The Great Resignation and the Shifting Workforce

By now you have all heard about The Great Resignation, and as we come up on the one year anniversary of over 4 million people leaving their job last September, we are continuing to see this pattern trending. According to the Forbes article, Great Resignation Or Great Fed-Up Nation? Factors In Today’s Workplace Discontent by Hilary DeCesare, the pandemic did surge this workplace trend, but the resignation rate has been climbing since 2009. A 2021 Gallup analysis showed that half the workforce was searching for a new job, across all job markets. Again in March 2022, there was a record 4.5 million job resignations once again. What is all of the data and statistics pointing to? Is it a pay or an industry issue? The answer is no, it’s a workplace issue. 

It’s a workplace issue, what’s that mean?

The discontent is coming from the workplace environment and culture, so what does that actually mean for businesses and their leaders? Gone are the days of just accepting a disengaging, toxic and high-pressure work environment,  if organizations cannot adjust, then they will continue to have unfulfilled staffing needs. As previously mentioned, this is not specific to one type of job or one type of industry, this is a massive workplace shift that is affecting every single industry right now. The main takeaway from all of this data is that the workplace expectations are shifting once again, so companies can continue to fight it, or they can start to pivot. 

It might be helpful for organizations and their leaders to recognize that this is not the first workplace shift to occur by any means. 

In 1926, during the Great Depression, we saw the implementation of a 5-day, 40-hour work week, which had previously been unheard of. In 1860, the workweek was about 65 hours, coming down from 70+ in the 1700s. Additionally, child labor was outlawed in the 1930s, also something that rattled employers, as children were seen as highly valuable during the Industrial Revolution. This was because they could be paid less, were smaller and could do tasks in tighter spaces and were less likely to strike. It’s interesting that children were seen as valuable additions, and one of the reasons was they could be paid less… 

These workplace shifts throughout history started to become more complex as major social changes were also occurring. In the 1860s, slavery was abolished, striking fear into plantation owners, as slaves were the fuel for the economic engines of the south. And once Black men were given the right to vote, that same fear came rushing back, as this could drastically alter the status quo once again. White women were kept from voting until 1920, and it would not be until 1965 that all women of color would be granted that same right. This shook employers as well. With women now being allowed to vote, they could potentially vote for representatives that were more progressive and people-focused, drastically changing the business world potentially. While this is a small glimpse into changes throughout history, the important takeaway is that the shifts were inevitable and fought for by the people who make up our organizations. 

What should an organization do to start pivoting and adjusting? 

Making the decision to truly invest in a workplace shift is truthfully an amazing first step. However, it is not realistic to expect overnight results, it will take time. Below is a list of places to start your organizational pivot, however, keep in mind that it is only the beginning.

  • The first step would be to gather as much data as possible on how your employees are feeling, and how engaged they are. Unless your organization and its leaders have a genuine, honest sense of how employees are feeling, making strategic, impactful decisions around workplace adjustments will be extremely difficult.
  • If your organization does not have an ERG, consider creating them. ERGs, also known as Affinity Groups or Business Resource Groups, have proven to be an immense value-add to a workplace culture, by fostering belonging and helping employees to feel seen, heard and valued. ERGs are a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that is steadily becoming the workplace norm. Similarly, the shift to a more inclusive working environment that promotes a sense of belonging and satisfaction is also becoming the norm. 
  • If there is an ERG presence in the workplace already, take stock of how they are feeling. If your people are feeling exhausted and burnt out, your ERG members and leaders are probably even more burnt out, as they are often doing additional voluntary but extremely valuable work. We already know how valuable ERGs are, but it is important to ensure you do regular check-ins on your people. 
  • Encourage people to join an ERG. ERGs are often a safe space to receive affirmations and validation, but can also be a great way to network, gain leadership development and find a mentor as well. They are also a great way to engage everyone in your workforce. If people feel safe and have a sense of belonging, they are more likely to share their honest feelings and feel more connected while at work. Engaging your people is essential to gaining honest feedback, and ERGs can help create that space. 
  • Consider compensating your ERG leaders. This continues to be a growing workplace trend. ERG work is often voluntary and means taking on an extra workload, however, employees are rarely rewarded for this work. ERGs statistically provide much organization-wide value, and are a factor that many consider in a potential job opportunity. Therefore, compensating ERG leaders is an excellent way to show your commitment to DEI and helps to reenergize your people.
  • Consider providing your ERGs with a budget. This is also a great way to show that your organization is invested in DEI initiatives and wants to pivot to a people-focused environment. Providing a budget means that ERGs can engage their people in meaningful and impactful ways. For example, booking speakers, attending conferences and workshops, going on a retreat and so much more can all be excellent ideas. These events can really go a long way.      

In conclusion:

The Great Resignation is showing us that organizations need to start shifting their workplace values and focus on their people. Belonging, and feeling valued and supported, is something that employees are demanding nowadays. Amidst the pandemic, I totally understand, it is hard to figure out what we need to do, how to do it and how much to invest. Truthfully corporate culture is needing to change, however, you can only get so far if you do not truly know what is stressing your employees out. Seek honest feedback, then start making strategic decisions. If you do not have ERGs, or they are feeling burnt out, invest in ways to start them and reenergize them. ERGs have proven to be tremendously valuable initiatives in the workplace and are a great step forward in shifting your workplace culture.    

To stay up to date on this workplace pivot, and access additional ERG tools and resources, check out ERGDynamics™ and start leading your organization through this workplace shift.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *