How The Great Resignation is ushering in a new way of working

EXPERIENCES

Becky Cantieri
September 24, 2021

An incredible, unprecedented 95% of employees are currently considering changing jobs. Our research shows that one in four people are planning to leave their job in the next six months. In the midst of this Great Resignation, companies across industries are scrambling to keep business running smoothly. It’s a complicated, challenging time to work in HR—but it’s also an incredible opportunity to reexamine how we work. 

We know that people are leaving—but we’re also starting to understand why. HR leaders are finding ourselves asking questions like: How have our employees’ priorities changed during the pandemic? What do my employees value and how well am I delivering that as part of our employee value proposition? What would inspire my employees to stay, new talent to apply, and everyone to thrive? The status quo won't work; we need to innovate and reshape what’s next for our employees.

Emerging research and new thought leadership suggests that these questions are top of mind for most companies. If employers can understand and evolve with their employees’ needs, we could come out of The Great Resignation with a more engaged and productive workforce. Our company has always been committed to empowering agility and amplifying voices, and that has never been more important than right now. 

What’s driving people to The Great Resignation

In our June 2021 study, people who were planning to quit their jobs listed stress as the top reason, followed by readiness for a career change, compensation, and lack of remote work options.

What does that data tell us? First, it shows us there are certain new paradigms—like flexibility and remote work—that matter to today’s employees enough for them to reconsider their job. We already knew that 80% of employees want a remote option, but now we also know that 11% are willing to quit over it. 

Second, in spite of the trendiness of the remote work question, it still isn’t the most important factor to workers by a long shot. Stress and comfort at work are more important than absolutely anything else—including benefits and pay.

Third, employees put a premium on having the ability to change and advance their career. Again, this flexibility and empowerment outstripped even compensation as a common worker priority. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Citrix executive Tim Minahan identified training programs as a hugely underutilized part of the employee experience, noting that 82% of employees believe they should reskill once every year.

The tragedy, stress, and chaos of the last year has had a profound impact on people and given them the opportunity to reevaluate what matters to them. For most people, family, mental health, flexibility, and personal and career growth are at the top of their list. The Great Resignation has forced companies to address these considerations and it can only lead to a better workplace for everyone in the long run. 

Two ways The Great Resignation could change work for the better

As organizations understand employees’ priorities, they face the sometimes daunting task of finding the right strategies to meet them where they are and balance the needs of the business. Evolving employee sentiment is putting pressure on leadership to listen, embrace change and move quickly. This requires making difficult, data-driven decisions about which policies, technology and approaches to embrace, where to spend often limited resources, and how to manage change.

The future of work and a competitive talent market, for example, require that we embrace flexible work hours, invest in employee growth and development, support caregivers, strengthen mental health benefits, and empower remote work. 

Better benefits for mental health 

Some of these areas are important to most employees—like mental health—but are still under-leveraged, especially considering that mental health was the number one driver of attrition in our study. Currently, only 30% of employees have access to mental health benefits, let alone the ability to find ones that work for them. Now imagine if companies were to offer mental health benefits and support to their employees that demonstrate an evolving understanding of their community’s needs. The result would be a much healthier, happier workforce.

There are certainly options. In addition to allocating resources for employee wellbeing and ensuring mental health options are built into insurance plans, companies can also create policies that promote, or even enforce, work-life balance. At Momentive, we added a week-long company-wide recharge in July and added “flex days” (additional encouraged days off) to ensure employees actually took time off during the pandemic. Of course, not every business has the luxury of offering days off, but these are the types of decisions that every organization should be considering, especially if the alternative is losing incredible talent. 

Flexible options that empower employees to build the work

Some benefits are more nuanced. For example: diversity, equity, and inclusion experts have pointed out that shifting to a remote-only model can be non-inclusive and exacerbate income inequality. At the same time, insisting on going into the office could create problems for other groups, like parents or people with disabilities. In cases like that, the truly innovative approach wouldn’t be to find a solution that fits everyone, it would be to let people choose for themselves—an approach we’ve chosen to adopt here at Momentive. 

Flexibility matters. Wharton professor and business thinker Adam Grant has advocated for entry interviews that enable employers to incorporate new hires’ skills and interests into their role, tailoring the job to the person, rather than the other way around. The result, he assures us, is happier employees and strong business outcomes. Of course, most businesses can’t make major changes to responsibilities, but if we open the conversation with employees, maybe we can help deliver the flexible work arrangements that allow them to integrate work and life in a way that works best for them instead of losing them to an organization that does.

Simply: in today’s workforce, one size doesn’t fit all. Businesses will need to work with their employees to understand what they value, how they can be the most productive at work, and which experiences will inspire them. We need to motivate employees to stay and achieve their career aspirations within our organization. 

Flexibility and the ability to meet employees where they are will be two traits that differentiate exceptional employers. We need to keep our minds and the conversation open so we can reimagine our future together.

If we as HR leaders can embrace that mindset of empowerment and elevate the voices of our employees instead of relying on old ways of operating or making presumptions about their needs, we’ll be far more likely to keep them around—even in the midst of The Great Resignation.

Becky Cantieri is chief people officer at Momentive.

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