The Great Resignation | How can managers turn things around?

Written on 17 November 2021

2021 is being dubbed the year of ‘The Great Resignation’. Employees are burned out, fed up and craving change, and as a result are leaving their posts in droves.

In fact, a survey of 6,000 workers by the recruitment firm Randstad UK found that 69% were feeling confident about moving to a new role in the next few months, with just under one-quarter planning a change within three to six months.

The timing is also unfortunate. We are currently seeing one of the most competitive labour markets the UK has ever experienced. Staff shortages are rife across multiple sectors and, naturally, businesses can ill afford to lose existing talent at a time when replacing people will prove incredibly difficult.

Managers are critical in this equation. Keeping employees engaged and happy is an area that they have to reckon with at the best of times, but the current climate poses that challenge on a different scale entirely.

With that in mind, here’s our quick guide to how your managers can help to buck the trend and retain staff during this challenging and critically important period.

Pinpoint the problem

While one might think that identifying the issue is the natural starting point when it comes to resolving employee dissatisfaction, rolling out cookie-cutter incentives is often the default approach of employers in these scenarios – and it often doesn’t have the desired result.

Pay is the obvious example here. Updating salaries or bonuses may be the natural reflex for the employer, but the issue may be beyond financial.

For instance, research has shown that one-third of employees said they wanted to leave their job due a lack of career opportunities – something that simply cannot be remedied through remuneration.

The same applies to health and wellbeing. Since burnout is considered to be a core driver of the resignation wave in 2021, it stands to reason that this should be tackled at the source. Depending on the individual, this might be more comprehensive mental health support, health insurance, extra leave, or flexible working hours.

In any case, this comes down to avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions and instead looking to identify and remedy any underlying frustrations on a case-by-case basis. And, once you have pinpointed specific problems, managers should resist temptation to ignore or downplay them and instead take these valuable opportunities to fix issues before they drive people out the door.

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Foster a culture of communication

This leads on nicely to the importance of consistent and healthy communication, which is critical if managers are to pinpoint what is going wrong for their staff.

While it sounds simple, this is often neglected by managers and the wider business, and is invariably responsible for small issues festering beneath the surface and leading to disastrous consequences.

The severity of this issue has been widely documented. One study, for instance, found that two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees.

Another found that healthy team communication increases retention by 4.5 times, thus highlighting its significance in the context of the current staff exodus.

With this in mind, there is a clear impetus for managers to take extra steps to enact a shift in the culture and encourage more communication and openness. Employees should feel able to voice any concerns, and managers should endeavour to remove any barriers that may be preventing their teams from doing so. For example, do employees feel that raising concerns is pointless based on previous experience? Are they afraid of their manager’s reaction to ‘negative’ feedback?

Breaking down these barriers and developing a culture of communication will mean that pre-existing issues are more likely to be surfaced and resolved before it’s too late. What’s more, the shift in culture may in itself make employees happier and more engaged in their roles.

Address hybrid/remote working issues

While largely an affliction specific to the COVID era, the dramatic shift in working practices has in many cases caused a great deal of stress, frustration and unhappiness for employees.

There are many potential, and nuanced, reasons for this. Perhaps those working from home now feel left behind from the office culture and worry their career progression opportunities will suffer. Perhaps those with children are unhappy with the switch back to office working and wish to reinstate the work-life balance of the lockdown era. Perhaps the financial strain of commuting again is a hardship for some employees. It could be that they don’t feel they were properly consulted, or that they don’t understand the employer’s or manager’s rationale behind these decisions.

This is an apt example of where communication is invaluable. Whatever the specific reason, it is critical that managers approach their team members and encourage them to be transparent about their dissatisfaction. Ideally this would have been done before implementing new arrangements, but if not, then checking in with their teams now will enable managers to unearth any issues and addressed them constructively.

This is particularly important if there’s a sense that employees are unhappy but could also prove valuable even if there are no apparent issues, as sometimes managers are blindsided by resignations from seemingly satisfied employees.

It’s crucial that managers don’t underestimate the impact that new working arrangements may have on employees’ overall happiness at work. In fact, according to a recent survey by Reed, nearly half (45%) of those who weren’t currently hybrid working would consider changing jobs to be able to work on a hybrid basis. Similarly, our own poll earlier this year found that one in five employees would quit if they couldn’t work from home, and, conversely, 19% would quit if made to work from home permanently.

In many cases, it may be possible to placate the employee by readjusting their home-office balance. In the current climate, employers and managers who refuse to budge from their preferred ways of working are likely to encounter resignations, which is arguably less desirable than having to find a compromise.

Manager training

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, managers must be equipped with the right tools, techniques and knowledge to confidently address discontent within their teams. Otherwise, the above points are far less likely to be achievable.

It’s crucial that organisations recognise the value that managers represent – they are the building blocks that connect the C-suite to the wider business, and are the first line of defence when it comes to resolving issues. Therefore, removing barriers that prevent them from addressing issues, and investing in their capabilities, is vital for overall success and profitability.

What makes this an even more pressing matter is that, often, young individuals find themselves in management roles by virtue of their technical expertise rather than their ability to manage. These individuals are likely to be lacking in the people skills required to be a successful team leader and would benefit from being taught these skills directly.

In the current climate of low retention and a stretched labour market, training in areas such as communication and dispute resolution are particularly likely to provide a great deal of value for the organisation. And, given the costs involved in replacing employees, this is likely to be a much more cost-effective and long-term solution.

Create great places to work with WorkNest

In need of management training, advice on rolling out retention incentives, or guidance on dealing with a disgruntled employee? Whatever employment challenges your team is facing in the the new world of work, our Employment Law and HR experts are on hand to support managers and HR teams so that you can overcome issues confidently and keep your workforce working to its full potential.

To discuss your specific situation and find out how WorkNest can support you, call 0345 226 8393 or request your free consultation using the button below.

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