Why you should pay attention to this thing called The Great Resignation

Like most things, leadership has its lingo and its latest buzzwords. Authentic. Disruption. The new normal.

The “new black”, if you will, is The Great Resignation. It’s got the business world in a flurry and as a leader, it is a trend you should probably pay attention to, even if you aren’t digging this latest buzzword. 

So, what exactly is The Great Resignation?

Well, it’s something we’re seeing across the US and now the world (yup, it’s hitting us here in New Zealand as well), with millions of people quitting their jobs or thinking about it. Recent research by Microsoft suggests that 41% of workers worldwide are considering quitting their jobs, and here in Aotearoa, an AUT study found that people with “high turnover intentions” increased from 34.7% to 46.4% compared with 2020. (And in even worse news, it seems to be particularly prevalent among women, who are exiting the labour force at twice the rate men have due to challenges with childcare). 

So, what can you do to address (and hopefully prevent) The Great Resignation in your organisation? Here are five things which are always on trend in leadership, but which are ‘muy importante’ right now:

  1. Focus on trust. Make building trust with your team your priority. Everything good flows from this. What to know how? See this post and this post for some ideas.
  2. Identify the issues. If you’re looking at your turnover rates and feeling a bit squeamish, before you panic and jump into action, take a closer look at the root causes. Identify the underlying reasons for these resignations and look for themes. This is a time to make sure you’re playing close attention to those exit interviews. What are the issues at a systemic level?
  3. Look after the survivors. Love the one you’re with. One of the simplest yet often overlooked ways to do this is to ask. Ask your employees what is important to them, what is frustrating them, and what you could do to make them feel more engaged and valued. What’s even more important though, is what you do with that information. Go back to them after you’ve done this to tell them what you’re hearing, then take action on the things they’re shouting the loudest about. Simple huh?
  4. Ensure fairness and equity. Especially around pay, perks, prestige, and promotion. See point two. It can be uncomfortable to look under the hood and realise there are some practices or realities in your organisation’s ecosystem which ain’t as rosy as you thought. Face reality and make amends. A lack of fairness is not only a cause of burnout, but also like lighter fuel for disengagement. It will have some of your best and brightest (especially in minority groups) head for the door quicker than you can say “haere ra”.
  5. Improve your leadership capability. Invest in upskilling your leaders at all levels. I may be biased, but lots of research backs me up on this – poor leadership practices are often at the root of bad metrics in organisations. As the saying goes, “people don’t leave their organisations, they leave their boss.” Too often we thrust people into roles of leadership without the skills and tools to do it well. And then wonder why they’re coming unstuck. That’s why I developed The Leader’s Map – a blended leadership programme for organisations to equip their emerging leaders with tools and collective learning that they need to lead well.

While we can all choose to avoid the latest fashion trends (and sometimes I think we should – apparently mullets are coming back in fashion?!), a trend like The Great Resignation is much harder to ignore. Whether we like it or not, employees are considering leaving their jobs (and sometimes the workforce). As a leader, it’s your job to make sure that you’re facing that reality head on. 

Luckily, with some self-awareness, openness to feedback, and care for your remaining people, you can reduce the negative impacts of the great resignation on your team – and even turn this concerning trend into an opportunity. 

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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