In the past two years, I have interviewed many candidates who have left their previous companies without securing the next role to move into. I have not seen this phenomenon before in my 29 years of working. Maybe 1 or 2 but they were clearly outliers. The common answers I got when I asked why they did this were:

  1. “I realized that my health is more important than my previous job”
  2. “My company does not value me and my family.”
  3. “My boss and I are not aligned on how we operate”

So I became more curious and started to dig a bit deeper by searching for, and reading various articles with data on this so called “Great Resignation” and here are some of the information I unearthed:

● 48 million people quit their jobs in 2021

● 8.6 million people quit their jobs in 2022 (Jan to Feb)

● 41 per cent of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs.

● 46 per cent of the world’s workforce plans on relocation this year.

● 57 per cent of the people who left their jobs felt disrespected

And the first two points above are figures in the US alone! (*source: ED Smart, Gallup, Korn Ferry, Forbes) Another related matter I realized is that many people think this is mainly driven by the pandemic which forced a global economic slowdown and affected practically all businesses. However, if you look more closely at the global trends, you will see that “what we are going through is not just a short-term turbulence provoked by the pandemic but rather the continuation of a long-term trend”. This is substantiated by a study made by Harvard in a data they presented on total employment from 2009 through to 2019. 

“Companies now are looking for people whose values are more aligned with theirs and vice versa”

This now leads me to the points I wish to share in this short article. I mentioned earlier about the numerous people I have interviewed and why they left their companies. And if there is a silver lining that I saw in this global crisis is that this pandemic made many of us realize what is truly important to us. And what I’m talking about are our values. I believe this “awakening” has been ongoing for some time now, the pandemic simply fast tracked it and made it more glaring to many. I would summarize these to just a few points on what truly matters to many employees today:

● Family

● Health and wellness

● An environment which espouses respect

● A boss that truly empathizes and cares for me

In fact, you can say that the first two points are personal and the next two are work-related.

Now allow me to wear my HR hat and offer suggestions on how organizations can help deal with this situation.

First, focus on the leader. Starting from the top. It is a given that a company’s culture, ways of working, environment, and what it offers to its employees are all driven by the people at the top. Think about it. Addressing people’s issues on what are important to them such as their health and wellbeing are not going to be solved by merely implementing a program. (e.g. introducing a health and safety program) An employee will not simply feel “valued” if a company has implemented all the safety protocols and then demands its employee to report to the office during this pandemic even if the employee has a comorbidity. An employee will not feel respected if his/her boss cannot empathize with the personal circumstances of the employee during a time of crisis.

It has to be a complete change of mindset. Again, the silver lining in this pandemic. It has been an eye opener for many companies. There is indeed truth to what Marshall Goldsmith wrote, “What got you here, won’t get you there”. So, change the leader or change their mindset. In fact, some companies are doing just this. Also, because many executives are also part of the great resignation. Data shows that 40 per cent of the higher paid executives are looking at changing careers. Companies now are looking for people whose values are more aligned with theirs and vice versa. Maybe what precedes the Great Resignation is the Great Fit. Which is what organizations should really start focusing on. If the leader’s values are not aligned with the company’s, then as a human being, the leader will most likely exemplify their own values. We should find leaders and companies whose values are aligned with ours.

Next, companies should start focusing on diversity. And by this, I don’t just mean gender diversity as what many companies focus on. I also mean, diversity of thought, styles and personalities including personal values like family, health and wellbeing. The thing that should bind all employees in a company is its values. The rest we accept as differences. And if we as a company accept that all our people are different, we will respect them more. This is one of the foundations of this mindset. What many companies find challenging is the fear of “catering to everyone’s wants”. For example, a company has several employees who used to rent an apartment near their office prior to the pandemic as their homes are far away in the province. During the pandemic, when they were forced to work from home, they moved back to their provinces. Now that the number of COVID cases have been under control in their country, the company decided to have everyone return to the office. The employees have pleaded for them to be allowed to continue working from home as they are as productive and can save more on rent and transportation expenses. So, what should the company do? Their dilemma is being seen by other employees are having preferential treatments and might not be fair for all.

In this case, should we first focus on the type of job the employee does and the level of productivity they can do instead of where they work from? Obviously, an office worker doingaccount tasks for example can work from home as supposed to a forklift operator. And so, the saying goes, “the most unequal treatment of people is to treat them equally”. This is another major mindset shift.

Lastly, empathy is the most important leadership characteristic especially during a crisis. I have heard a leader once say to me, “we always talk about feelings. We should focus more on facts and data”. While I generally agree with this statement, it is not applicable in many other situations and it does not offer a more holistic approach. If we as a company say that people are our most important asset and we put people at the center, then as human being, should we not accept that we all have feelings? If you want to influence the logical mind, do present data and facts. If you want to win people’s hearts, be mindful of their feelings. Isn’t this the very reason why we do employee engagement surveys? Because we value what they feel. Empathy is the trait that helps us go through this to truly understand our people.

We can then introduce the right programs and benefits that will truly matter to our people.

And if we focus our energies on addressing what our people feel, they in turn will have peace of mind, stay on working with us and focus on our customers and our business. Enabling us to be in a better place to recover what we lost during the pandemic.

Which leads me to link this to Transformation. People often define transformation as change. Whereas, I believe these are two different points. You need to change to correct or improve the past. You then transform to create the future. One precedes the other. You cannot transform if you don’t change. To give a basic example: If you want to grow old enough to enjoy the time with your grandchildren, then you want to be healthy to live long enough to do so. You just cannot be healthy overnight. You first need to change. Change your eating habits, change your sleeping habits, change your lifestyle then and only then can you transform into a healthier individual. The same is true for organizations. You cannot transform into a company that truly values their employees if you don’t change some of your management styles, mindsets and habits.

So, in summary, let’s go through the points for reflection:

We need to go through a mindset shift

Focus on the leader

Practice diversity

Build empathy

Change and then Transform

The next normal is the Great Fit. Companies who focuses on this, would have a sustainable edge whether there is a pandemic or not.