The Great Resignation is upon us. Droves of people are leaving jobs thanks to work fatigue, health concerns, waning benefits, and family obligations–the list goes on. Others are leaving corporate allegiances in the dust for better opportunities. The general sentiment of burnout and dissatisfaction with the average workday existed long before the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. With worker shortages shaking things up even further, how will employers ever get back to the status quo?
To some extent, they can’t; the old definition of normal is over. Here’s your double red flag, level five warning. If you’ve been reluctant to change before, there’s more on the way. A rapid culture shift is imminent.
People are working for companies because they want to–not have to. The “great resignation” topic came up for discussion at a recent Professional Development Committee meeting. We could’ve gone on for hours about the trajectory set by tech-savvy, risk-taking millennials, soon to be echoed by an influx of stability-seeking, performance-driven Gen Zs in the professional workforce.
That discussion left us with the burning question: What kind of behaviors are young professionals looking for out of companies that would make them want to stay in the traditional workforce–extremely structured, success defined by hours worked, rigid policies and protocols, honor through loyalty–instead of shifting into widely-accepted alternatives, such as joining the gig economy or entering hybrid/fully-remote positions?
We reached out to friends and pees to answer this question. Here are a few of their responses.
#1. A clearly defined workplace culture. Businesses should cultivate a workplace culture that your employees will brag about for years to come. Culture is not the occasional pizza party or perks that check a box; instead, it consists of what attitudes, values, and behaviors are perceived as commonplace within an organization–your company ethos, if you will–developed in alignment with business goals and intentions. It is more about how those ideals are applied in day-to-day functions than simply a statement or boilerplate recruitment materials. One of the best strategies to develop or improve culture is to place core principles at the heart of your organization. These apply to all team members, not individuals or certain roles. For some businesses, this can mean collaboration, where teams work together and share different perspectives, creating more engaged employees. For others, it means respecting one another’s time by setting appointments, shifting priorities, engaging team members for their feedback, actively encouraging time off, offering schedule flexibility, showing genuine care by supporting individual talents and aspirations, and so on. We spend roughly 40+ hours of our weeks with our occupations, sometimes while we try to sleep and even while we dream. Everyone deserves to be in a setting where their opinions and thoughts are respected and inherent human traits are recognized. Studies show a strong workplace culture inevitably yields financial benefits, improves productivity, and retains talented staff. Satisfied employees are free PR, too.
#2: Professional development opportunities. Most job applicants and employees are looking for access through their employer to professional (and personal) development opportunities, whether for individual team members in their respective roles or budding leaders. Young professionals may crave mentorship and guidance from respected superiors, but they are also looking for clear signs of career growth opportunities. To some, this means extensive licensing or certification processes coupled with exams, fees, and ongoing education requirements. Offering financial support for memberships or costs associated with career milestones is one way to encourage individual growth. Lunchtime learning sessions, seminars + webinars, and conferences are great ways for your team members to dive into their craft. These opportunities double as moments for networking and collaboration. Such long-term investments in staff lead to better engagement, increased productivity, and overall employee retention.
As a business owner or leader, consider leveraging your community knowledge to share opportunities with your team to expand their professional networks. A great way to do this is by vetting respected local philanthropies or professional organizations (EMERGE, anyone?). While networking and volunteering do not come as a natural interest to some, others might not know where to start and need an introduction. Both are critical as they develop communication skills and camaraderie within teams. The extra step to encourage engagement between your team members and the communities their work impacts can make their work more fulfilling.
#3: “Work-life balance” as an expectation. The past year and a half has taught us that the only way to maintain successful outcomes in any unprecedented situation is to remain agile and adapt. For many, that meant shifting business models, changing measures of productivity, and even adjusting schedules. At this point, we are all understandably tired of hearing the phrase “be flexible,” but workplace flexibility and a respectable balance between professional and personal time has long been in demand from a workforce facing challenges such as rising costs in childcare and caretaking responsibilities, long commutes, or other overwhelming personal obligations. A recent LinkedIn poll ranked flexibility and balance as the #1 key differentiator sought out by job seekers in our local market. Younger members of the workforce are more likely to prioritize taking care of life’s inherent commitments over a rigid schedule, and inflexible employers may struggle to build tenured employees because of this.
#4: Competitive compensation. Entry or junior-level professionals place a certain amount of trust in their employers to offer fair wages and benefits that match their qualifications. The entry-level workforce is most vulnerable in this regard. These individuals often diminish their value in salary negotiations or set the bar too low. Salary-setters carry a responsibility to recognize the value of a new hire and communicate that through a fair offer; otherwise, someone else eventually will. For those on the hiring side, re-evaluate your interpretation of experience levels. Many college students, young parents, caretakers, etc., often take roles that allow more flexibility than traditional roles. Be mindful of skills that are transferable from one industry to the next. Ask yourself, did this person’s previous experiences require them to:
utilize problem-solving skills?
demonstrate empathy and understanding?
act under pressure within short time frames?
interact with the public regularly?
pay attention to meticulous details?
Pairing repurposed skill sets with technical training can be a great way to acquaint someone with a new occupation or industry. Softer skills are often the hardest to master; however, they are qualities of great team members and future leaders. Additionally, if additional paid benefits are not an option, consider other ways to show appreciation or value, such as wellness incentives, paid time off, or individual recognition for achievements. Remember to also celebrate the small things. Enthusiasm can quickly wane if even minor victories are pushed aside. The desire to be recognized for diligence and achievement is not unique to a generation or particular group of people.
This is by no means an all-inclusive, exhaustive list of talent retention strategies, nor is it a one-size-fits-all model. No two organizations are the same, and circumstances change daily. Hopefully these ideas initiate self-reflection or inspire some sort of change-leading behaviors within your organizations.
We’re all on this roller coaster together now through the foreseeable future. If you are a leader struggling with employee turnover, ask yourself if there are trends worth paying attention to. If your team seems distant or disengaged, ask them what you can do to further support them through challenging times. Don’t wait until it’s too late to reel them back in. Whether you’re navigating an entry-level job search or looking for a change, ask more questions during the interview process. Ask your interviewers questions such as how they would define their company culture, what is the average employee tenure at their company, or what is their opinion of work-life balance. Decide what values are important to you and find that right alignment!
About the Pro Dev Committee
The Professional Development Committee leads the charge in planning EMERGE events focused on career or personal skills applicable to young professionals. Our goal is to build upon the mission of EMERGE by creating content and providing programming for our members and the community based on current headlines and timeless topics in professional development. The Committee meets once per month and is always looking for ideas and contributors. Email email@example.com for more information.