The Great Resignation or The Great Leadership Wake-Up Call?

Leading Others

25th October 2021

We’re all over deftly named phenomena, right? The pandemic has gifted our everyday language with enough ominous phrases, terms, and slogans to last a lifetime. Nonetheless we think this one, The ‘Great Resignation’, warrants one more blog post.

Fascinating because it comes from a human resistance to what once was, it calls in the era of the empowered employee, demanding more from life, from work and their employers.

Many amongst the workforce have had time – possibly for the first time since entering the labour market as teens or graduates – to take stock. What happened when they had time and breathing space to think was they realised they don’t actually want “business as usual”. They want better.

But, how are these new desires actually manifesting? Because considering handing in your resignation is clearly different to following through with it. A disaffected workforce on the other hand, is a very real risk that will take company culture- and therefore performance- to a breaking point if not approached with an open mind. 

The ‘Great Resignation’ is an Employee Engagement Crisis

As the furlough scheme ended on 30 September 2021, many were worried about what this would mean for the labour market and the economy. Many predicted a jump in unemployment as businesses opted to let their furloughed employees go after a year and a half of Government-subsidised limbo.

What many didn’t see coming was that so many people would choose for themselves not to go back. Or that those who worked throughout the pandemic would actually be considering jumping ship alongside almost 5% of the UK workforce.

The pandemic triggered an awakening. Having more autonomy over their time helped people to appreciate how liberating it was to not be rushing around trying to meet commitments. Wasn’t it refreshing to not have to choose between work and family? To not feel guilty for not being in two places at once? 

Data from research by Microsoft suggests that upwards of 40% of the global workforce is currently looking to hand in their resignation. 

Of course this trajectory is not predetermined, and there is undoubtedly privilege attached to it. However, it does speak to a wider cultural shift in mindset about what we feel we deserve, what we cherish, and what we expect, that people from all walks of life can relate to. 

The future of work is no longer a place for everybody, but a space for everybody, with an increased emphasis on the employee experience.- Jennifer Colosimo, President, Enterprise Division, FranklinCovey

And for leaders? This movement could be reframed as The Great Wake-Up Call. An absence of a negative is not automatically a positive; if your people don’t leave, they can still withhold their best efforts, disengage from organisational objectives and become a drain on resources.

People typically want to do a great job, and the right thing, most of the time. It is the responsibility of leadership to look inwards and ask why working for them might be at odds with their employee’s priorities. 

So, what do post-pandemic employees want from work?

Generally, simply ticking off the working from home option a couple of days a week isn’t going to cut it. Here is our breakdown of what these newly awakened employees really want from work and their leadership teams:

Consideration

Employees today expect their employers to care – to genuinely care – about how they are, and about how they can work together to both get the most out of the experience. Employees do not need or want a one-size-fits-all wellbeing policy. Achieving employee wellbeing and engagement is about wanting to respond, wherever practicable and possible, to the needs of the individual…and not just once they’ve “earned it”. 

In a sign of the changing times, the UK government is currently considering altering employment law to give employees the right to request flexible working from day one of their employment. Why should an employee’s need for consideration be any less important just because their tenure is shorter? 

Permission to be unique

We all want to be celebrated for who we are, not moulded into a corporate identikit version of who our employers want us to be. Today’s workforce want to receive recognition of their specific achievements and strengths. This includes feeling seen, having their skillset recognised and utilised even if they might be outside of a current remit. People want to feel their skills align with their roles. People want to feel encouraged not to hide their light under a proverbial bushel, and this includes having individual aspirations catered to.

Confidence in a meaningful work experience

Employees need to feel that they are making a difference, both in terms of understanding the part they play in the business and in the greater community. Working isn’t just about making a living, it *is* living and we all want to make a meaningful contribution. We all want to see the real life effects of our effort on the bigger picture, and have confidence in the fact the vision for the future bigger picture is both achievable and championing of the people who will make it possible. 

The noise today will be a different noise next year, and a different noise the year after. The one thing that won’t ever change is the compass direction that we’ve assigned ourselves as a team.- Tim Threipland, Leadership Practice Director, FranklinCovey UK & Ireland

Trust

Workers want to be treated like adults. They want to be trusted and empowered to perform to the best of their ability with an autonomy they have become used to this past year and a half. The damage the ‘hovering boss’ can do to team morale and individual loyalty has never been so pronounced. Great leaders are credible leaders who don’t placate or control, but intentionally create reciprocal relationships built for collaboration and innovation based in sincerity, transparency and inspiration.  Here are three things every leader needs to know about trust

What does this mean for leaders?

Leaders need to work on developing new competencies to cope with the changing demands of the workforce. In the words of FranklinCovey advisor and senior thought leader Scott Miller, leaders need to learn to exercise “an unnatural nimbleness to see people, listen to people, adjust to people”.

It’s time to consider employee engagement in a different way. Approach employee experience just like customer experience – but with even more emphasis on the relevance to your business’s success. 

Employees are at the centre of your business – your employees and the interactions and experiences they create *are* your customer experience.

Once you shift focus from measuring employee engagement to improving employee experience, it reframes how you approach almost every aspect of leadership and people management.

Employee engagement is all about how your employee’s relationship with their job impacts the business. Employee experience is all about how your business impacts your employee and their relationship with you. The organic result of a positive employee experience is improved engagement.

To create a thriving employee experience…

 

Assess how readily your employees are able to connect their roles to your business’s greater purpose

Then actively seek to improve this joined-up approach to management. It’s so important to clearly define your business’s priorities and the role and obligations of every person within it.

Invest in employees with a learning and development programme

As we found out in our previous blog, the role of learning and development in business has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Commitment to up/reskilling employees will not only address the growing skills gap but also provide personal development opportunities that keep people feeling like they are worthy of investment and experiencing growth.

Be a listening and learning organisation

Once upon a time, the only time an employer would ask for feedback from their employees was at an exit interview. Successful organisations invite feedback from their employees long before they’re on the way out. Develop an effective continuous listening strategy that includes group surveys, purposeful one-on-one meetings and an everyday self-awareness of how much time you spend talking vs. asking questions. Only by prioritising others’ voices can leaders not only multiply the intelligence of their team members, but gain insight into where they themselves need to do better. It’s about modelling the vulnerability to listen and learn as leaders, so that your people feel safe to do the same. 

Support your managers

Managers are the number one influencer of whether or not an employee is happy in their role and whether they stay or leave. It’s essential for leaders to enable and develop managers and supervisors to be better leaders and ensure that great people management values and habits are carried throughout all tiers of the organisation. The impact of trusted leadership- or the lack of it- simply cannot be underestimated. Even before the world got turned on its head, a 2020 Gallup report revealed that the five root causes of employee burnout are influenced by manager behaviour. 

Meet your employees where they are

The lives of many have changed so much over the last two years – be sensitive and empathetic to this. Many will have lost their health, experienced bereavement, a drastic change in financial status. Many will have experienced stress, trauma, mental health worries. Many will have lost confidence, be out of touch with routines and schedules.

 Even if your business hasn’t or doesn’t lose people, you risk losing your greatest competitive advantage: your culture. Tread carefully – and empathetically. 


Are your leaders ready to embrace the new world of work? Principles of effective leadership that result in superior performance haven’t changed, but the way leaders need to apply those principles has. Discover the best practices we’ve collected helping thousands of clients successfully transition in our new guide to thriving in the new world of work.