New Report Reveals What Employees Will and Won’t Tolerate at Work

After eighteen months of uncertainty, stress, and adaptation on the job, employees know what they will and won’t tolerate at work — and soaring resignation numbers are the result.

That’s the topline finding of “The Great Resignation“, Workhuman’s Fall 2021 International Survey. Nearly 4 in 10 workers said they’re planning to look for a new job in the coming year, a figure that should terrify workforce planners and managers alike.

Labor Department data confirm this: Quit rates are up 25% since 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a big jump coming in recent months.

Many workers, having survived the worst recession and work disruptions of their lifetimes, are determined to improve their work situations, and the tight talent market gives them the opportunity and market clout to do so.

Employers who respond directly to this new worker mindset will hold onto their most valuable talent and attract workers disaffected by less flexible organizations.

Flexibility is a key concern

The first reaction of leadership might be to engage in a “salary arms race” to retain key employees. Bumping up pay doesn’t address fundamental changes in employee outlook, however, and small or medium-sized businesses can’t compete with big firms that can throw cash reserves or debt at the problem. 

Thirty percent of those looking to leave their employer cited “I want more flexibility” as their primary reason for leaving. In a key data point for companies with diversity initiatives, a desire for flexibility was highest among Black respondents (39%). Feeling battered on all sides, employees also want to be thanked and acknowledged for showing up despite seemingly endless disruption. In short, people want more respect for their efforts, and more power to control their work and home lives.

The survey of more than 3,500 workers in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Ireland showed an especially high risk of departure among working parents (65%). Women are feeling increasingly burned out, a phenomenon affirmed by McKinsey’s latest Women in the Workplace report. Fathers have tasted, some for the first time, a situation in which they both held down demanding jobs and had more time with children. One driver of resignations has been people questioning their lifelong habit of putting work first.

Fathers have tasted, some for the first time, a situation in which they both held down demanding jobs and had more time with children. One driver of resignations has been people questioning their lifelong habit of putting work first.

Culture trumps salary 

The survey suggests three areas of opportunity for companies to improve retention by improving their management methods and company culture:

  • Better communication.
  • Greater psychological safety.
  • More employee appreciation. 

Better Communication: Managers must adapt their style from giving orders to coaching people. Frequent check-ins with employees more than doubled workers’ feelings of meaning, purpose, trust, and belonging. “Leaders who adopt a coach approach…. provide just-in-time feedback that turns the very nature of work into a model for partnership.” says Joe Hirsch, author and TEDx speaker. Implicit in coaching dialogue is the message that managers’ main job is to bring out the best in those they manage.

Greater Psychological Safety: According to Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is “a shared belief that I can bring my full self to work, that I will not be humiliated or made to feel less good about myself if I speak up with ideas, with questions, with concerns, and yes, even with mistakes.” The Workhuman survey asked respondents to rate their agreement with seven key statements indicating psychological safety and found that workers who indicate they might look for a job experience significantly lower average psychological safety than those who aren’t looking. When people feel included for who they truly are, they feel safer and are less likely to be on the lookout for new employers. 

More Employee Appreciation: How people are paid vs. how much also affect employee satisfaction. When 1% of total salary budget is directed to a social recognition program, in which employees can attach material awards to moments of appreciation, engagement improves, according to Workhuman.

Those recognized in the last month were nearly three times as likely to say their culture got better — with more connection and cohesion across teams. Perhaps this has to do with the inverse relationship between stress and gratitude. As in previous years, the data reveals the more recently someone has been thanked at work, the lower their stress level and the greater their sense of gratitude. 

The Great Resignation shows that employees are moving toward a holistic view of work-life integration, where both are important and possible to manage without burning out. Your people improvised and innovated their way to new ways of working during the pandemic. Their willingness to work where companies honor that newfound ability is an opportunity for leaders to hire and hold the best talent. 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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