(206) 686-4400 ext. 13

(206) 686-4400 ext. 13

Henley Leadership Group Blog

What Leaders Can Learn From The Great Resignation

I Quit - 600x300

It’s not your daddy’s Oldsmobile. To say that times have changed would be a gross understatement. Some would argue that things have not changed for the better. Nonetheless, the seismic shift we have seen over these past 24 months in the way work gets done, where, and by whom is breathtaking. And now the Great Resignation has every company leader rethinking their talent strategy — at least if they are paying attention and interested in remaining competitive.

What’s behind this so-called Big Quit? In their recent Harvard Business Review article, Frank Breitling, Julia Dhar, Ruth Ebeling and Deborah Lovich observe, “There is a widening mismatch between the job environment employees want — and now expect — and the one their organizations have. This may explain why so many workers have been quitting their jobs and why companies are having trouble filling the millions of current openings across the U.S. economy.”

With that in mind, here are three things any leader can do right now to help attract and keep great talent.

1.    Focus on Creating Belonging at Work

Many articles and columns have been written about diversity, equity and inclusion lately, and they all point to the larger ideal of belonging. Belonging is the experience of being seen and heard and welcome with all of who we are. Everyone has a need to belong.

The need to fit in can lead to what is called “covering.” Covering happens when a person intentionally hides certain aspects of themselves that might cause them to be seen as an outsider. As Rhodes Perry explains it in the book Belonging at Work, “Covering occurs when a person downplays or intentionally does not disclose a known stigmatized identity in order to fit in.”

A recent Deloitte study found that 61% of people in the workplace are covering an aspect of who they are at work. Covering happens in 83% of the people who identify as LGBTQ. The numbers drop to 45% for heterosexual white men. These numbers show the disparity—the gap—in the experience of fitting in and how much some people need to cover to belong.

The primary job of a leader is to ensure that each and every team member is able to offer their best. This means creating an environment where all people feel they belong and where no one feels forced to put in the extra labor of covering who they really are. When people are free to bring their whole selves to work, they’ll not only able to contribute at their highest level, they’ll also feel more of an affinity to the organization and their colleagues.

2.    Pivot Away from Business as Usual

People are struggling right now. Illness and quarantines, financial instability, school closures and Zoom fatigue are all very real. It is not business as usual. In fact, that old normal may never come back. So it’s important to recognize that the targets and standards that were previously set for the organization may not be realistic in the current environment. 

That’s code for stop driving people who are on the brink. 

Instead, look at the lives of your team and think about ways to offer support, help or encouragement. This is a great opportunity to be innovative. Can time off be offered for people to catch their breath a bit? Are there ways to distribute funds to help out? Is it possible to make more room to listen and to show concern? 

Now more than ever, we have to make room for people to be human. They are not machines who can keep cranking out results no matter what. The pandemic has taken a toll on most people. People are worn down with a kind of fatigue that a brief walk around the block will not fix. The message to leaders: Stop running “business as usual” when it’s not. 

3.    Create a Culture of Caring

Being a good leader isn’t about results and sales and more customers. Being a good leader means caring about people. Of course, caring about people seems so obvious. Every leader must communicate that they care about their people. But caring is about actions, not just words.

When people feel that it’s safe in their work environment for them to show up and fully be themselves, they’re more productive. They know that it’s OK to bring forward their concerns, strengths, vulnerabilities and creativity. This is what you want as a leader. And it’s exactly why each and every leader ought to work hard to show they care. It’s how people will know that their leader has their back and will stand by them. That’s the kind of leader and company people want to be associated with.

Caring about people also impacts employee engagement. A Gallup survey about what employees want from their managers (“a lot more”!) found, “Among employees who strongly agree that they can approach their manager with any type of question, 54 percent are engaged. When employees strongly disagree, only 2 percent are engaged, while 65 percent are actively disengaged.” 

Similarly, as the HBR article “Good Bosses Create More Wellness Than Wellness Plans Do” points out, when people have a good relationship with their leaders, they’re more motivated, they perform better and they’re more likely to go the extra mile to support their team. 

Put simply, caring creates trust, and trust creates loyalty. It’s what makes good people stay and take good care of your business. 

These are extraordinary times. And extraordinary leaders keep learning and leading in new ways. This is how you will attract and retain great people, even in the midst of the Great Resignation.

Previously published on Forbes