The struggles of the great resignation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are not without a silver lining. Resourceful managers and leaders can build a strong core team among the employees who weathered the storm, a bond that could prove invaluable in the years to come.
Employee turnover is higher than it has been in recent memory. Months spent at home have caused a wave of self-reflection among the working population. One conclusion that a surprising number of employees are making is they want a new job. The great resignation is a real thing and not just a social media buzzword. Forty-eight percent of American workers say they are actively job searching or watching for opportunities, according to a recent Gallup poll.
It’s safe to assume that most managers are dealing with more resignations than normal and worrying about filling empty spots. Dealing with unexpected turnover certainly is a daunting proposition for many reasons, not the least of which is that new employees take time to train. Furthermore, losing institutional memory when a longtime employee leaves can take years to recover from.
But this transitional time is not without its own silver linings. Managers and leaders who are willing to embrace a new role and understand the unique challenges of this time can build a strong core culture around the staff that weather the storm.
If managers focus on the employees that are still with them, acknowledge and work to solve the unique difficulties presented by this once in a lifetime period of transition and find new ways to measure and celebrate success, they can create a tight-knit team out of their remaining workers. If properly guided through these difficult times, the workers who make it with their companies to the other side will bring key value far beyond their numbers in the years to come. But this isn’t to say this will happen on its own; managers’ roles in this time will be crucial in building a core team through this transition.
The Unique Opportunity of the Moment
The pandemic has been hard in countless ways. We’ve been separated from our places of work and struggled to adapt to home offices. We’re disconnected from teammates and using unfamiliar tools to try to make up for it. Which is, of course, to say nothing of the tremendous loss of life.
But for businesses, this doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities presented by this moment. When a group overcomes a struggle together, there is a bond formed that can’t be replicated. Like an underdog sports team that overcomes the odds to win the championship or a band of soldiers on a deployment, employees who collaborate through hard times and make it through to the other side will be more committed to one another and will work harder to help each other succeed.
This strong bond is formed through a shared burden. Employees who stay behind are likely going to have to shoulder some of the responsibilities that their departing coworkers once had. As long as everyone is equally picking up the slack and that shared increase in responsibility is visible to everyone on the team, a bond will form. It’s important not only for managers to make sure that the increased workload is evenly dispersed but that they are seen to be taking on their own fair share of extra work.
In a normal office, employees can see when their coworkers are all spending extra hours to finish extra work. They can talk in passing about their current work struggles and see that they are shared by others. When we all shifted to remote work, many of those connections were severed.
A scenario like this can be an especially difficult environment in which to attempt to build these strong bonds. Instead of feeling a shared struggle with a team, a collection of disconnected workers who are all shouldering extra work may each think they are the only one bearing the added responsibility. It is crucial for leaders to adopt new tools to replicate the internal communications of an office.
Acknowledge the Times
When employees start to leave a company, those left behind will notice. In addition to that, the great resignation is widely visible in the news. There will be an elephant in the room at any company experiencing elevated rates of resignation. The key here is rather than trying to pretend like nothing is happening, leaders should foster a culture of openness and conversation that acknowledges the fact that these times of transition are unique and difficult. Staff should be encouraged to raise concerns and given alternative avenues to do so that allow them to report their concerns more anonymously. Employers then need to take those concerns seriously and actively work to solve them.
The perfect storm for resignation occurs when an employee decides that their current work situation is insufficient and there is no obvious avenue for them to improve that. When employees are experiencing issues that can’t be resolved immediately, company leaders should still publicly acknowledge that the problems exist and that work is being done to find solutions. This is all the more important at a time when turnover is at an all-time high and the employees who are staying are carrying an oversize burden. If there isn’t a conversation about current difficulties and what management is doing to overcome them, employees will feel taken advantage of and start to wonder if their coworkers who left had the right idea.
Change the Lens of Company Success
As established, maintaining morale through times of struggle relies on making sure the extra effort being made is acknowledged. The key to this is finding a new way to frame success with the goal of fostering a tight company culture among the employees who remain. Rather than focusing on individual measures of success, like profits earned or new business brought in, the priority should be placed on team successes, things like collaboration and new ideas.
When you celebrate the markers of teamwork, the group that navigates the waters of this time of transition will look for other ways to help each other and improve collaboration. They will emerge on the other side as a tight-knit team that is expert at working together.
Focus on Retention
The best way to make life better for employees who stuck with your company is to retain as many of their coworkers as possible. The more workers who leave, the more difficult the job becomes for those who stay behind. New incentives should be offered to employees to stay on the job.
Business leaders who are seeing their staff start to leave may feel the need to focus on acquiring new talent as fast as possible. They may end up offering better compensation and benefits to attract new hires. But this approach risks making remaining workers feel like the new employees are getting rewarded while their continued effort went unnoticed. If incentives and benefits are being handed out, the priority should first go to existing employees who are picking up extra responsibilities. Otherwise, the cycle of turnover will only get worse.
By consciously acknowledging the issues of the time and working to address them, changing the lens of success and focusing on retention of existing staff, managers can create a strong core group among the employees that stuck it out through the great resignation and those people will be key to company success moving into the future.