You’d be hard-pressed not to have heard of the ‘Great Resignation’ phenomenon that emerged in the US earlier this year when a record number of Americans quit their jobs post lockdown.

Not surprisingly Australia is predicted to follow the same trend with a recent study from PwC indicating that up to 38 per cent of Australians will resign next year following the lowest employee turnover since the Australian Bureau of Statistics started tracking it in 1972. 

The desire for employees to shake their employment up in early 2022 will be driven by market stability, increased consumer confidence and the softening of interstate and international borders.

So what can companies do to avoid the great resignation from happening in their organisation? 

We’ve pulled together a checklist of five questions companies should consider to help establish a work environment that will persuade employees to stay and thrive.

1. How can your working environment be sustainably flexible? 

According to behavioural scientist Aaron McEwan from global research and advisory firm Gartner, all the data shows the main things most employees want are flexibility and a reasonable workload. 

Yes, lockdowns forced the flexibility of working from home but hybrid working can offer so much more than zooming from bed. Sustainable flexibility could mean choosing work hours, where you work and even what you work on. Just as clocking in from 9-5 and work cubicles came down to facilitate hot-desking, we might see a move to collaborative hubs where employees just come together for team-time. 

There’s never been a bigger opportunity to redefine what a workday within your company looks like. And with a Deloitte Access Economics survey commissioned by Telstra, finding 54% of employees valued hybrid work over a 5% pay rise, it’s likely to pay off.

2. Are you facilitating learning and personal growth?  

Covid has triggered a big reset for most people and as a result, they’re seeking fulfilment from things that have more meaning and impact. 

People expect to learn more at a more frequent pace. They want to up-skill and change careers more than ever before. 

The LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report (2019) found 94 per cent of employees would stay with a company for longer if they invested in their learning. This desire to continually progress and develop is particularly strong among young workers. Roughly a quarter of Gen Z and Millennials said learning is the number one thing that makes them happy at work and 27 per cent said not being given the opportunity to learn and grow would be their top reason for leaving. With so many skills gaps, particularly within digital technology, there’s even more reason to invest in employee development.

To facilitate this you should consider building workforce agility into your business and encourage movement between projects to allow interaction, learning and growth.  

These incentives need to be accessible and paraded. With personal achievements acknowledged and celebrated to bolster confidence and inspire others. 

3. Can you offer clear career pathways? 

Even pre-covid people have been regularly asking themselves whether their career is still serving them. If not, this is a big enough reason alone to look for other opportunities.

Christopher Rice, CEO at BlessingWhite has said “while salary raises may encourage some workers to stick around, our findings suggest that employees — especially high performers — will remain in jobs that challenge them, utilise their expertise, and provide meaning.”

What’s clear is employees aren’t sticking around just for loyalty’s sake. They need to be given a clear sense of how they can progress within your company with a timeframe. They expect effective and continuous communication. As well as personal growth and development plans.

This is a mutually beneficial situation for any company. Empower your employees and empower your business.

4. How can you make your teams’ workload more manageable? 

A recent survey by The Adecco Group on workers across 25 countries (including 1,000 in Australia), showed Australian office workers are the most burnt out in the world, ahead of Italy, China, Canada, the US and the UK. 

Understandable when data from global HR and payroll provider ADP has shown Australian office workers are putting in an average of seven hours of overtime a week as a result of the dissolving barriers between work and home. The connection to LinkedIn’s findings that 52 per cent of office workers have taken time off during the pandemic to support their mental wellbeing is clear.

Employees feeling overworked is one of the main issues that must be urgently addressed. Tapping into the highly experienced freelance community is an obvious way to do this. Expanding full-time teams and bringing in the right candidates for roles immediately relieves the workload and allows employees to refocus on their priorities or gives them the room to expand into other areas. 

5. What do your employees want?

The pressure to prepare for the impending Great Resignation has caused some companies to panic and put policies in place before they’ve engaged their workforce.

Steve Grace, founder and chief executive of the recruitment agency The Nudge Group said “I think a lot of companies are creating these hybrid work policies which they think are helping but they’re not”. This lack of consultancy is backfiring despite good intentions. 

As an employer, you’ll appreciate that even within the same departments’ employees have had very different experiences during the lockdown and one person’s vision of how they want to return to work might be very different to another’s. 

Behavioural scientist Aaron McEwan, from Gartner, has highlighted that “today’s workers want to be seen as people — complex, messy, colourful, diverse, flawed, fabulous humans”. You’ve seen this courtesy of Zoom during the lockdowns. You’ve literally looked into your employees’ worlds and seen how unique they are (and met their pets/family/flatmates no doubt). It would be a backwards step to not acknowledge these differences and think that one size will fit all. So use your employees and your experiences with them to rethink how work is done and how you can attract, retain and manage them better.

As obvious as it sounds, ask your employees what they want. Be transparent about how you’re navigating the reintroduction process, how the new work normal will work and continue to regularly check-in. 

This is undoubtedly a liberating and long-awaited moment for employees. They will ultimately use this shift in power to seek the work environment that works for them. In turn, it can also be a really exciting time for companies that are prepared to adapt, facilitate and bolster their employees’ needs. Just be sure you’re one of them!

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