Is the ‘Great Resignation’ really a thing… and can leaders address it?

My favourite source of up to date and topical business information is McKinsey and Company. Yes, there are a range of others that provide a great commentary on all the important business and leadership issues, but for me, McKinsey is always on point and on purpose. Recently, they published the list of their top 10 articles from 2021. Understandably, five of them were either directly or indirectly Covid-19 related, but there were some other interesting ones to really unpack and understand.

The main was the third most popular article for the year, and it was titled: “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours”. Really, what this article was addressing is what has come to be known as the ‘Great Resignation’. So, is it a thing?

It sure is!

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that ‘a 26 per cent jump in Australian workers moving from one company to another in October, compared with the same time in 2019’. The theory is that during 2020, there was not the opportunity to leave a role, and staff were somewhat forced to stay where they were. However, in 2021, the shackles came off, and workers moved. In their droves! In the United States, the Herald reports, nearly 35 million workers resigned from their positions during 2021.

But why?

Firstly, because leaders aren’t aware of what their staff need

What McKinsey did in this article was to unpack why people are leaving organisations. In their words, the last 18 months has taught us that employees crave investment in human aspects of work. They need a revised sense of purpose, and their need to feel a sense of shared identity. They want to feel valued by their leaders. In short, it appears that the great resignation is changing our thinking around why workers leave organisations. The adage that ‘staff leave leaders not businesses’ may not be as true now as it once was. It appears that organisational culture and personal development have come to the fore.

Leaders are the face of the organisation, though, and culture is driven from the top – it is the leaders who influence culture, and therefore it is the leaders who need to be taking a new look at what his happening in the hearts and minds of their team members. If they want them to stay, that is…

Secondly, because other organisations are paying more

Salaries are increasing (more so in some industries than others) – IT, Law, HR, Life Sciences, Mining and Accountancy are experiencing the biggest jump in salaries, according to Hays recruitment firm managing director Nick Deligiannis. Deligiannis notes that a 2 – 3 percent wage increase is all it takes to retain good staff.

Then, we are back to the age-old question of ‘is money a motivator’? If my first point, above, is an indicator, that answer would be no, and that a sense of organisational belonging would be the biggest motivator.

Remembering that Abraham Maslow, as far back as 1943, found that money was not a long-term motivator. It is in fact a basic human need. We need enough money in order to be satisfied, but then we move onto and address other human needs for motivation at work (like Self Esteem and Self Actualisation). In a literature review by Erin Rind in 2018, Rind found that money is a biological need, rather than a real motivator at work.  

I would content that a current study would challenge those findings.

It appears that in 2021, and into 2022, money is becoming more of a motivator (particularly motivating whether workers are willing to stay or leave their organisation).  And yes, businesses can’t just afford to raise salaries by 2-3 percent everywhere, but what if that was all it took? Would you, as a leader consider a salary increase, to retain some, or all of, your workforce? I know I would.

Or is there a way to combine the two points above?

Thirdly, organisations aren’t yet thinking outside of the box, and ‘leading differently’

What if there was a way to invest in the personal development of your teams, and maybe even include that in their package, or EBA or similar. And, at the same time, meet the higher order needs that are becoming so important for workers… feeling valued and needed and part of something bigger than themselves.

This will take some innovative leadership thinking.

I have seen some of these ideas tried in our client organisations, and some are just my ideas, based on experience.

What if you gave your employees a ‘book allowance’ or paid your staff’s ‘Audible’ subscription for a year, to support them to learn what they want to, in a way that suits them.

What if you sent your leaders on training programs that taught them how be transformational, not just how to be transactional (to lead differently).

What if you provided a general ‘allowance’ for training and personal development each year, with the spend rather than being at the discretion of the business, but at the request of the staff member.

And there would be more than these to consider.

In short, what if you could use money as a way of letting your team know that they are important enough for you to invest in them, because you want them to stay. More importantly though, making sure they are part of the process!

Be like Richard Branson, and ‘train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. This saying never gets old, and was relevant years ago, and will be relevant into 2022 and beyond.

Yes, the great resignation is a thing. Why – because staff aren’t feeling loved. What can we do about it? “Lead differently’.

Yes, the great resignation is a thing. Why – because staff aren’t feeling loved. What can we do about it? “Lead differently’.

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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