How to Help Your Business Survive The Great Resignation

Don't ignore the data that impacts your employees productivity and quality of life.
11 min read | by Jennifer Cameron

Employees are quitting their jobs at record rates. 

The Turnover Tsunami. The Great Resignation Migration. The media and the monikers keep finding new ways to describe the phenomenon of workers quitting their jobs at record rates. As reported by Forbes, workforce analytics company Visier reports that resignation rates are at an all-time high, just as the job market is booming. "Trend data for 2021 shows that resignation rates have already begun to climb, signaling an even more pronounced increase this year than previous years." 

Visier goes on to report that mid-career workers ages 30-35 (21.5%), 35-40 (19.6%) and 40-45 (25.1%) and managers are jumping ship more than any other demographic "signaling that workers more established in their careers have continued to shift jobs." Technology and healthcare organizations have taken the biggest hit so far, with employees facing the biggest risk of burnout.

Why is this happening now?

With the increase of vaccinations, we have seen numerous companies that set the standard for the American workplace—like Apple, WeWork, and Goldman Sachs— requiring their employees to return to the office. But more and more employees are pushing back. Instead of returning to the office, employees are challenging mandates and, as the numbers show, are quitting their jobs in favor of more competitive and flexible opportunities at other companies. Or, they are launching new businesses and freelance careers.

The good news? Current chaos brings an incredible opportunity for growth.

The silver lining to the added pressures of COVID? Time to reflect and get clear on what it means to have both personal and professional quality of life.COVID taught many employees the importance of balance and clarity. As reported by CNBC, nearly "half of U.S. health workers have suffered mental health issues since COVID." Does this surprise anyone after the collective trash fire of 2020? No. But even so, there are those who have discovered that within the extreme adversity caused by COVID, there have been opportunities to change their lives for the better.

As the adage goes, you can't get what you want unless you know what you want. All the stress, all the time at home, all the pressures of family and work demands forced many employees to get real, fast. Many decided that working at home with remote flexibility offers more flexibility and more quality time with their families than they had pre-pandemic. More time at home also gifted many with the time and space to reflect on their future, their goals, and whether their current roles supported or derailed that vision. The resilience born from navigating COVID has inspired more and more employees to explore other career paths as well as competitive opportunities with better benefits and salaries—opportunities they never had time to explore before.

Doing what we’ve always done will get us the same results.

It's easy to continue to do something, not because it's the most effective action, but because it's easier. It's what we've always done (have you ever heard the brilliant Aimee Mann song, Momentum?). For the sake of momentum, many organizations have continued to ask (and even demand) that employees do it the way it has always been done, stay in their lane, stay on the wake-up-go-to-office-go-home-go-to-bed path rather than risk the temporary pain of discomfort and growth.

Why are we still attached to the office?

It's how we have done it the past 100 years. We have built collective momentum, so much so that the idea of changing how it's always been done ignites resistance against that momentum, simply because changing workplace culture, changing where we work, triggers fear in the minds of many business owners and leaders. Employers fear that employees will not be as productive or motivated while working from home and that this will somehow translate into a loss of profit—even if studies have shown remote work can improve productivity. A study performed by Great Place to Work which surveyed over 800,000 employees from Fortune 500 companies, shows that "most people reported stable or even increased productivity levels after employees started working from home" (Hastwell and Kazi, February 10, 2021).

Chaos, however, makes everything worse. When you add downturns in an economy, a national disaster, or a global pandemic, you have the perfect recipe for fear-induced doubt and a lack of trust. During times of uncertainty, trust between employers and employees becomes even more critical. 

Even so, the pandemic has invited employees to transform this adversity into an opportunity to regain control of our time and improve work-life integration. 

Remote work offers location independence. As we stated previously in our article Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration," location independence is a way to make room for flexible work options and boost employee engagement; it allows for life integration." 

What does that look like? Employees can spend more time with their families. They can also support their health by using the additional flexibility to cook healthy meals and make time for exercise, rest, hobbies, and time with loved ones. From an organizational development perspective, supporting employees' wellbeing and respecting their desire for work-life integration is just a good business strategy. But these benefits only come with the kind of remote work environments that offer this flexibility and trust.

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The only thing to fear is...culture erosion, productivity, and profit loss?

So why are organizations known for progressive decision-making—like Apple—returning to outdated return-to-office-mandates? Fear. More fear leads to a loss of control, which leads to more fear. It's a toxic cycle that does not benefit business owners nor employees.

Fear #1: Culture erosion

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Cathy Merrill, chief executive officer of Washingtonian Media, expressed her "worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work." Her position—like that of many CEOs attached to the idea of returning to the office full-time—revolves around the core belief that we "rely on office cultures—established practices, unspoken rules, and shared values, established over the years in large part by people interacting in person." This belief perpetuates the idea that employees who remain at home will miss out on the "20 percent of [your] job [that is] outside one's core responsibilities." It involves helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone's birthday—things that drive office culture." In Merrill's view, if the employee is not present to participate in those extras and contribute to the culture, the employer has a strong incentive to reconsider that employee's value to the organization, let them go, or change their status to a contractor.

Fear #2: Lack of productivity

Many organizations express concerns similar to Merrill. While they may not be as vocal, they're also not as organized or prepared to back their arguments. Fast Company recently reported on the reasons why workers are calling B.S. on leaders about returning to the office, citing a recent survey completed by McKinsey & Company (Alexander, Smet, Langstaff & Ravid), that reveals two-thirds of employers surveyed "have not communicated a post-pandemic office strategy or have only vaguely done so." In place of a real strategy that will steer an organization forward during this global workplace shift, organization leaders cling to what they know, in part due to fear of a loss of control.

The line of thinking goes something like this: if managers can't see employees working, they're not working at the same high standard as in-office work. As reported by Fast Company, one worker surveyed complained that [their] manager "wanted butts in seats because we couldn't be trusted to [work from home] even though we'd been doing it since last March," adding: "I'm giving my notice on Monday." Another, whose company issued a two-week timeline for all to return to the office, griped: "Our leadership felt people weren't as productive at home. While as a company we've hit most of our goals for the year. . . Makes no sense."

Fear #3: Lack of mentorship opportunities and career growth

Some established industry giants are not so shy or open-minded about the future of remote work flexibility. One of the most vocal opponents of long-term remote work is Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon, who expressed his opinion to the BBC that Goldman Sachs would not be endorsing remote work flexibility. In Solomon’s view, "a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture [remote work] is not ideal for us. And it's not a new normal. It's an aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible." Leaders like Solomon go on to cite generation Z, and millennial employees who are looking for a lot of mentorship in their career path, the kind of mentorship they believe can only be achieved onsite, in in-person, meetings, and conversations.

Fear #4: Recouping real estate costs

Many CEOs have invested heavily in office buildings and don't want them to go to waste. As a result, they believe that they have to fill their offices—which have already been paid for—to increase productivity and profit. This fear does not take into account all the ways companies can step into remote flexibility and redesign systems in a way that supports strategic business goals.


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Is there enough evidence to support these fears? Not really.

CEOs who express these strong opinions do not have enough evidence to support their claims. To date, there aren't enough studies to prove that a return to the office full-time will increase productivity, increase growth opportunities for younger employees, and increase company productivity. Beyond that, a return-to-office view, without remote flexibility, does not take into account how much money companies sink into real estate costs. 

Like it or not, employees intend to quit their jobs if they cannot find flexibility. According to Prudential Financial's Pulse of the American Worker survey, 1-in-4 workers are considering quitting their jobs after the pandemic (CNBC). And according to this Flexjobs survey reported by Human Resource Executive, 58% of the more than 2,100 people surveyed who have been working remotely during the pandemic say "they would "absolutely" look for a new job if they weren't allowed to continue working remotely in their current position" (Requiring employees to return to the office? Get ready for them to quit). The struggle is real, and employees are doing something about it. So if not a matter of if but rather when, how can you protect your business?

So how can you attract and retain top talent, strengthen your culture, and stay competitive amidst the chaos?  

More and more employees are expressing a desire for change, and as part of that change, more remote work flexibility. The first step to building a strong, productive, resilient workforce is to assess your remote employee experience using a collaborative and transparent process. So that you better understand and accommodate your employees' needs amidst the changing job market while staying on track with your business goals.

Give your employees a voice, and they will give you a chance.

What have we learned from Covid? Employees are burnt out and fed up with work situations that do not support their wellbeing, growth, and goals. As Apple employees recently expressed in their open letter to CEO, Tim Cook: 

“Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored,” the letter says. “Messages like, ‘we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,’ with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating...It feels like there is a disconnect between how the executive team thinks about remote / location-flexible work and the lived experiences of many of Apple’s employees.”

Situations vary for each employee, and they want understanding and flexibility. Create a psychologically safe space for employees to voice their needs and communicate what circumstances work best for their situation. This will create the kind of agile, productive, and resilient business that can transform new challenges into opportunities to thrive long-term.

Download our free white paper to learn more about how to stay competitive and build a thriving, resilient business using a remote employee work experience.

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Originally Published by Jennifer Cameron on Monday, February 7, 2022 | Updated on Friday, October 14, 2022

 We would like to thank Kate Sukeforth for her contributions to this article. 

Remote Work Consulting and Training
, Employee Research and Engagement
, Internal Marketing and Communications
, Back to the Office Required
, The Remote Employee Experience
, Human Resources Today
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