This fall, we debuted a new live event series: Workhuman Spotlight. It is not a replacement for Workhuman® Live — that returns in May of 2022 in Atlanta — but rather a chance to gather and focus on a specific challenge or topic within HR. CEO Eric Mosley kicked off the event with the announcement of what that topic would be: retention.
It’s a topic that is making so much noise in the HR world that it has bled into the national conversation. Four in 10 workers are ready to leave their jobs in the next 12 months. The Great Resignation, as it has come to be known, is no longer impending. It’s here.
Said Eric, “We want you to be able to leave here today with a roadmap for building a culture that attracts and retains top talent and engages and energizes your employees.”
The Great Resignation
Since the last Workhuman Live in May, as organizations have begun adjusting to hybrid work models, they are also dealing with one of the most historic talent transfers to ever occur in the workforce.
The Microsoft Work Trend index estimates up to 40% of people are considering changing their jobs in the next year. And some surveys place that even higher. Part of this 40% is a backlog of resignations from 2020, when people who might have thought themselves one foot out the door at the beginning of the year, delayed resigning because of the uncertainty wrought from the pandemic.
But beyond the resignation backlog, many workers simply do not want to go back to the office. Those with long commutes found that, when working from home, they could use that hour or two to pursue other interests or spend time with friends and families. For some, especially those in difficult or psychologically unsafe workplaces, their mental health improved away from the office.
Also at play is a redefining of work as we once understood it. “Some people don’t even have a place they think of as ‘work’ anymore,” said Eric. “For many of us, work isn’t a place. And it hasn’t been ‘a place’ for a while. Technology has been chiseling away at the need for geographic proximity to many types of work for a long time, to the point that it was isolating us from each other even within our own offices. The pandemic merely accelerated that.”
Finally, the priorities and logistics pale in comparison to the larger realization of the psychological and emotional toll of the pandemic.
“Each of us, individually, has likely never been as isolated as we’ve been this past year and a half – from our friends and family, but also from the coworkers and communities that make us feel fulfilled and a part of something. It’s been a collective experience like none before it, one that’s made many of us step back and take stock of our lives and ask if we’re really fulfilled by what we do. And that’s true whether your workforce is hybrid, remote, essential workers, or manufacturing.”
“And that doesn’t change when offices reopen. There really is no getting things back to the way they were. There’s only moving forward.”
Be the greener grass
Though there are many reasons workers are looking for new opportunities, there is a common thread, and it’s comprised of a few factors we’re familiar with: happiness, meaning, and belonging.
“Work may not be a place anymore, but what it is and will continue to be is a source of fulfilling relationships; an important part of our identities as individuals; and a community we can feel a part of,” said Eric. “And after a year of great introspection and reflection, a great many people feel their work doesn’t add enough to their happiness, gives no sense of meaning to their life, and doesn’t make them feel a part of something bigger.”
This challenge is an opportunity for organizations. As Eric notes, except in the worst cases, people don’t leave to get away from something. They are leaving for something. They’re looking for flexibility, autonomy, psychological safety, greater equity. They’re looking for a sense of meaning, something that aligns with their identity, something that makes them feel part of something. They’re looking for greener grass.
“What if you created a culture that attracted the best and brightest talent currently looking for something better? What if you reframed this moment not as the Great Resignation, but the Great Talent Swap? The single greatest opportunity you’ve ever had to attract the most talented workers,” he said. “What if that greener grass was, in fact, yours?”
What do we do?
The challenges facing HR professionals and leaders are complex. It is a day-in, day-out struggle to maintain a culture of engagement, retention, wellness, and productivity during a pandemic with workforces scattered all over the world. Though the challenges are complex, the answer is crystal clear.
“In my experience the most powerful tool you can leverage to impact workers’ happiness, meaning, and belonging is still what it has always been; each other.”
Eric laid out a three-tiered approach to connecting with and supporting employees.
Strong personal relationships between coworkers, between direct reports and managers, according to a Harvard University study on adult development, are predictors of long-term happiness. The pandemic caused relationships to decay – we need ways to connect in a remote/hybrid world.
Frequent acknowledgement and appreciation facilitate a sense of purpose and meaning, two of the most basic human needs. I think we’ve been more grateful for our connections during these difficult times, but have we been expressing it?
The psychological safety of being accepted and celebrated for who we are is fundamental to a culture of belonging. While we all experienced the pandemic, no one of us experienced it the same way – how can we make sure we all feel seen?
“These factors of happiness, meaning, and belonging don’t just impact retention,” Eric said. “As our friend Shawn Achor put it, ‘the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce, raising sales, productivity, accuracy, and with many more health and quality of life improvements.’”
Eric notes that the proof is out there. Google’s Aristotle Project found that psychological safety is the #1 factor for the success of a team. Research shows that the frequency of recognition is tied to individual performance. A culture that supports the human need for happiness, meaning, and belonging creates a culture of success simply by providing for employees’ needs.
At Workhuman®, we’ve built our entire business around creating such a culture and designing tools to address those needs. We’ve been doing it for 20 years, and it’s why companies like Merck, Cisco, P&G, Eaton, and LinkedIn turn to us as they lead the way in building cultures of human connectedness.
Our entire platform – Workhuman Cloud® – allows any employee to recognize, reward, and celebrate any other. With recognition, peers can acknowledge achievements, hard work, and moments worth celebrating in the office and in the lives outside the office. That acknowledgement helps create a sense of meaning and purpose.
With Team Awards, entire departments or offices can be recognized at scale to remind employees that they play a valuable role in a larger purpose, no matter where or how they work. With Conversations®, employees and managers stay in touch with goals, their development, and each other.
And our latest tool, Inclusion Advisor, helps ensure a culture of belonging. Released last spring, this AI and natural language processing tool provides more equitable and inclusive recognition. It provides teachable and private learning moments to help leaders and employees become aware of internal biases in their communications.
“Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve worked hard to make our tools more flexible, more inclusive, more supportive of the whole human; and we saw a tremendous increase in usage of all our products, of people connecting and supporting each other, not because anyone told them to, but because the need for human connection is so strong. And that need isn’t going away. Based on what we’re seeing – and what we’ve learned from our customers – none of this is going away. This is the future of work.”
“If you take one thing away from today’s broadcast, it’s this: we are here to help,” Eric said. “Workhuman’s very purpose is to give you the tools to build a culture that earns your employees, gives you a plan for how to use those tools, and makes it as easy as possible. Because lord knows you’ve done enough the last two years.”
About the AuthorMore Content by Mike Lovett