Man looking out window thinking of his resignation

The Anti-Resignation: Retaining Your Best in the Time of Self-Actualization

Before the thought of resignation, your best people are starting to ask, why? What makes this so important and urgent? What’s my purpose here, on my team, and in life? What is the overall vision I’m connected to? Am I working to live, or living to work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April resignations broke the all-time single-month record (4M), only to be broken in July, and again in August. This trend has been linked to other past global traumas, yet nothing competes with a global pandemic coupled with nearly universal access to technology. The pandemic provided enough space for your high-burn employees and supervisors to peek outside the hamster wheel, and a lot of them are stepping off.

There is a new level of competition entering the professional workforce with fewer entry-level jobs available per level of higher education and/or training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects occupations that require post-baccalaureate education for entry to grow faster than the average from 2020 to 2030, 16.4% vs 7.7% of total occupations. This does not account for the amount of post-baccalaureate students that are accepting roles with lower educational requirements. The bottom line: the bar is high for professionals, and raising.

30 years ago, at a top-ranked fortune 500 like ExxonMobil, it was possible to move from working at a retail gas station to a high-level corporate leadership role. I’m speaking from personal relationships over a 7+ year career there, and there are similar stories from various industries that have survived the years. Today, a bachelor’s degree alone does very little to differentiate you from other hungry candidates.

It behooves today’s leaders to be of the mindset, my best people have been through a challenging competitive landscape to come on board. Multiple years of high-level internship experience, who you know (a network of mutual trust), and graduate degrees, are becoming baseline requirements to enter the professional workforce.

The pandemic allowed employees to take a breath from the on-to-the-next-challenge mentality, pick their heads up, realize their value, and what they value. There was a pause, the time to look around for more purposeful, flexible, and lucrative work. There’s no longer tolerance for employers who do not invest in the employee experience. An investment of thought, energy, and intention is competing with dollars.

What can employers do to join the anti-resignation movement? Create a culture that supports universal human needs and self-actualization.

  1. Create a connected culture. The days of showing up for 8 hours with your head down are over. Connection is a universal human need that has to be fostered as a baseline. Invest time getting to know who your people are, what excites them, what they fear. The personal health and wellness benefits of connection are enough to justify making time for it. The organizational productivity benefits are clear, and they’re especially crucial when the going gets rough. RingCentral UK research revealed that employees working for companies that actively foster a connected culture are twice as productive when working from anywhere (34% vs 15%). Have an inclusive team-building event. Take your leaders and other key employees through empathy training, coach training, and other development experiences as a non-negotiable cultural investment, so they have the tools to take action and make a difference.
  1. Create an environment that fosters flow. A 10-year McKinsey study noted that top executives reported being five times more productive in flow states. Spend one full day in flow, and you can take the rest of the week off. Flow is a specific cognitive state where nearly all areas of the brain are powered up apart from the areas that control your sense of self and other, as well as the executive center of the brain in control of calculated thought. Essentially, it’s the sweet spot where the optimum level of difficulty meets the embodied skills necessary to step up to the task. Cultivate a challenging environment that meets your employees where they are in their development track. Define the skills necessary to meet challenges farther along the developmental track and provide the training, motivation, and support to get there.
  1. Promote a work-to-live mentality and the flexibility to realize it. What are your employees investing their time, energy, and money into outside of work? If they’re not able to articulate that, to you or themselves in private, provide them life coaching or another resource. Work-life balance is a buzz phrase. Whole-life balance is reality. Flexible time is the new standard offer to compete for the folks you want to stick around. It’s easy to put it in company policy, yet where it counts is how it shows up in the culture. We’re human, and perception matters. Leaders and role models have to be the change they wish to see in their culture. It must be learned embodied behavior. Your people have a sense for actions on the surface level, and disingenuous behavior is more detrimental to the foundation of trust than anything.
  1. Build a foundation of trust. This is the integrity of your organization, in the sense of both structure and character. Individuals and organizations alike believe integrity exists as a virtue rather than a necessary condition for performance. When viewed as a virtue rather than an integral part of production, it can be easily sacrificed to get ahead and succeed, as both an individual and organization competing in the marketplace. Promote being whole and complete with your word, when it’s not the easy thing to do, and even when you change your mind. Acknowledge the impact you have on others, and mean what you say, as an individual and organization.
  1. Allow for role and team redesign. An inflexible or rigid headcount allocation approval process takes the people that know best out of the equation when it comes to optimizing their production and team dynamic. While it requires some oversight to promote inclusivity and test the validity of the claims, there must be a way for employees to make a case for personnel changes. Managers and supervisors with the proper coaching skills will be able to find golden information in coaching their teams through this dialogue. Even if the conversation does not lead to personnel changes (more than likely), the trust and safe space to have the conversation will provide invaluable insights to management for setting their teams and the organization up for success.
  1. Support and celebrate intrapreneurial activity. There’s no better way to foster an innovative culture than tapping into the innovative energy of your people. Offhand comments, unexplored ideas, and suggested improvements left unsaid are missed opportunities. A balance of focused energy toward a clear vision and allowing explorers to explore, will offer the best results and keep the explorers from exploring other opportunities. Have a pitch day, proposal mailbox, or another forum. Invest in their ideas with curiosity, coaching, and with the right idea, resources.

A business is as good as its people, the collective. The quality of the people you most rely on dramatically increases the quality of the whole, infusing your culture with energy to drive results. While businesses should not rely on specific individuals’ contributions and knowledge to remain relevant, it’s in their best interest to create an environment for their best to thrive.

These qualities of company culture are becoming a new baseline to compete in the marketplace, a non-negotiable for top talent, and an integral part of surviving the great resignation. Businesses that attempt to resist will be carried downstream, fighting the current, rather than riding the wave and using their energy to solidify their place in future economies.

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