In this recurring post, I highlight some of the best thought-leadership articles and reports that cross my desk. I note why they rise to the top of the pile and are worth reading (or skimming), even if they focus on functions or industries outside your areas of interest. Among the criteria I use to make the selections are freshness and provocativeness of insights and timeliness, analytical rigor, depth of prescriptions, and overall readability.
Americans are quitting their jobs at an unusually high rate. In fact, 4.3 million people left their jobs in August alone, and with far more open positions than job seekers, people seem to be in a position of power. The phenomenon has been called the Great Resignation or the Great Attrition. It has received considerable attention in the business media but not as much as one might have expected from professional-services firms, especially executive-search firms. Still, several firms have weighed in on the forces behind this trend and what companies might do about it—just not always in traditional thought-leadership pieces published to their websites. Below are some of these pieces and reflections.
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The CEO other CEOs turn to for advice”
BCG (by way of The New York Times)
Rich Lesser, who is stepping down as CEO of BCG, offered his view of the Great Resignation and what companies should do about it in a recent interview with The New York Times, excerpted here:
Q: Some of the upheaval in the labor force seems to be coming from workers reassessing their lives. Is there something of an existential crisis happening in the work forces of the companies you work with?
A: I think there are three things going on. One is there’s been an enormous amount of emotional and mental stress during the pandemic, and we’re still in the middle of it. Second, being forced to work from home or in different ways for over a year caused many people to realize there were aspects about their jobs that they didn’t want to go back to. People want more flexibility. Third, I think the lack of direct interaction really is a drag on people, and that also then causes people to question, “Well, why do I want to be here? Is this what I want to do? Should I make different choices?”
For companies, that means three things. First, we have to acknowledge the mental and emotional stress of people and provide resources and support and recognize that just because we’re experiencing the same pandemic, that doesn’t mean we’re having the same experience. Second, we need to find ways to bring more flexibility to work life, and not assume face time or travel time is equivalent to output and value creation. And third, we need to get people back together and we need to build connections. It just feels better when you can be with colleagues. Companies that fail on those three dimensions are really in a very vulnerable position regarding their work force.
The Great Resignation? Retaining talent in a job-hopping world”
This essay quotes experts from Aon’s human capital unit on how companies should respond to employee turnover. To improve retention, says Stefan Gaertner, an Aon partner, employers should explore their data. “Your own data and market data will tell you why your people are quitting and what about your situation might be unique. Then you can identify opportunities to retain the people that fit your culture.”
Focusing on pay alone isn’t effective in the long run. “If you have top talent, there’s always somebody who’s going to pay more,” Gaertner says.
Sometimes employee perception of their compensation doesn’t correspond with market reality. David Kompare, an Aon senior partner, says, “It’s important to know what your employees think about how competitive your rewards are, because employees are making decisions based on their perception of what they are receiving.” When that happens, Kompare says, it may indicate that the company isn’t doing enough to communicate the value of what it’s offering.
Aon asserts that instead of relying on money to aid retention, a better approach is understanding the company culture and attracting employees that fit that culture.
The Great Resignation: Why are so many thinking about quitting?”
Alistair Cox, the CEO of Hays, a recruiting firm, offers seven reasons why people are thinking about leaving their jobs:
The ‘Great Resignation’ forges
An essay from Korn Ferry looks at why so many people are quitting their jobs. Doug Charles, the firm’s president of the Americas, offers the following reasons for the departures:
“Many people have spent time during the pandemic reevaluating what they really want out of their professional lives. Concurrently, their experience away from the office has weakened the camaraderie, work friendships, and other ties that often bond workers to a particular organization. Throw in the fact that many firms, desperate for talent, are throwing higher salaries, flexible scheduling, and other perks at candidates, and it isn’t surprising people are jumping ship.”
‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice
This McKinsey Quarterly article is the strongest I found on the topic. It’s based on an extensive survey of employers and employees in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States and combines analysis and prescriptions. “If you’re a CEO or a member of a top team, your best move now is to hit ‘pause’ and take the time to think through your next moves. A heavy-handed back-to-the-office policy or other mandates delivered from on high—no matter how well intentioned—are likely to backfire.”
The article tees up prescriptions for executives through a series of questions.
1. They finally feel confident searching for a new job
2. They’ve been given the time and space to reflect
3. They just don’t want to go back to the office…ever
4. They’re burned out
5. They want to hit ‘play’ on their career growth
6. They are motivated by financial reasons
7. They’ve realized they don’t actually like their jobs
on both their personal and professional lives
The piece thoughtfully explains these circumstances but stops short of offering advice or next steps for companies.
—Do we shelter toxic leaders?
—Do we have the right people in the right places
—How strong was our culture before the pandemic?
—Is our work environment transactional?
—Are our benefits aligned with employee priorities?
—Employees want career paths and development
—How are we building a sense of community?
opportunities. Can we provide it?
Its conclusion is sobering for executives: “If you lead a large team or a company, remember this: the Great Attrition is real, will continue, and may get worse before it gets better.”
Who is driving the Great Resignation?”
Visier (by way of HBR)
The author, an executive with Visier, a human resources analytics firm, asks how companies can keep employees in the current situation. Analysis of nine million employee records from more than 4,000 companies identified two trends: resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees and in the tech and healthcare industries. Addressing the problem, he writes, requires “taking a data-driven approach to determining not just how many people are quitting, but who exactly has the highest turnover risk, why people are leaving, and what can be done to prevent it.”
The author recommends a targeted retention campaign: “With greater visibility into both how serious your turnover problem really is, and the root causes that drive it, you’ll be empowered to attract top talent, reduce turnover costs, and ultimately build a more engaged and effective workforce.”