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Much has been said and written about “The Great Resignation.” And for good reason. Various research shows that anywhere between 40% and 50% of knowledge workers in the United States have left a job in the last year, or are considering doing so.
That’s a huge increase over annualized voluntary attrition benchmarks in the technology industry, which have hovered around 13% to 15% in the past few years. What’s behind it? To find the truth, we must do a little digging. And what we find may surprise us.
In my research, departures generally happen for one of three reasons:
1) Employees are exhausted (burnout),
2) They are making a career change (opt-out), or
3) They are offering themselves a sabbatical to simply enjoy living (timeout).
Spotting the right cause is critical to taking the right actions to prevent employees from walking out.
In a recent Citrix survey of 1,000 knowledge workers who have changed roles in the last 12 months, 35% said they did so because they were “burned out.” So what is burnout, exactly? It’s a condition caused by prolonged stress and over-demands in the workplace without the resources to navigate.
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job, and
- Reduced professional efficacy.
While burnout is explicitly associated with the workplace, it should be noted that our diminished capacity to manage it is undoubtedly correlated to the resources we’ve expended to manage the collective trauma and uncertainty of the pandemic.
- Automatic opt-in to mental health support. People need to emote. Make visits with mental health professionals an organizational norm. Allow space and support to release emotions and navigate the challenges of work and life. Making an employee assistance program (EAP) available is currently about as far as forward-thinking organizations are going. They need to go farther and automatically default to mental health visits for all employees on a monthly basis. Mental health support can broaden beyond burnout and cover a wide range of mindset challenges that will develop a more resilient workforce overall.
- Remove administrative drag. People are fueled when they are passionate about their jobs and engaged in the work they do. When asked what keeps them in their current roles, 53% of the workers who responded to the Citrix survey said they “like what they do.” Administrative, boring, non-impact adding tasks diminish a sense of progress, which is shown to be the single largest driver of engagement. And as the Citrix survey also reveals, they cause workers to bolt.
o 38% of those workers polled who have moved on said they did so because they were not engaged in or passionate about their former role.
o 31% were frustrated by overly complicated technology and processes.
o 47% believe they can do more meaningful work in their new jobs.
With the right workplace collaboration tools, companies can remove the complexity and noise that frustrates employees and empower them to do what they love and love what they do.
- Care for those who care for others. Managers are the glue of your organization. Create a differentiated experience that gives them the space they need to succeed with offerings like accelerated PTO accumulation, additional days off, designated days to think and rewards for empathetic leadership
- Use the burnout antidote framework: Demand, Control, Support.
o Demand: Look at workload and add resources where resources are needed or reduce non-essential tasks. This can also be temporary (example, when a team member is on parental leave or a new technology launches)
o Control: Give employees control where you can. For example, allowing them to choose when they come to the office or from which location they work most productively.
o Support: Meet them where they are. Encourage relationship connections. Ask them what they need and build programs and personalization to match.
Neurobiologically, we seek to surround ourselves with certainty. Certainty is a form of protection. It’s the illusion we are safe and we are in control.
The last 19 months, we’ve felt someone else is driving. Quite recklessly, I might add. Taking a leap puts us in the driver’s seat of something, at least for a bit. And there’s data to support it, as 13% of people who’ve ditched jobs say they saw doing so as a way to regain some of the control they’ve lost over their lives.
The problem is, sustained satisfaction requires a deeper level of self-reflection. Jonathan Fields, author of the book, Sparketype, refers to the historical time during which we’re living as a sacred opportunity. He encourages those looking for more meaning and fulfillment in work to discover their unique imprint (aka Sparketype) and warns against launching from one empty career pursuit to another without first examining what brings us joy. In other words, don’t run from something, but to something.
- Offer workplace programs for self-reflection and discovery: Make it part of the learning curriculum to assess strengths, discuss dreams and coach actions that empower the employee to match strengths and dreams to their day-to-day work. Encourage employees to create the role they want as part of the role they’re in.
- Build a robust internal mobility program and a culture that encourages positioning employees based on their strengths and welcomes ‘rotations’ as a mindset to build a career.
- Find out what dull, unchallenging, administrative work, or friction fills their day, then assemble teams to fix it. Pay particular attention to more junior roles, which tend to be more task-focused than senior roles. Find ways to challenge and develop your newest generation in the workforce or you’ll be left without a leadership bench. According to a recent study commissioned by Adobe, Gen Z is most likely to describe their job as repetitive (65%) and tiring (65%).
- Make the exit experience extraordinary and welcome ‘boomerangs’ back with open arms.
Noel Bell, a London-based specialist in personal growth, said it best, “The pressures of the pandemic have reminded us all that life might be short and we are tasked to assess how, and with whom, we are spending our precious time.”
- Offer sabbaticals. The most frequent argument against sabbaticals tends to be “we will lose productivity.” I disagree. A 12-week sabbatical is approximately the same amount of time it will take to backfill the position if that top-performer leaves. Not to mention the six to 12 months of ramp time for your new hire to contribute at the level at which the incumbent was performing. And, just remember the cost of filling a vacancy averages 33% of the employee’s salary.
Perhaps this widespread workforce shuffle is a necessary part of innovation. Perhaps these unique, new applications of skillsets will be what brings diversity of thought to our teams.
Perhaps these vacancies will be what allows committed companies to bring racial and gender diversity to our organizations.
Perhaps the lessons that need to be learned, and the lives that need to be lived, are what organizations are being called to nurture.
Don’t fight the tide.
Learn from it.
Then, make something magnificent out of it.
About the Author
Amy Haworth, senior director, employee experience, at Citrix.