With the post-pandemic “Great Resignation” upon us, and millions of Americans resigning their jobs after 18 months of hunkering down in fear and uncertainty, what can employers learn from this shift in the world of work?
In August alone 4.3 million people in the US voluntarily left employment, and then figure has hovered around the 4 million mark every month since March.
Having studied the dynamic between organisations and their employees, specifically relating to why people leave their jobs, Anthony Klotz, professor of management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, offered some advice to companies in a conversation with The Independent.
Spend more time thinking about why employees leave
Generally speaking, employers overlook what Mr Klotz describes as the employee “offboarding process”, which he sees as an excellent opportunity to learn about how to improve an organisation.
“When you bring new employees into an organisation, you spend tons of time, energy, and resources onboarding them. When people leave an organisation, any process becomes something of an afterthought,” he notes.
“It can be quite difficult because as a manager or a company, when an employee says they’re quitting, it sort of feels like getting dumped by a significant other. All these negative emotions come into your mind and you just want to move past them as fast as possible,” says Mr Klotz.
He explains that you have to understand the real reason the person is quitting.
“Just like in a romantic relationship, when somebody breaks up with us, they often say it’s not you, it’s me. Well, employees, when they’re quitting, say the same thing. Organisations need to be a little bit more scientific in finding out the real reason,” he says.
Instead of simply having an exit interview where they ask the employee why they’re leaving, he suggests talking to their coworkers and friends at the company who will know their real motivation, which could be useful in making positive changes.
“There’s a good chance they’ll share that with their boss, and if they don’t, they will likely give you some of the ways in which they think the organisation could be improved,” says Mr Klotz. “It’s a great chance to kind of rehire your stayers by talking to them in the wake of someone else leaving.”
Bosses can find out how they might do better, and how the employees that remain can play a part in making that happen.
Track the ways in which employees leave
From an organisational standpoint, Mr Klotz suggests that human resources leaders should put more effort into tracking the ways in which employees leave.
He explains that you may find employees leaving in a positive way from one department in a company, which is a shame, but they are leaving in a way that minimises damage and eases any transition. This reflects well on part of the organisation.
“However, another department may also have people quitting, but they’re walking off the job, they’re ghosting, and they’re burning bridges on the way out. You may be tempted to say that they are bad employees and the people who left positively are good,” says the professor.
“My research suggests otherwise. When you have people who burn bridges on the way out, a reason that they’re doing that is that they’re getting back at a bad manager or they’re getting even for unfair treatment from the company.”
Organisations can learn from this by looking at these two ways in which people resign. If it is a negative experience then that may be a red flag, possibly signalling that there’s abusive supervision going on or that there are unfair practices.
“An organisation is going to keep losing people in this negative way until they solve the root cause,” says Mr Klotz. “What do you think caused them to walk off the job? It’s not that they’re a bad person. It’s something in the company.”
Think about the counteroffer and beyond
Organisations should consider what their counteroffer policy is when someone who is considered a top performer or a genuinely talented asset decides to leave.
While you may be able to convince some to stay through “job crafting” – working out how to customise a role for the benefit of the employee – or simply better remuneration, those that are set on leaving should be treated as well as possible.
This speaks in part to the phenomenon of “boomerang employment” in which now that it is much less taboo for people to leave jobs, it is also not uncommon to return to a previous employer.
From the organisation’s perspective, you also may want to keep a connection with a talented individual.
“It’s kind of cool that more and more companies are doing this, but they are planning the best way for employees to exit the organisation,” explains Mr Klotz. “Imagine, if you will, an employee quitting and it’s one of your best performers and you can’t get them to stay with a counteroffer. And you say to them, listen, I’m going to give you a one-year leave of absence, or six months or two years, so if you go to whatever you’re doing next and you don’t like it, you can come right back and your benefits and your job and everything are right here for you.”
More and more companies are then regularly touching base with former employees to see how things are panning out for them and to let them know there is still interest. Some actively encourage associations of former employees to get together every few months.
Mr Klotz notes that the consulting industry led the way on this because they realised that people who left may someday become their clients and it was in the company’s interest to make sure they left on good terms.
“More organisations could learn from this because, again, this ties back into ‘boomerang employment’ – when you’re hiring employees, what’s really hard to predict is how well they will perform,” explains Mr Klotz. “When hiring employees that used to work for you, you don’t have that question. You have a documented record of what kind of performer they are.”
He adds: “This is such a rich area from which to recruit people. Why not cultivate a group of former employees that become part of your recruiting pool in the future?”
While companies face challenges with employee retention and recruitment during the “great resignation”, employees must think seriously before leaving an organisation. Professor Klotz also shared some thoughts with The Independent about three things you should consider before taking that leap.