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How Leaders Can Mitigate the Great Resignation

How Leaders Can Mitigate the Great Resignation

This week, three people I know well left solid careers they had been in for multiple years for another opportunity that honored their values. The global pandemic wreaked havoc in many ways, but it also gave people the chance to deeply consider what matters. Values are the greatest predictor of career satisfaction, and the ongoing pandemic journey has caused a values-shift for many.

The Great Resignation is real, and people are quitting in record numbers. Couple that with a national labor shortage and the world of work is being seriously tested. Besides the obvious financial and integrity cost of burn and churn employee turnover, company culture is hanging by a thread - especially if leaders do not offer employee growth opportunities and create a place where people really want to work.

It is time take retention seriously and honor the great talent you have and attract the new talent you need.

[Related: Human-Centric Organizations: A Positive Result of the Pandemic?]

Stay interview.

If you are waiting for the annual or even semi-annual performance review to understand your employees, you are missing the leadership boat.

I highly recommend the stay interview - a frequent conversation with the manager and staff member. This is a great opportunity for the manager to be an active listener and learn from the direct report about their ideas for progress, solutions, goals, and challenges they face. In turn, the manager will also have an opportunity to receive constructive feedback from the direct report – a concept not always utilized in the more traditional one-way performance review.

Creating a safe environment for respect, candor, and authenticity is essential so both the manager and staff member can share constructive feedback and recognition of a job well done in a manner that is safely received. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • When you get ready for work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  • What parts of your job are the most enjoyable…or even the most fun?
  • What parts are most challenging? What are your roadblocks, or frustrations?
  • What are you learning here? What do you want to learn?
  • How do you like working with other members of our team?
  • And what about me? What can I do to help you stay longer?
  • Are there specific reasons you can think of that could cause you to leave?

Provide career growth opportunities.

The people I know who quit last week left organizations that did not provide opportunities for growth or reinvention. Work with meaning and purpose is high on the values list for many, and organizations that let the dust settle on stagnant job descriptions in outdated roles will most certainly lose out.

In addition to actual succession plans for leadership roles, companies should look at all rungs of the organization chart. Are you tending to the frozen middle and the wealth of talent waiting for an opportunity to try something new, gain leadership experience, and develop professionally?

Innovative organizations have Emerging Leader Boards tapping young talent so they can better understand the next generation of leaders and actively groom them for what’s next. Not to mention the reverse generational learning that takes place when bringing Gen Y and Z together with Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Create real opportunities for advancement, so top talent can grow from within instead of growing out of your organization.

[Related: The Value of Generational Differences in the Workplace, and How to Leverage Them]

Lighten the load of your best people.

I was so moved by a piece by Forbes senior contributor Mark Murphy, I’m sharing his wisdom here because it’s essential for leaders:

Think about which of your employees are actually working the longest hours, coming in at weird times, answering your emails at midnight, etc. It's unlikely that your low performers work anywhere near as hard as your best employees. Part of the fault lies with us [the leaders], because to whom do we continually turn for assistance? We're not calling folks with bad attitudes over and over; we're pinging our stars for help.

Many NBA teams practice load management, whereby they rest their stars for less important games in order to keep them fresh for the playoffs (or other must-win games). If you want to hold onto your stars, you will do well to consider something similar.

Perpetual overwork is debilitating – honor your rockstars and give them a break, or they may look elsewhere for a more manageable work/life fit.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

People stay with an organization because of company culture alignment and strong leaders. The values of an organization must be demonstrated by actions and not the ubiquitous nod on the website to have true meaning.

Psychological safety is a must-have work culture competency so employees can do their work knowing they won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

Fostering communication, collaboration, clear goals, and measurable performance indicators is a sign of a desirable culture. Creating a positive and inclusive workplace where all the employees are valued, supported, and nurtured irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, or color. All employees should have equal opportunities to progress and equal access to all the perks and rewards on offer.

The Great Resignation can be mitigated or exacerbated by company leaders. It’s time to foster and develop the culture you would enjoy working in.

[Related: Motivating Talent by Giving Credit in the Workplace]


Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Vice President of Career Coaching and Employer Connections for the Ivy Tech Community College system and contributes to Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, Medium, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. Her online video series about career and life empowerment for women is on YouTube. She hosts the three-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube.

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