The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the Great Resignation, with millions of people voluntarily leaving their jobs. You may be wondering; in the face of a pandemic why would employees choose to leave their jobs?
There are many reasons, but essentially it comes down to “pandemic epiphanies” as mentioned by Professor Anthony Klotz, who predicted the Great Resignation in 2021. Pandemic epiphanies, in this case, refer to the fundamental shifts that many have made regarding their family life, blended ways of working, commute time, passion projects, and health (Miller, 2022). These factors have changed the way employees think about work and how they want to spend their time.
What does this mean for organisations across the world? How will we retain employees? There isn’t one definite answer to this question, but evolving the employee value proposition (EVP) is a great starting point.
Mark Holyoake in his article “Hiring Managers – Would You Let Your Top Candidate Check YOUR References?” articulates the essence of our current era. The traditional power balance had hiring managers believing that it was up to them to decide who should be hired; the candidate on the receiving end should be grateful for the opportunity. This is not what hiring is anymore. The goal is to ensure that the fit is right for both employee and employer. Employees want to know that they can work with their employer, and it is not a one-sided affair (Holyoake, 2021). Similarly, with the Great Resignation, employees are seeking a customised employment experience that gives value to the most fundamental contractual demands, assures a happy working environment, and ultimately establishes a meaningful link to the company’s purpose.
Increasingly more of the economically active population are asking companies: what can you do for me? What are you offering that is unique? Traditionally, employee value propositions touched on aspects such as compensation, benefits, career, work environment, and culture. The Great Resignation calls for organisations to evolve their EVPs to retain top talent.
Drawing on Le Phan’s (2021) views, companies may want to consider the following four elements to evolve their EVPs to respond to the rise in resignations:
- Flexibility which is not limited to location and schedule:
The pandemic enabled employees to realise that work can be conducted anywhere and outside of the conventional “9 to 5” as we know it. This is the dream for most employees. Employees want flexibility and autonomy to shape their daily lives. They want to know that they have the freedom to fulfil their work responsibilities, but also live a life with purpose. As a result, many organisations now offer remote working options.
However, it is important to remember that there is still a population of employees that believe that face-to-face interactions are beneficial for culture, collaboration, and connectedness. Thus, companies need to provide options of either fully remote working, a hybrid model where employees can choose the days they want to come into the office, and full-time at-office work. A blended approach like this would assist in meeting the needs of all employees based on their preferences. Furthermore, companies can also consider flexible working hours which allow employees to either start work earlier or later. Flexible working hours allow employees to fulfil other responsibilities such as school and grocery runs.
- The company’s mission must go beyond the work:
Research shows younger generations are looking more intensely into what a company stands for. Employees are asking: does what my company stand for align with what I stand for? Furthermore, does the company stand for something that goes beyond just meeting targets and making profits? In recent years, employees are interested in whether companies care about things like gender and racial equity and mental health and wellness. Employees are attracted to organisations that have a clear vision and mission, with a set of values that are lived out daily and not something that is just up on the company website. Employees want to know how these values are being demonstrated.
- Genuine employee connections:
Although most employees prefer remote work, they also still need to feel connected to the organisation and their colleagues. During the early days of the pandemic when people were forced to stay at home, some could argue that it threatened the sense of connectedness many had relied on previously with face-to-face contact. Many had to come up with ideas to stay connected through video call catch-ups and virtual team celebrations.
Companies need to be concerned with how they continue to foster genuine employee relationships when not co-located. Organisations need to make time for employees to connect, this will differ from organisation to organisation, but it is essential. The intent needs to be clear that this is a priority for the organisation. Things that companies can consider are planning face-to-face retreats, and setting up a social calendar with events intended to enable employees to stay connected.
- Work-life integration:
For a long time, literature referred to what we know as “work-life balance,” which is the act of equally balancing the demands of work and personal life. During the pandemic, it became evident that this notion of work-life balance was phasing out because employees had to move their workplaces into their homes. So, the question that many were asking is: how do I balance my “work” and “life” when both are now so intertwined? The term “work-life integration” accepts the notion that the two spheres of life no longer have to be seen as separate. Professional and personal duties can be fulfilled simultaneously.
To reach a state of work-life integration, employers need to understand and support it. Employees want to know that their organisation supports a fluid and healthy environment where they can simultaneously attend to their professional and personal duties, and this requires flexibility.
Pandemics fundamentally alter society, and this one is shifting the power balance from employers to employees. Jobs are no longer a means to an end. Employees want more from their organisations from a contractual, experiential, and emotional perspective. How will your organisation respond?
Cherie Mitchell – (University of the Western Cape)