ensures that they are committed to the growth of the organisation as they see how their purpose is the organisations purpose. 

In simple terms, what can be done.

When I work with organisations, I will share with them an idea, ‘the big problems are often solved by small solutions repeated over time’.  What I mean by that is when we consider anything that appears to be a huge problem for you or an organisation; insurmountable to solve.  They are usually solved by small actions repeated over time.  Consider for a moment the worst moments of life, we are in high stress and feeling that there is no way out.  It feels huge.  What your body has physically done is tense up, you’ve probably clenched your jaw and you will have most certainly held your breath.  It sends a trigger to your brain which in turn causes a stress response.  When we unclench our jaw and take conscious breath, we can reverse that stress state.  The simple act of breathing can reverse something as big as the overwhelming feeling of stress.  This goes for many big problems we see within workplaces that can be supported by tiny actions.  Let me give some examples

Stop talking mental health and start doing emotional health

I first heard the term emotional health on a podcast and have since fallen into the rabbit hole of research and conversation that exists around the term.  Emotional health tends to feel more comfortable as a term than mental health.  Decreased emotional health can turn into mental health challenges, but in the most part it is thought mental health should be considered as serious conditions in which medication is required.  Emotional health is something that we should consider treating every day, the same as we do with our physical health.  Enhancing emotional health of ourselves and the people around us will ensure that we do not find ourselves in a mental health condition.  Why though would this matter to stop the great resignation?  We are using the term mental health as a blanket term, but it is not about ‘doing’ it’s simply about a ‘state’ and an uncomfortable one for most of us.  When we start to share daily activities that support emotional health, wisdom that people can adopt into their everyday lives without pressure, we start to move ‘state’ into ‘doing’.  This in turn makes change.  We cannot expect change if we continue to do the same thing we always have.

Emotional Intelligence is not just a course

I deliver Emotional Intelligence workshops, so this is not putting myself out of a job, however if any organisation believes that growing emotional intelligence is a two-day course sat in room is the final answer, then I say they are mistaken.   Taking you back to the ‘big problems, small solutions’ idea for a moment.  Emotional Intelligence can be grown within a workforce with simple drip-fed activities to engage and inspire curiosity.  By again taking a set time each week for the organisation to take part in an activity that increases Emotional intelligence it is something that not only unifies but promotes conversation and growth.

Let me give you a great example of this drip-feeding effect that I am now also adopting in an organisation as a lunch and learn program. This was inspired by Claude Silver who is the Chief Heart officer for Vayner Media and the team there.  They have a program called 1.37 where at 1.37 Eastern time they all stop and get online to watch something together as an organisation for 15 minutes on their private You Tube channel.  This is something inspiring, a talk from someone or general sharing of wisdom.  It has had a powerful effect.  It is hard to have negativity when your brain is being drip fed positive wisdom to support personal growth.  You can adopt this with ease within your organisations too. Maybe the focus is Emotional Intelligence, maybe it is Emotional health knowledge, either way bite size engaging content supports a commitment of the organisation to deliver, support and engage with each employee, in the end making huge change to the problems your culture might be experiencing in retaining staff.

Get your team to make the rules

When I do senior leadership workshops, a brilliant new idea for employee engagement might be generated.  It usually appears wonderfully insightful and helpful for the future growth of the organisation.  However, then one of those senior leaders will say, ‘I’ll take the idea and make sure it happens.’  They usually mean that they will tell a team what to do and instruct the idea as it was formed from the senior leadership team.  That is not how the future looks.  The future of workplaces looks like allowing the employees to help shape the spaces, processes and culture.  I can feel the fear from most leaders now as you read this.  It seems more hard work to do this but let me share with you a tried and tested method to engage the workforce and reduce your workload, whilst also increasing engagement and ensuring your teams don’t join the great resignation.

I refer to them as steering groups, which is a term known to many.  However, for this work, it is important because you are asking these group to literally, ‘steer’ the company culture in a direction everyone is on board with; with limited to no input by the senior leadership teams. 

A team of between 5 and 8 people from various departments and levels in the organisation are brought together.  They come together in a 3-stage process of guided sessions that develops into a solution for whatever the topic might be.  The steering group members ensure they discuss with their colleagues and gain feedback on the challenge they are attempting to resolve as they move through the process.  So, their brief might be a solutions for the way meetings happen in your organisation or email exchanges, usually they are incredibly unproductive, and employees find them demotivating, a steering group develops a solution that the majority get on board with early on and it is implemented quickly through a structured process.

I want to share the biggest take away from my workshops with middle management, it is that they recognise they don’t ask enough questions of their teams and have fallen into a trap of ‘telling’.  So, if you want to take one small solution to do each day, that would be the one to recommend.

Some readers might have read this and believe this is nothing new for their organisation, if that is the case, you will likely have a great culture and have not been affected by the great resignation.  But if you see that this is not in your organisation, consider these a few small easily implemental ideas that could stop the big resignation effecting your organisation and team.

By Nahla Summers,
Cultural Change Consultant, Workshop leader and Public Speaker, A Culture of Kindness

 You can find out more about Nahla Summers and her work at a www.acultureofkindness.co.uk

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