The Great Dismissal stems from a Great Exploitation

“The Great Dismissal” continues to grow before our eyes. Every month, the ranks of the laid-off rise a little higher – nearly 57 million Americans quit between January 2021 and February 2022. Many companies appear to be struggling for answers in the face of skyrocketing attrition rates.

How to stop the bleeding? Perhaps a better idea is to change the narrative. Rather than focusing on one outcome – resignation – we need to understand the more subtle and transformative underlying process: a series of individual journeys that Mike called “The Great Exploration”.

Pandemic life has forced everyone to reexamine their personal and professional priorities. Remote work has alerted us to the possibility of decoupling jobs from geography. And a salesperson’s job market enables us to pursue it. It is a personal awakening incubating an exploratory movement that is reshaping how and why we work, live and think about our future. “People aren’t just quitting their jobs, they’re rejecting the idea that burnout is the price to pay for success,” said Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a behavior-change technology company.

“Exploration” is a more constructive and empowering framework than “resignation”. If you’re focused on the latter, you’re reacting to a symptom rather than addressing the root cause. Leaders who reorient themselves around exploration rather than fear of resignation will be able to capitalize on the deep potential of the moment. If you embrace exploration with empathy and support, you can position your company and its most valuable resource – your people – for personal and professional renaissance.

To better understand how smart companies are facilitating the Great Exploration, Keith convened a roundtable of human resources directors as part of the Go Forward to Work project he started to monitor best work practices during the pandemic. We distinguish four main themes:

Prioritize the purpose.

Covid-19 has reoriented workers, who ask themselves: Why do I do what I do? What am I good at? How can I prosper?

Help them explore these questions. Employees who have discovered their purpose are 49% more likely to report intrinsic motivation, 33% more likely to express greater job satisfaction and 25% more likely to go above and beyond, according to a survey by the London School of Economics commissioned by Unilever. “The irony is that if you ask most CHROs what the main reason people are leaving is, the answer isn’t the purpose – because we didn’t ask,” notes Johnson Controls CHRO Marlon Sullivan, who notes that exit surveys typically ask about managers, culture, compensation, and other factors. “But… is purpose a key factor? Absolutely.”

Have one-on-one conversations with your direct reports to understand what energizes them and what might lead them to consider leaving. Then act on the answer. “That dedicated hour you’re investing in someone is an indicator that you value them, you see what they bring – and you know they can bring even more,” said CareCentrix CHRO Caryn Ciaio. “It’s about understanding what their why is.”

You can also offer resources and support, such as BetterUp’s training and transformation platform, to help employees stay aligned not only with their values, but also with their evolving needs and aspirations. Unilever offers a “Discover Your Purpose” workshop that has helped over 54,000 employees identify what drives them. These tools can help provide experiences that promote personal and professional growth, as well as a sense of belonging.

Support flexibility.

Modern remote tools can do much more to improve collaboration, support, and flexibility than we’ve seen during the pandemic. Show your employees that you will use these tools to empower them to find the new fulcrum of work-life balance.

Establish peer-to-peer support groups, a combination of small, connected groups that provide encouragement and accountability. That’s what Weight Watchers did when it turned to remote-only career coaching for its employees, creating groups whose focus ranged from how to be the best online coach to solving childcare challenges. Then think about how to create flexibility in your employees’ schedules, whether it’s piloting four-day workweeks, as Unilever did, or reducing meeting time, emphasizing asynchronous and hybrid work, as GitLab and Dropbox did. Not all solutions will suit every company, but every company will be able to find a suitable solution.

Finally, find creative ways to provide additional benefits to your team. Remember that they are not just workers, they are members of your community. If you are promoting professional development through a coaching program or opportunity like LinkedIn Learning, make it available to their families. Unilever has opened up its digital learning platform, Degreed, to employees’ families, for example. This practice, which Procore personnel director Pat Wadors calls “profit sharing with your community,” can deepen your loyalty.

Bring variety and passion to the workday.

According to our roundtable conversations, experiential variety appeals to employees more than a single banner. So build that ethos into your company’s DNA.

What does that look like? Smart companies are creating professional ecosystems in which workers can roam. Unilever uses Flex, an internal platform where people post short-term job opportunities across the company. The platform has 10,000 active users, who can gain experience and exposure to different parts of the company. And that approach could extend outward: Unilever is looking at ways to work with partner organizations on how to flex resources between companies.

Also encourage your employees to pursue passion projects that also fuel their purpose. An Intel team, for example, requires its members to dedicate up to 20% of their time to these projects, which can be a non-profit initiative, pro bono work, or an entirely new venture.

EY has a corporate responsibility program, called EY Ripples, to mobilize employees to help solve today’s pressing social and environmental challenges. Sarah Francis, Strategic Relationships Lead at EY Americas, told us about Nzingha Prescod, a former Olympic fencer on her data team who received a grant from EY Ripples to her nonprofit, Fencing in the Park, and spends her time working on it. “It just created energy and momentum,” Francis said. “Particularly for Gen Z and Millennials, it’s another way to stay engaged and employed, but also live that purpose and make an impact.”

Create brand ambassadors.

Sometimes the Great Exploration will still lead to a match – and that’s okay. “Let them out and they will become brand ambassadors for your company – but with the vision that they may eventually return,” said Michael Fraccaro, CHRO at Mastercard. “You created alumni who can come full circle.”

Headspace tracks its “boomerang employees,” former CEO Cece Morken said. “That made them more valuable to us: they came out of our walls and then came back with different experiences,” she noted.

A return policy can be formalized on sabbaticals or fellowships or just an informal open-door return policy. If you care about your team, you must want what is right for them professionally. They will understand and appreciate this, and if you co-created your culture right, they will be your best corporate missionaries, telling everyone about your good work.

At a time when workers are more aware of the need to continually remain relevant, skilled and ready – and are exploring their options – they want an employer that supports their growth. When you commit to developing your skills in an environment where they can flourish, your employees can become the best versions of themselves, for work and for life.

This is a journey, and these ideas are just a beginning. We’re always looking for more best practices. Let us know on Go Forward to Work how you are promoting the Great Exploration. It’s an exciting new world of work – let’s walk through it together.

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