Updated: May 7
The Great Resignation. If I hear that slogan even one more time, I might scream.
The Great Resignation (ahhh!!!!!!), dubbed after the 33 million Americans who quit their jobs since the Spring of 2021, continues to be a topic of conversation in many corporate circles.
Many theories abound. "People just don't want to work anymore," and "They just want to milk those unemployment checks" are two of my favorites that show just how far removed some people are from reality (or the status quo in Corporate America today). But a far more likely explanation for the mass exodus has much more to do with low spirits than laziness.
We see "The Great Resignation" speckled into every other LinkedIn article, but where is “The Great Solution” to this problem? There are more job openings than people willing to work them, and it's as if nobody is asking "Why?" or more importantly, "What can we do to fix this?"
When will employers take a cue from many of our awkward high school breakups and say, "It's not you – it's me"? People are feeling unsupported and uninspired. Like Rose Dawson shares in the timeless classic Titanic, it's as if scorned employees are “screaming at the top of their lungs and no one even looks up.”
When will employers take a cue from many of our awkward high school breakups and say, "It's not you – it's me"?
There are quite a few reasons experts speculate people have walked away en masse from the workforce. And to seek out a solution that sticks, we need to really understand the problem at hand.
While companies had insurmountable challenges during the pandemic, many also saw record-breaking profits, with most of their workforce working remotely. What did many companies do in light of remarkable remote-work success? Ask their employees to come back into a brick-and-mortar office, of course!
Hard-working mothers who saved beaucoup money on gas and childcare expenses (which have risen a stark 41% since the pandemic) showed unparalleled work ethic and dedication despite higher work volume in many cases. So a requirement to return to the days of old – a stressful morning commute, skyrocketing childcare costs, soaring gas prices, and going back to spending LESS time with their families again – feels much like a slap on the wrist to the most dedicated employees who saw the business through an unprecedented season.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it's that what we thought was work-life balance pre-COVID was merely a drop in the bucket. The fact is, we have better coffee at home, we don't have to make excruciating small talk about coworkers' grandkids in the breakroom before caffeine kicks in, and extra cuddle time with our kids and dogs means far more to us than a measly pizza party for achieving sales goals with coworkers we only tolerate because we have to. Why make your people come back to the office against their will when they have more than proven themselves?
Toxic Company Culture
More important than burnout or concerns over compensation, research shows that a toxic corporate culture – one afflicted by drama, putting profits over people, and micromanagers ruling with iron fists – is a primary driver of companies who saw the most attrition during the first year of the Great Resignation.
Simply put, people are done with the bullshit.
High-performing employees, especially within companies that had to let other employees go during the pandemic, shouldered the burden of additional responsibilities for the same wages without so much as a "thank you." In both blue- and white-collar industries, employees are tired of leaders checking out on what matters most to them. They will even sacrifice a higher salary for a positive, collaborative, and inclusive culture.
Whether the pandemic merely shined a spotlight on what was already sorely lacking is unclear, but the response (or lack thereof) to repeatedly blown-over culture concerns has sealed the deal once and for all, giving a whole new meaning to Beyonce’s lyrics “to the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left.”
The New "Real"
Complex problems require complex solutions. When The Great Depression ravaged America, spiking unemployment and displacing families left and right, Roosevelt's New Deal was a beacon of hope.
We should all be just as committed to identifying solutions as complaining about problems.
That's why we launched a first-of-its-kind study during such a revolutionary time, taking a deep dive into the intricacies of what employees value most, what makes them tick, and in what types of environments they are most collaborative and productive.
The findings showed, not surprisingly, that authenticity is at the heart of the conversation.
The research reveals that authentic leaders and organizations practicing authenticity make for happier, engaged, and loyal employees. And wouldn’t you believe it, happier, more engaged, and loyal employees don't quit their jobs. The study found:
80% of participants who reported that they have authentic managers believe they will be working for their current employer two years from now, compared to the 55% of participants who have managers who are not authentic
85% of those who work at organizations where authenticity is always or usually practiced expect to be with their employer two years from now, compared to less than half (47%) of those who work at places where authenticity is rarely or never practiced.
Employee Retention Begins With Authenticity
Almost always, at the root of toxic company culture or unbalanced scales that tip more toward work than life is an absence of authenticity. An employee who feels empowered to be authentic:
Can more easily prioritize themselves and actually use that PTO instead of overworking themselves to death and experiencing burnout.
Feels empowered to speak up in meetings and share forward-thinking ideas that save company resources without the fear of being berated for challenging the status quo.
Cuts through the futile ideas about where to hang paintings in the office during culture meetings and inspire actual, impactful change with questions like, “What about team-building exercises to improve collaboration between those two departments?”
So, it's time to stop talking about the problem and instead talk about "The New Real” – revolutionizing the workplace by embracing a company culture and a future of work where employees are empowered to be their best, most authentic selves, unapologetically.
If you are a leader struggling to find new ways to inspire and retain your best talent, we can help provide career, leadership, and culture solutions that will earn back the trust of discouraged, burnt-out (but otherwise high-performing and valuable) employees everywhere. We’ll help you turn authenticity into your secret weapon for success.