People leaders and HR departments across the globe have been dealing with the many unfolding changes that the pandemic simply accelerated during the last two years.
An abundance of opportunities has led to a unique situation in the last year—the Great Resignation. Workers, for once, have been in great demand, and companies have been seeing a massive increase in the amount of regrettable turnover, as workers find better opportunities and pay elsewhere.
And now we stand on an uncertain precipice of a potential economic downturn and the slowing of new job creation.
But as we head into an inevitable rebalance of the job market, it’s important that companies learn lessons from the past two years. Because even if the talent shortage rebalances and the supply of talent outpaces job opportunities, there still is the long-building problem of employee engagement. And the lessons from the past two years shine a light on how to help resolve this problem.
What if we reframed the Great Resignation as the Great Opportunity?
It’s an overgeneralization to view the motivations behind the Great Resignation as simply being about money or people not wanting to work. Nothing is further from the truth.
A lack of workforce engagement has been building long before the pandemic—and it’s now caught up to us with upticks in burnout and resignations. This serves to highlight a much deeper problem in the way work is designed.
People are not just looking for more money, they want meaningful work that challenges them to become better versions of themselves.
During the Great Resignation, an unprecedented amount of workers have either experienced burnout, left their jobs to move on to a new company or simply taken a break from work altogether.
Companies are aiming to solve this problem with band-aid solutions, from increasing wages to providing more perks. While all of these may help in the short term to attract talent, they fail to address the fundamental problems with the way work was designed, which dates back to the Industrial Revolution.
The fundamental problems with our way of work can be seen in our dismal engagement metrics over the last two decades; Covid-19 has now only highlighted the real issue. The way we’ve designed the workplace needs to change. It needs to modernize and focus not just on the shareholder or the customer, but on the humans who are your workforce.
We need to evolve the way we work to focus on work that is meaningful and impactful for employees as well.
As humans, we seek work that’s meaningful, that challenges us to grow and that provides authentic human connection.
Herein lies the Great Opportunity for organizations willing to view work in a new way, where the growth of your employees leads to the growth of your company’s bottom line.
How can you make the most of the Great Opportunity?
Companies that are already living in this new world of work do the following four things really well. If you want to improve your company and employees, take these into consideration.
• Listen. Not only do they listen to the needs of their people, but they also have a company culture of listening. When you listen to your team members with intention and attention, you show them that you care about what they think. And you give them a platform for sharing ideas. You also learn a lot about what’s working in your organization, what’s not working and how you can improve.
• Create feedback loops. Organizations that are engaging their people don’t just have a suggestion box where people "can" give feedback—rather, they make the act of giving and receiving feedback a habit within their organization. In these organizations, you’ll find managers openly seeking out feedback to make a product improvement or to learn how they can be better managers. They seek immediate and specific feedback, both the good and the tough, to create an environment where the focus is on growth and performance.
• Build psychological safety. Amy Edmondson’s research shows that the key ingredient to a high-performing team is creating an environment where team members feel safe to speak up, share ideas, ask questions and be themselves. Organizations that foster psychological safety not only enable their teams to communicate and perform at their best, but they also enable people to feel comfortable coming as their real, true selves to work each day.
• Provide clarity and context. The best leaders are the ones who realize their role is simply to provide clarity and context to help their teams flourish. Companies that provide clarity about what they're doing and where they’re going—and give context as to why they’re heading in that direction—invite employees to be a part of the solution with them.
In a world where you invite employees to be a part of your team, a part of your organization, you create a place where people actively make the choice to work in your organization. This active choice is essential to motivation and engagement in the workplace. Employees are no longer signing in in the morning just to do a job; they are choosing to work alongside you.
Whether you’re competing for top talent or have your choice of highly qualified candidates, creating a human-first culture that invites people to join in on the company’s mission not only gives you a competitive edge in the marketplace, it also results in long-term buy-in and engagement from your team members.
Originally published in Forbes on July 27, 2022.