The Big Quit and the New Rules of Engagement
The following is adapted from the introduction to Dr. Merrylue Martin's new book, The Big Quit Survival Guide, in which she documents the dynamics of the Big Quit, also called the Great Resignation, and the new rules of employee engagement needed to hire and retain the best.
What a difference a global pandemic makes. Workplaces used to buzz with life in physical locations. Meeting facilities and conference rooms were booked weeks or even months out. Business travel was part of the everyday norm. Organizations focused on meeting business goals, and people leaders focused on coaching their employees to achieve their next personal best.
And then in an instant it all changed.
There went the playbooks with all the workplace norms as we knew them, and many top performers disappeared right along with them as well. While it remains to be seen what parts of the old normal will return, if anything, all we can bet on for the foreseeable future is that everything is completely different now.
No one in the labor market has been immune from the fallout of the Great Resignation or Turnover Tsunami as it’s been called. If you’re a people leader in a large corporation, small business, government sector, or nonprofit, you are likely still feeling the aftershocks while you assess the damage, sift through the shards, and begin gluing the workplace pieces back together only to discover the old pieces aren’t quite fitting the same way as they used to.
Yes, more people have recently left their jobs in record numbers and, yes, in the lower paying sectors may continue to do so, and we continue to read they are never coming back. To an extent that is true. Those pushing retirement prior to the pandemic decided to do so early. Some of your former employees are retraining for new careers. Many have started their own businesses as record numbers of applications for LLCs and sole proprietorships have been filed. Some are looking to enter higher paying industries, and others have simply dropped out of work in search of more meaningful purpose and fulfillment, at least until the money runs out.
But in the middle of this Great Resignation, we’re also starting to see something else brewing. It’s looking more like a Great Reemergence or maybe a Great Reset or a Greater Reshuffling. Dare we say there may be some actual hope among all the dismal labor shortage statistics? There’s even some chatter about the coming Great Rebound where the top talent who once fled to greener pastures have since decided there’s no place like home and want to come back.
People will return to work, just not with the same mindset they had when they left. For many employees the pandemic struck a nerve about the fragility of life and prompted a renewed sense of purpose and clarity. Work is now only one of the many puzzle pieces that must appropriately fit into the overall picture they define as “life.”
The companies that understand this renewing of the mind that’s occurring and are willing to put the processes in place to support it will be the winners in attracting and keeping the top talent that’s waiting to land. So get ready to welcome them and jump on rebuilding a workplace that will continue to attract and keep your best people going forward.
If your talent has stayed with you through these past several months, now is certainly the time to make sure you’re doing everything in your power to keep them. If you’ve lost top performers, rest assured there’s plenty of talent still out there looking, but they are taking their time and being intentional about their next employment move.
The purpose of this book is to help people leaders navigate the new work environment, fully grasp what is going on inside the reemerging employee’s mindset, and understand what it will take to attract and keep them. In many ways the pandemic has also become the Great Catalyst.
As the dust continues to settle, we will see many positive changes and outcomes resulting in stronger, more authentic, and productive work environments. Employees are returning with different expectations. How we successfully engage with them will be different, and keeping them will certainly take a different approach. To get a quick sense of what this “different” might look like for people leaders, consider these true or false questions. (If you want to find out now how you did, pick up a copy of the Big Quit Survival Guide and take a peek at chapter 17 to see the answers.)
I am confident that each of my top performers feels they are getting the right balance of respect and rewards in return for the work required of them.
The team leader is primarily responsible for their employees’ retention.
What employees want most right now is empathy.
Respect is defined differently by the person receiving it; therefore, I am aware of what it uniquely means to each of my employees.
Remote employees need just as much attention as those on-site.
On the surface some of these statements may appear obvious or maybe not. If you had to think about a couple of them, that’s the idea. For example, if you answered false to the last question, excellent choice! Remote employees need more attention from you than your on-site people in order to counterbalance some of the unique challenges they are facing, like isolation. These questions and many others about how to navigate this new workplace and employees’ expectations are addressed throughout the book.
One of the most important concepts to grasp up front is the emphasis employees are placing on the need for organizations to care for them as human beings. We are hearing a lot on this topic lately and will continue to do so as mental wellness and taking a holistic view of employees as people is now becoming one of the basic tenets in today’s workplace. Simply put, the old physical has become the new psychological. Employees no longer place as much value on physical perks as they did in the past. Free food, Ping-Pong tables, and gym memberships have been traded for nonnegotiables such as respect, appreciation, and mental care.
Another key word emerging strongly in this new workplace is balance. Employees are on a mission for work-life balance. They are regularly assessing this balance and will weigh in on their desire to stay with a job by asking themselves three key questions:
1. What is it costing me physically and psychologically to succeed at this job? (Requirements)
2. What am I tangibly getting in return for doing this job? (Rewards)
3. How appreciated, trusted, and valued do I feel on this job? (Respect)
Picture a teeter-totter–type scale. On one side of the scale sits the Requirements weight. On the other side sits the Rewards and Respect weights. If the combined weight of the Rewards and Respect at least meets the weight of the Requirements, the scale will balance. If the Requirements weight is heavier than the combined Rewards and Respect weights, the scale will not balance and end up tilting under the weight of the Requirements. Employees with a balanced scale will likely stay. Those whose scale is collapsing under the Requirements weight will likely leave. Simple as that. Yes, but not so fast.
The three weights can be calibrated to create balance, but because each employee is unique, the heaviness factor they assign to the individual components within each of the weights will vary. For example, the Requirements may include a necessity to make a one-hour commute. The thought of this might be torturous for one employee but for another may be a welcomed chance to decompress and listen to a complete podcast without interruption. Therefore, it’s crucial that people leaders have ongoing conversations with their employees—especially with the top talent they want to protect and keep—to determine what will impact the balance of their scale and ways it can be calibrated as needed to get it back in balance as soon as possible.
Turnover is not always a negative outcome to be avoided at all costs. Those employees who were not suitable hires or deteriorated into nonperformers with no desire to improve need to be gone. But when it comes to keeping your best people, that’s a different story, and you want to do everything in your power to do so. The bad news about employee retention is that it’s tricky because it deals with employees who also happen to be people, and people can be complex.
The comforting news about employee retention is that because it deals with people, we know for a fact that all people have basic needs in common and that’s an effective place to start. While specific solutions for meeting those needs may differ for each individual, the fact remains that the types of needs humans have will always remain constant.
I don’t know about you, but any constant in this workplace right now is a welcomed data point when it comes to cracking the employee retention code.
Consider this situation:
“Last Week’s 1:1 Meeting”
Setting: Late afternoon. Jessie, a sales manager with a medical supply company, leads a team of 11 sales reps. Tam is Jessie’s star performer, four years running. Their weekly 1:1 meeting is about to begin.
Jessie: (waves Tam in to sit at the conference table while finishing up a phone conversation) I’m hoping for a positive outcome though, with Judson in our camp. Will do. Okay. Gotta run. Thanks, you too. Bye.” (hangs up, sits down with Tam) Hey, Tam, sorry about that. Been out in the field all day and just now returning the morning calls. Can I get you a water?
Tam: No problem—thanks, I’m good.
Jessie: So, how’s it going?
Tam: Good, crazy busy as always. I was finally able to see the head of purchasing at North. Had a good conversation. Looks like we’ll close the PO by the end of the week.
Jessie: Outstanding! You’ve done an amazing job there, in just a few weeks. Nice work, Tam.
Tam: Thanks. Yeah, it’s been tricky with all the personnel changes going on there.
Jessie: Seriously, that’s awesome. Do you want to run through the rest of the Q4 pipeline?
Tam: Ah, sure, we can, but I first wanted to take our conversation in a different direction.
Jessie: Um, okay, what’s on your mind?
Tam: You know, I can’t believe I’m coming up on 5 years and—
Jessie: (interrupts Tam) I know, absolutely. Not to mention you’ve doubled your territory revenue year over year for the past four of them. Without a doubt, Tam, you continue to be one of the most important players on this team.
Tam: And I appreciate that, Jessie, but to be honest, I haven’t exactly been feeling that way very much lately.
Jessie: What do you mean?
Tam: Well, you know these past 6 months have been crazy for everyone, and we’re all running in a million directions. But personally, it feels the more effort I keep putting out to carry all the extra projects has now sort of just settled into the norm of what’s expected and with no additional considerations. I guess what I’m saying is, the load is twice as heavy, the return is twice as light, and keeping up at the pace expected is—
Jessie: (interrupts Tam) I know, Tam. I completely get it. It’s been nuts lately and you’ve been great about it. Hey, once we get fully staffed, the pace will get back to normal, I promise, but I didn’t realize you were feeling this way, though, so I’m glad we’re having this conversation.
Tam: Well, you know me, I’m one that doesn’t like to complain. I’ll just do what it takes to make sure it all works. But I have to say, I think the real rub started 3 months ago when my mom was so sick and needed my help. Instead of getting approval to work remotely, I had to use up all my PTO instead. That really burned, Jessie, and you know first-hand, I wasn’t happy about it.
Jessie: Yeah, I know, and I am sorry it ended up that way. Believe me I tried my best for a different outcome, but unfortunately, it was company policy, and my hands were tied.
Tam: I get that, Jessie, and I’m not blaming you totally. It’s more of a combination of things.
Jessie: Okay. I hear you, so how do we fix it? What can I do to make it right going forward?
Tam: I appreciate that, Jessie, but that’s what I’m coming to. There isn’t anything at this point. It’s too late for that. I just accepted another opportunity and am submitting my 2 weeks’ notice. (hands Jessie the resignation letter)
Tam: This is hard because I did thrive here and loved my accounts. I’ve been wrestling with this decision for a while. The whole tone here just feels different now. Lately, it’s seeming like it’s more about results and money than anything or anyone else. I’m the first one to get business metrics, believe me. But when our culture principles say employees are the most important asset and yet my reality is completely different, well that’s a problem.
Jessie: Wow, I’m completely surprised, Tam. I wish I had seen this coming.
Tam: Me too. <Fade to black>
Ouch. If you have ever been caught off guard by what felt like an abrupt departure of one of your top performers, you’re not alone. Many people leaders from seasoned executives to new supervisors have unfortunately encountered one of those “I sure didn’t see that one coming” moments.
There’s a lot of uncertainty these days in determining what new factors are influencing employees’ decisions to leave or stay. We’re in a stage of redefining engagement rules and adapting work models accordingly. This is evident by the focus on what returning to work currently looks like for many companies. Is it on-site for everybody again? If so, do we risk losing the people who say no to that? Where possible, can remote working opportunities sway a decision to stay? Can we create the needed cohesiveness and team collaboration with one-third of the team working from home, one-third on-site, and the remaining one-third working a combination of both?
And there’s a new wrinkle in the mix: these plans and new models are no longer being created behind HR doors in an organizational vacuum. Employees are asking for transparency, clarity, and a voice in the specific outcomes that will affect them.
Discovering the reasons employees leave can sometimes be as complex as the individuals are themselves. Yet, getting to the root source of the real drivers behind a decision to leave is made easier if we first know where to look. When a top performer says “I quit,” it’s typically not a random event that sprang out of nowhere but has more likely been in the making for weeks, months, maybe even years. Most leaders don’t see it coming especially with a top performer. It can be easy to miss the warning signs, misread the symptoms, or mistakenly assume everything is fine, because top performers like Tam usually say it is. Until one day it’s not fine and then it’s too late.
Pick up a copy of The Big Quit Survival Guide Today!
The Big Quit Survival Guide is your lifeline to the new rules of engagement. Everything you will need to survive and overcome the great resignation is all here:
Find out how to retain your best people (and it’s not just money that will keep your top performers on the job).
Learn how to wow the best new hires in the post-pandemic war for talent (hint: they are looking for a workplace that understands them as people first).
Deal with the challenges of remote workers because WFH is here to stay.
Access over 30 printable Survival Tactics to execute now!
Use the 3-R Scale to see if your company’s Requirements outweigh the Rewards and Respect employees seek—and ensure that scale tips in your favor.