The solution to the ‘Great Resignation’ isn’t out of reach

Our Director of Capability Practice, Scott Fraser-Orr, discusses what leaders can do to improve things for their teams.

UK workers are fed up, and that is driving much of the recent shake-up of the employment market. While the ‘Great Resignation’ hit our American cousins harder than us and with the ‘quiet quitting’ trend hot on its heels, PwC has revealed that almost one in five UK workers (18%) are ‘very or extremely likely’ to quit their jobs this year. We’ve seen article after article muse on the reasons behind it.

Much is attributed to Covid, with people being burnt out from a tough few years and disenfranchised from workplace culture. Many employees have undeniably struggled with the shift to hybrid working, especially parents and carers (predominantly women) who have had their work/ life balance squeezed to an unprecedented extent. Many workers are suffering from a lack of engagement, fading enthusiasm, and low morale.

And on top of all this, the cost-of-living crisis means employees have the burden of financial wellbeing bearing down on their mental and physical health.

All of these explanations are valid, to some extent. But there is a real risk here that business leaders blame their staff, the welfare conundrum, and ultimately the retention issue on ‘global forces’; that is, forces outside of their control.

What actions can leaders take to improve the situation?

First, we have to look again at the context. Historically, most sectors have had to change and adapt to a major “event” at least every six months. This rate is now doubling, if not tripling – not only at an increased pace, but with challenges bigger and more complex than ever before. Whether that’s the external environment impacting an organisation’s strategies or the desire to deliver faster or cheaper, these all have a ripple effect on an organisation’s change agenda – and on their workers.

We know from our own research that effective leadership is the differentiator between success and failure of change projects, yet less than 20% of our clients consider their leaders to be often or always effective.

Our experience is that the majority of individuals are put in leadership positions because they are good at their functional speciality, but then aren’t given the tools and support they need to actually become good leaders. Furthermore, leadership of change has become considerably harder over the past five years and we can show that leaders can only effectively manage two to three major projects at a time before they become overloaded. As a result, leaders tend to only focus on a third of the areas they need to. Organisations need to develop leadership capability in their people, both to help them cope with the tidal wave of change, but also to make sure that they are equipped to oversee the changes needed to help companies grow and be successful.

The best leaders tend to surround themselves with effective people. One way they can do this is looking at who runs their change projects. Matching the right people to the job is becoming increasingly important, as mismatches tend to cause noise and further effort for everyone. Understanding the preferences of your people and matching that to appropriate work is an obvious but important building block.

Finally, just taking a short amount of time at the start to ensure everyone is clear why a piece of work is happening is crucial. Rushing into delivery without clear direction, often without knowing what you’re working towards, can lead to frantic deadlines, long hours, and unrewarding work. It doesn’t have to take a long time or slow the process down, but without doing it, it’s almost inevitable that stakeholders will change their minds later, leading to more work or re-work.

Of course, money is going to be an important driver for workers given rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. But it is also at the top of every organisation’s agenda as they become more conscious of where they invest over the coming months, and this is where leadership will become even more crucial. Acting to demonstrate that you value your people’s expertise and effectiveness, and creating a shared purpose that people can work flexibly towards, will be critical in retaining staff.

If you’d like to know more about how Proteus can help develop leadership capability in your organisation, let’s talk.


This article was first published on HR News on Thursday the 25th of August 2022

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