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View | The Great Resignation: Engaging and retaining the workforce in a VUCA world

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The latest JOLTS data from November 2021 suggests that for the record 4.5 million people who quit the workforce, another 6.7 million people found new jobs. The key point: What's fuelling the Great Resignation? Are people quitting for other, better opportunities? What human resources need to do to enhance employee engagement?

View | The Great Resignation: Engaging and retaining the workforce in a VUCA world
As the world adapts to a pandemic that just won’t quit, our civilisation is going through inflection points across various spheres. One of these inflection points is associated with the global workforce, which is quitting their jobs in record numbers. The United States, where millions of people are leaving their jobs every month, is going through a phenomenon many are calling the Great Resignation.
The latest JOLTS data from November 2021 suggests that for the record 4.5 million people who quit the workforce, another 6.7 million people found new jobs. This means that people are quitting for other, better opportunities in a very employee-friendly environment that have materialised as a consequence of post-pandemic recovery.
Other geographies are exhibiting similar patterns across verticals. The IT industry, which is one of India’s biggest employers, witnessed an average attrition rate of 20 percent in 2021, almost double the numbers from 2020, with attrition running up to 30 percent for many firms, as employees jump ship after better prospects in a strong job market.
However, why are they quitting in the first place? To understand that, we will have to take a short detour into the concept of employee engagement.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement is an abstract concept that refers to the connection an employee or employees feel towards their organisation. Employee engagement is not limited to either employee happiness or satisfaction but extends beyond. Engaged employees believe in their leadership’s vision and work to further it through discretionary efforts, rather than working only for material things like the next paycheck or the next promotion.
Employee engagement is one of the most critical elements of any successful business and leads to higher service levels, improved customer experiences, enhanced productivity, revenues, and profits — factors that together drive growth at an organisational level. Engaged employees are also significantly more likely to stick around long term and help their organisation navigate difficult situations such as the ongoing pandemic. They are also more likely to innovate and prove effective at what they do every day!
Ignoring employee engagement can also lead to massive opportunity costs. According to estimates, in the US alone, disengaged employees cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that employee engagement is rapidly becoming a strategic priority for businesses across the globe. Reports indicate that over 85 percent of leaders place employee engagement in their list of key levers to drive business.
Why are employees getting disengaged
According to the State of the Global Workplace report by Gallup, only 20 percent of employees across the globe were engaged in the first half of 2021. The blame for this can, in a large part, be laid at the pandemic’s feet, which has impacted the individuals who comprise the workforce across dozens of touchpoints.
An abrupt transition to remote work for many and new social distancing and safety norms at the workplace for the rest, along with the stress, anger, and sadness caused due to the losses within families and communities are just some of the factors. According to HBR, more than 53 percent of employees surveyed since the outbreak reported feeling more exhausted compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Forced layoffs at a time when they needed their organisation’s support the most, have served to erode many employees' faith in their organisation. The loss of social equity between employees, and between employees and their leaders caused due to a shift to remote work across many business verticals has also served to exacerbate disengagement.
Employee engagement in the new normal
A few ways employers can drive employee engagement and help steer their company clear of the great resignation phenomenon, include:
Transparent and communicative leadership
While employees are the judge and jury for employee engagement initiatives, the impetus, accountability, and ownership for the same must come from the leadership. They must also set the tone for creating a people-first culture that makes its people valued, doing so, will pave the way for top talent to join the company and stick around. As the working models change and teams get more distributed than ever, it will be up to the leaders to promote employee engagement through core values like transparency, humility, empathy, and accountability.
Combining challenges and recognition
According to a Hubspot report, 69 percent of employees said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were being recognised and appreciated. Employers must recognise when an employee does an exceptional job, and conversely, they must also create opportunities where they can push their limits, challenge themselves, and excel. Organisations can do this by replacing micro-management with a goal-based approach, where employees are expected to come up with innovative solutions to existing problems.
Businesses must provide employees with the technology, freedom and support they need and sit back and watch them exceed expectations!
Provide employees with career progression
In a world that changes every day, the HR function must take the lead in equipping employees with the reskilling and upskilling they need to stay relevant. A well laid out L&D strategy will allow the organisation to build cross-skilled, capable teams while also mapping out clear career progression plans for each employee, reducing flight risk, attrition and keeping employees engaged.
Creating a culture of employee well being
As an employer, creating a culture of well-being means being cognizant of what your employees need for all-around well-being and catering to them wherever possible. For instance, since the pandemic, many organisations have started offering employees access to community-led workshops and classes that help them overcome personal challenges and grow across financial, mental, and emotional spheres. This not only helps them feel a sense of belonging to the organisation but also drives engagement through the roof.
Building a diverse, equal, and inclusive workplace
Having a diverse and inclusive company culture is not just the right thing to do, it is also good for business. Research indicates that companies that were in the top percentile for racial and ethnic diversity were also more likely to drive financial returns above the industry median. Differences in background and experiences are the hallmark of a diverse and inclusive workplace and lead to greater innovation and employee engagement.
An academic study by Tatli and Özbilgin also observed that D&I was also an important element of recruiting and retaining talent, improving business performance, and responding to competition in the market.
Conclusion
In a VUCA world, digital-led hybrid workplaces that combine remote and at-office models are likely to become the norm wherever possible. In such environments, engaging employees will go beyond competitive packages, and instead, will be about creating a powerful employer brand that strongly communicates the company’s willingness to invest in ensuring the all-around well-being and growth of its employees.
In a line, employers that want their employees to be engaged and committed, will in turn have to be equally engaged, invested, and committed to them. However, efforts in this direction will be well worth the rewards, and organisations with engaged workforces will be able to navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing business landscape and blitz ahead of their competition.
—Mudit Mohilay is a marketing professional, author and writer. Views expressed are personal
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