If you don’t know who organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz is, you’ve most likely heard of his work. He coined the phrase “the Great Resignation” after having used the term at home with his wife, while predicting that a wave of resignations were ahead. Turns out, he was right.
The phrase went public when he spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek last May. “The great resignation is coming,” he said. “When there’s uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year.”
He based his prediction on several factors:
- Because of the pandemic, millions of people were staying at jobs they would have left under ordinary circumstances.
- Workers – especially in the service industry – were experiencing severe burnout.
- Workers were also reevaluating the role of work in their lives, including the desire for shorter commute times (or none at all), increased flexibility, and more time to spend with family.
So, exactly how many resignations are we talking about? A record-breaking 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August across an array of industries, according to a report released last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This beat the previous record set in April of 4 million.
I’ve participated in so many conversations lately with clients who are grappling with the fall out of record resignations and dealing with significant insecurities. But the subject matter and participants might surprise you.
There is a real sense of fear and even abandonment that workers in the 30-40 age range are experiencing. In many cases, they are the ones staying in their jobs while saying goodbye to their older peers.
Some have shared feelings of paranoia, wondering why so many of their more experienced colleagues are exiting. “Is there something wrong with the organization that I don’t know about? Will another hammer drop?” Others are feeling lost and even disoriented, especially when those in mentorship roles are gone. “Who will I learn from now? They knew so much more about how the company operates than I do – now what?”
When large numbers of seasoned employees leave a company, there is a loss of institutional knowledge, which is defined as the combination of expertise, values, work processes, strategies, experiences, information, and data possessed by employees of an organization. Leaders in all sizes of companies and organizations need to understand the importance of institutional knowledge, and explore ways they can guard against losing it.
Solutions for Leaders
Now more than ever, it is vital for employees at every level to form deliberate relationships beyond reporting structure. The challenge is that it’s incredibly difficult to do that if many if not all are working virtually.
One leader that I coach recently told me that he’s hired five new people in the last seven months and they’ve never physically been in the office. And that’s not unusual. I have also coached new hires who are in leadership positions and they’ve never met their teams in person. It’s quite a challenge to form deliberate relationships from afar. But I’m here to reassure you, you can do it.
No matter the level of leadership or experience, all workers must have the courage to approach those with more experience and ask for help. What does that look like?
Go to someone who you respect and can learn from within the organization, and say something like, “Beyond the work that we do, I want to learn from you. Can we meet regularly and talk about your journey on the team? I’d like to know what you have learned, and things you wish you knew when you were where I am today.”
Do this now, while those people are still there. And if they leave or have left, having the courage to ask, “Can we meet and talk about challenges?”
Business leaders should encourage proactive relationship building best practices for all individuals. It’s also a good time to honestly reflect on your own levels of self-awareness and consider what you can do to grow and change with the times. I also suggest that you evaluate your current corporate culture and ask yourself:
- Do employees feel valued?
- Are you competing with other forward-thinking companies who have strong and effective policies that allow for flexibility and promote wellness and well-being?
- Are you making team building a priority?
- Are you encouraging relationship building and mentorship?
- Is your organization putting people first?
Happy employees want to stay – they also make companies more productive. And during a time of record-breaking resignations, it is vital that you are doing everything you can to make them happy. The life of your company might literally depend on it.