Queen's University IRC

Will They Stay or Will They Go?

Revisiting the Employee Value Proposition During the Great Resignation
Mira Persaud

October 19, 2021

The Great Resignation: will they stay or will they go?

The pandemic has provided time for people to reevaluate what they want from their work and personal lives. A resulting shift in perspectives on what fulfilling work looks like is now in play.

After the uncertainty and exhaustion of the past year, this new paradigm, along with a desire for a universal reset, has created the perfect storm for the Great Resignation[1], an unprecedented tidal wave of voluntary attrition. Some workers, frustrated with watching paychecks and advancement opportunities stagnate, are leaving their jobs to accelerate career growth and access more equitable compensation elsewhere. Others are making the switch to more meaningful careers, having used the time during lockdown to reflect on what type of work truly makes them happy and fulfilled. There are also those who have burnout from juggling the demands of work-life balance during the pandemic. To support their mental and physical health, these workers are moving to employers who are offering the promise of greater flexibility and work-life integration.

Can We Stop the Great Resignation?

A survey published by Microsoft predicts 41% of the global workforce are planning to leave their jobs by the end of 2021[2], resulting in talent shortages and staffing instability through 2022. While some of the highest rates of attrition are being experienced by the food service[3], technology[4] and healthcare sectors[5], all industries will be impacted to some extent in the next 3 to 6 months.

Is there anything that employers can do to reverse this trend? A refreshed retention strategy which reimagines the employee value proposition is a powerful first step in getting ahead of and stopping the Great Resignation. Organizations that are truly open and receptive to listening to and proactively accommodating the emerging needs of their workers through a new value proposition, will be well-positioned to survive (and even thrive) during this next period of workplace transformation.

Reimagining The Employee Value Proposition During the Great Resignation

While each organization’s employee value propositions will be different, here are some actions to consider as you move through the redesign process:

Identify Who Your Highest Turnover Risks Are
Collecting and analyzing a mix of predictive attrition data (third party employee surveys, people analytics platforms) and descriptive data (stay interviews, one-on-ones with current employees, manager insights, exit-interviews) will provide key insights about who is most at risk to leave and why. This information will tell the tale of what parts of the existing value proposition are working and what is falling short of employee expectations.

To ensure that the data is comprehensive and balanced, review collection processes and questions for inclusiveness, equity and relevance. Check in with employees too, actively engaging and listening to feedback, to ensure that their experience with these tools is positive and aligned with your culture. Asking external candidates who have declined recent offers why they did not join, can also provide insights about the market competitiveness of your value proposition. Once both internal and external data is collected and analyzed, ensure that employees are made aware of the findings and that any issues will be promptly addressed.

Make It Easier to Get Work Done
How work gets done in an organization, impacts an employee’s experience on a daily basis. When positive, it can reenergize an employee’s commitment to their employer; when negative, it can trigger a decision to leave, especially when more seamless experiences are available elsewhere.

Asking employees if there is anything in their work day that is causing frustration or delays will provide rich data on how to reimagine the value proposition. These frank conversations can be about knowledge transfer processes, communication channels, and work tools, but it can also be about toxic colleagues (martyrs, gossipers, complainers) and interdepartmental conflicts. Life has been hard enough during the pandemic, and getting work done shouldn’t be a contributing factor. Correcting any issues – and then communicating these changes out to employees in a timely manner, will be just as important, if not more important, than learning what the actual issues are.

Help Managers Become More Effective
Effective retention strategies require engaged managers who inspire and motivate their employees to perform at their best, display compassion, keep dialogue open, and give their teams a sense of purpose and connectivity. If employees aren’t experiencing good leadership as part of their employee value proposition, they are more likely to leave.

However, organizations need to also remember that managers are employees too. After over a year of managing flagging morale, hiring freezes, remote workforces and acting as the de facto messenger of difficult news, managers may be feeling burnout[6] and are themselves ready to quit. This group of employees will need a listening and supportive ear to hear their unique concerns, and opportunities to reenergize and realign. Targeted coaching and training will also be of value, to help them continue to be the leaders their teams need during this new period of turnover.

Reengage Employees with Mission, Vision and Values
Life during the pandemic has been isolating for many, with remote work furthering the disconnect. Often when there is less connection, it makes it easier for employees to say goodbye. To cultivate a greater sense of belonging during the Great Resignation, re-marketing and celebrating the Mission, Vision and Values will re-energize employees and remind them how their piece of the work puzzle is valued and fits in with the larger goals of the organization.

Leadership may also find that a refresh of the Mission, Vision and Values may be timely. Just as most of us are not the same person we were over a year ago, organizational identities have also likely evolved. It will be important to include employees in these discussions to ensure that their emerging needs are integrated.

Set Clear Performance Expectations
The fluidity of working remotely has meant that more than ever, employees need clarity on what they should be working on, and what is expected of them to demonstrate success in their roles. When not clear, it can be a source of conflict with their managers and colleagues, and create job dissatisfaction. Ultimately such conflicts and confusion can become a compelling reason to leave.

Reviewing performance evaluation systems to ensure relevance, consistency and equity can mitigate these issues. Most employees have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with performance reviews, so asking these key users for input during any redesign will be essential for buy-in and engagement. Good questions to ask include whether the tools are easy to understand, inclusive in design and accessible for both in office and remote employees.

Pay People What They Are Worth
Dissatisfaction with pay has been one of the most challenging drivers of the Great Resignation. Just as it was before the pandemic, compensation strategies that are perceived to not recognize an employee’s contribution and competitive market value will result in resignations from employees who feel frustrated and undervalued. Two emerging trends have further complicated this challenge. Many employees who were ready to move to a better paying job pre-pandemic chose to hold off in the face of economic uncertainty. Now feeling a sense of urgency to make up for lost time and income, these employees will not be patient with employers who do not recognize their accelerated timelines for more attractive compensation. Another trend is the emergence of salary inflation bubbles[7] in some sectors, such as hospitality and technology. In order to compensate for staffing shortages, candidates are receiving above market premiums with their offers, creating internal inequity between these new recruits and more tenured employees. It will be important to keep these new developments in mind as organizations revisit their total rewards strategies to ensure that no one is left behind.

Integrate Flexibility into Everything
Reimagining flexibility during the Great Resignation is about more than just about picking a side on the remote versus hybrid office debate. Employees are looking for a more holistic approach to organizational flexibility, where employers actively help them build a healthier work-life strategy, by considering the whole employee experience within the context of their work and personal lives. Would an employee who wants to balance commitments as they return to university, be interested in a job share? Do all roles need to be performed during the regular work day, or can parents with young children or those with increased eldercare responsibilities continue to contribute instead of leaving to focus on these life events? An employee value proposition that revisits how policies, practices and culture can better support an employee’s physical, social and mental health needs will go a long way to keeping employees happy, productive and with you, at least for a little while longer. An openness to revisiting job design, time off and shortened work week policies, while ensuring that employees are not at a career disadvantage for seeking these programs or have inequitable access to flexibility are some specific considerations to evolve this employee value proposition.

Accelerate Learning and Development Opportunities
Understanding employees needs around career growth and advancement, and perhaps even more importantly their timelines will be critical to understand during the Great Resignation. Employers that are active career coaches versus passive observers in their employee’s career development plans, will encourage retention. Too often, career growth seekers require context on how advancement happens in an organization, and without support and mentorship to connect the dots, they may unknowingly walk away from viable and attractive opportunities. For example, as products and service models pivot as a result of the pandemic, considering whether to offer employees opportunities to receive vocational training or in-house certification workshops to move into new careers, instead of hiring external candidates, could be a win-win when it aligns with an employee’s career plans.

Moving from the Great Resignation to the Great Retention?

Offering a refreshed and compelling employee value proposition that meets the emerging needs of workers during these unusual times, is a smart focus for retention strategies.

Any process to reimagine existing value propositions must be collaborative, inclusive, equitable and realistic. It must incorporate both a data-driven approach, to understand why people are leaving, but also encourage people to share their opinions and ideas, even if the commentary gets a little uncomfortable for the organization to hear. Building in transparency and time to listen will be key during this process of reinvention, so that employees understand why their opinions are being collected, and what outcomes are expected.

Ultimately, the question that the employee value proposition asks is: “What can we do to support you?” If the answer you give aligns with the current needs, wants and aspirations of employees, they will stay. Organizations who are committed not only in words but in deeds to evolving the employee value proposition will come out with an engaged workforce, one that may one day move the organization from the Great Resignation to that of the Great Retention.

About the Author

Mira PersaudMira Persaud is a human resources practitioner, facilitator and writer who is passionate about all things talent, people and culture. She has had the privilege of partnering with leadership teams on their journeys to build sustainable, strategic, and inclusive workplaces.

Mira has held roles in a variety of sectors, including telecommunications, manufacturing and healthcare. She has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Relations from the University of Toronto, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management from Seneca College, where she was awarded President’s List honours. She been certified as a trainer through the Franklin Covey Institute, has been a guest lecturer at the DeGroote School of Business and York University, and is a member of the Human Resources Professionals Association. As a lifelong learner, data geek and avid reader, she is fascinated by the future of work.

References

Cook, I. (2021, September 15). Who Is Driving the Great Resignation? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2021/09/who-is-driving-the-great-resignation

Edmiston, J. (2021, September 27). ‘Something’s got to give’: Restaurants slash hours, trim menus as worst worker shortage ever cuts deep. Financial Post. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://financialpost.com/news/economy/somethings-got-to-give-restaurants-slash-hours-trim-menus-as-unprecedented-worker-shortage-cuts-deep

Klotz, A. (2021, May 30). The Covid Vaccine Means a Return to Work. And a Wave of Resignations. NBC News Think Newsletter. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-vaccine-means-return-work-wave-resignations-ncna1269018

MetLife, Inc. (2021) 2021 Employee Benefit Trends Study. Caught in the Middle: Managers in the Wake of COVID-19. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.metlife.com/employee-benefit-trends/ebts-managers-2021/

Microsoft Corporation. (2021). 2021 Work Trend Index: The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready? Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work

Rastello, S. (2021, July 21). Better pay and ‘micro offices’: Pandemic shakes up Canada’s tech industry. Bloomberg News. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/better-pay-and-micro-offices-vc-veteran-ponders-tech-s-future-1.1631511

Recommended Books for Further Reading

Conant, D. (2020). The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. Wiley.

Kaye, B. & Jordan-Evans, S. (2021). Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 6th Edition.

Oake, K. (2021). Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company.‎ McGraw-Hill Education.

Footnotes

[1] Klotz, A. (2021, May). The Covid Vaccine Means a Return to Work. And a Wave of Resignations. NBC News: Think Newsletter. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-vaccine-means-return-work-wave-resignations-ncna1269018

[2] Microsoft Corporation. (2021, March 22). 2021 Work Trend Index: The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready? Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work

[3] Edmiston, J. (2021, September 27). ‘Something’s got to give’: Restaurants slash hours, trim menus as worst worker shortage ever cuts deep. Financial Post. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from  https://financialpost.com/news/economy/somethings-got-to-give-restaurants-slash-hours-trim-menus-as-unprecedented-worker-shortage-cuts-deep

[4] Cook, I. (2021, September 15). Who Is Driving the Great Resignation? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2021/09/who-is-driving-the-great-resignation

[5] Ibid.

[6] MetLife, Inc. (2021). 2021 Employee Benefit Trends Study. Caught in the Middle: Managers in the Wake of COVID-19. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.metlife.com/employee-benefit-trends/ebts-managers-2021/

[7] Rastello, S. (2021, July 21). Better pay and ‘micro offices’: Pandemic shakes up Canada’s tech industry. Bloomberg News. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/better-pay-and-micro-offices-vc-veteran-ponders-tech-s-future-1.1631511

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