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Are UK businesses about to experience the great resignation?

6 Oct 2021 By Lindsay Kohler

The pandemic has made a lot of people evaluate what they want from their lives, including their jobs and careers, says Lindsay Kohler

It’s often a major event or trauma that leads us to reevaluate what we want from our lives. These major events don’t tend to happen to lots of people at the same time, but when we are faced with a pandemic, suddenly millions of people are left with the same feelings and asking themselves the same questions.

What we want from our personal relationships, our ambitions or our career are often the first areas to be looked at.

The pandemic separated us all from many of the things we love – travel, friends, family. Those also happen to be the things that may mask any dissatisfaction we feel with our work. Collectively, people in the UK and all over the world have gone through and are still going through what is ultimately a traumatic experience. It has flicked a switch in our minds to think about where we are and what we want – leading many to question their current role. 

A recent study by Personio, found that almost two in five employees in the UK are considering quitting their job, so is now the time for businesses to start preparing for the great resignation?

Providing a purpose

The key behavioural element at play here is a sense of loss. In general, there’s a feeling that people have lost a year of their life, which leads them to thinking ‘there’s got to be something more,’ or ‘I want something more’. 

There’s been so much uncertainty during the last 18 months and people have felt out of control of what’s going on around them. So where can they exert control? Their job and how they make money. I think this is why many people will see their job as the first place to reevaluate and make a change.

For UK businesses, recovery is key to growing out of the pandemic, yet plans could be hampered if key talent decide to look elsewhere. We have already been working closely with businesses to ensure they double down on purpose to help encourage people to progress their career where they are.

Purpose-led organisations will have a retention advantage over those that aren’t. If employees are brought into the collective purpose of the business, they are much more likely to be loyal and happy. Of course, there are many factors that can influence when someone is thinking about finding a new opportunity, but it’s not just about pay rises and perks. Culture is so important, and businesses have a real challenge right now in understanding how the pandemic has impacted their own culture.

Hybrid working has changed how teams work, and changed their identity as a community. It’s up to businesses to understand those changes, how they’ve impacted their culture and what it means for attracting and retaining the best people. 

Creating a connection 

Once business leaders understand their culture, they can leverage that to help people feel connected to a collective company purpose as well as to each other – creating an enjoyable day-to-day experience. It’s about a sense of fulfillment and many people in the UK don’t feel fulfilled at work, whether that’s down to a lack of appreciation, poor management, a disconnect with the culture or a mix of all these things. People want to be passionate about their work.

I also think the impact of the pandemic on the way we work is playing a part. I’ve already mentioned the possible effect of hybrid working on culture within businesses, but also, those employers who don’t offer flexible working or don’t allow their teams to work the way they want to going forward may find it hard to retain top talent. They will look for that flexibility elsewhere if they have to, and there’s already many stories online where teams have been promised flexible working then had it taken away and thus are now moving on. 

Businesses need to carefully consider their people strategies moving forward, including what they and their people want the culture to be, how the culture will work in a hybrid working world and how teams embody it every day. The businesses who get that right are less likely to be affected by the great resignation and will be able to retain and attract the best people to work with. 

Lindsay Kohler is lead behavioural scientist at scarlettabbott, an employee engagement consultancy

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