Whether you are involved in attracting or retaining talent in your organisation, it’s going to be a challenging few months after the lull of lockdown. Your people are on the move, and in potentially record numbers. It’s being called ‘the great resignation’ – people are either re-evaluating their lives and careers, changing direction, not wanting to return to the office or simply getting offers from elsewhere they just can’t turn down.

This article looks at some of the drivers behind this upswing in talent mobility and suggests how employers can respond by managing aspects of their employer brand.

What the data says

The rise in turnover is a global trend and data from the World Economic Forum indicates that up to 40% of employees are thinking of quitting their jobs. In the UK, employment is up on all measures, unemployment down and the number of vacancies hit 953,000 in the three months to July, according to new data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Many employers in areas of skills shortages are desperate for good candidates while there’s no shortage of options for those wanting to jump ship.

What has brought the great resignation about?

The past year has seen a perfect storm of events brought about by the pandemic. Some employers responded well to lockdown, making employee welfare a top priority, others damaged their employer brand by some questionable actions and insensitive comments. People have long memories, for some that’s meant riding out the pandemic waiting for new opportunities to arise – such as now.

At the same time, the way work is structured has changed, and a lot of us have grown to like it. Home working has brought levels of flexibility and control of work-life balance many thought they’d never see – and they don’t want to lose it. Research has shown that the potential of losing this new found flexibility is most likely to cause turnover in younger workers — those aged 18 to 25. A Microsoft report, The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, suggests that 54% of Gen Z workers are poised to make an imminent exit.

What’s more, many have come to the realisation that if they can work remotely for their existing employer, then where a potential new employer is based is no longer such an issue. They can work for anyone, anywhere and that opens up a huge range of options.

And then there is the sheer time away from close proximity to work and colleagues. Due to the furlough scheme and extended working from home, many now see their life and relationship with their employers in a different light. While a lifeline for keeping jobs open, the furlough scheme has given thousands of people the cushion of paid time to think through what they want to do. The organisations that failed to engage with their people while on furlough saw those people gradually losing touch with the organisation, their roles and what it was that attracted them in the first place. Many are looking for new roles or a complete change of career.

All of the above adds up. At a time when many employers are gearing up to welcome their employees back to the office, many of them just don’t want to return.

So, what can employers do?

Create ways of working employees want: Research from Slack found only 12% of global knowledge workers would like to work at the office all the time, while 72% expressed a preference for a hybrid remote-office model. So, embrace employee demand – instead of fighting it. Don’t ask when employees would like to come back to the office (as if there’s no other option), ask them what kind of work model they would like. Adapt, offer more flexibility and take the best bits of what worked while remote working and build it into a new hybrid culture.

Don’t take anything back: It’s human nature, people get very used to what they like, and they don’t want to give it back. There are some hardball employers out there, expecting the world to go back to what it was. Don’t be one of them or your Gen Z workers will be the first out of the door. If flexible working has been popular, use it as a retention tool, and build a model where people can remain working this way, building in onsite meet-ups to mix in physical contact to strengthen relationships.

Adjust your employer brand comms: Do your brand messages, and careers website reflect where you are now, rather than what it was like 2 years ago? They need to. Look like the kind of place – or way of working – that attracts those wanting a hybrid work balance. Reflect your diversity and help attract those groups that feel more comfortable in a diverse organisation. Talk about how you unite teams remotely, mix it with team days and support flexibility. Your employer brand communications should now be about how you work and what you do – rather than where you are based. Your physical location is of less interest than culture, values and what it is we feel a part of. Which brings us to:

Refocus on your purpose, culture and values: The past year has made many people re-evaluate the purpose behind the roles they do. So, being able to identify your purpose and values as an organisation is a very powerful employer proposition, particularly now. As well as helping to remind your existing people why they joined, your values and purpose also create the basis for some equally powerful recruitment messages. This is just as long as these values are genuinely lived and breathed by the organisation and its management.

Hire for best fit to your values and the way you work: Not every role demands the ideal candidate that ticks every box on a person spec. With so many open roles – and choice for good candidates, there’s a strong case for some flexibility in your criteria, especially if your culture is migrating to a hybrid model. Hire for culture fit to your values and culture and train in any technical skills needed afterwards. If growing numbers of candidates are looking for new work patterns, your recruitment process needs to reflect this.

Focus line managers on building relationships: Your line managers are the glue that builds (or loses) employee engagement. Their dialogue with employees needs to listen to what they’ve been through, and demonstrate more empathy than many may have been used to – or indeed are comfortable with. Your colleagues experience your employer brand in many ways via their line manager, when their approach falls short we often hear that saying ‘you join an organisation but resign from a line manager’. At a time of higher turnover, line managers also need to discuss issues that help retain – such as career paths, training and development opportunities.

Communicate, communicate – and engage: It is likely that bringing your people back in to a different way of working – such as hybrid working – will be harder to manage than when you had everyone at home. In many cases it’s just to soon to know what your future work model if going to look and feel like. Transparency is the best policy. Be open that It won’t be a quick fix but you are working on it – and you welcome employees ideas. Engage them in the process.

In conclusion

The drivers behind the ‘great resignation’ would seem to be that employees have come to greatly value choice and flexibility. The organisations that expect a swift return to how it was, pre-pandemic, and make no change in their employee value proposition will soon find themselves with an employer brand that repels rather than attracts and retains. Likewise, those organisations that fail to re-engage with their employees and effectively re-board them to what the business stands for, will also risk a growing disconnect.

At a time of record vacancies, more than ever it’s a time to focus the employer brand on building a business that people want to work for – in whatever shape that may take. Otherwise, the global workforce has itchy feet and many will simply choose to take their talent elsewhere.

For further information

If you feel that you’d like some help, support or even a little chat around your employer brand, just drop me a line. After all, much of our best work has started with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a Zoom call.

Photo by kate.sade on Unsplash