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Over the past few months there has been a lot of discussion in the media, and on social media about the ‘Great Resignation’: a swathe of people leaving the workforce en-masse because of arguably the most challenging 18 months that many have ever experienced.

However, before we get swept up in the hype, let’s just take a moment to stop.

It’s certainly true that the United States has seen higher than usual numbers of people leaving the workforce over the past few months, with a record number of resignations in August alone. Although we’re to believe that this trend will inevitably occur in Australia as we slowly emerge from the clutches of long drawn-out lockdowns and a lock-in, the fact is we just don’t know. That data is not yet available.

 

What we do know though, is that according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the 12 months preceding February 2021, we saw a lower-than-normal resignation rate, likely caused by an ongoing economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

 

So, while we may see an increase in resignations over the next 3 months, I am holding my breath until there’s something more than a headline.

 

What is undeniable though is the trend towards people (women and men) changing tact in their work lives. As coined in a recent AFR article, rather than a great resignation, what we could anticipate is more of a ‘great realignment’.

 

In my day-to-day I work with women who are looking for support with their own personal and professional development. As we already know, women have been more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, more likely to have taken on most of the home-schooling responsibilities, more likely to have taken on caring for elderly family members, and more likely to have experienced blurred lines between work and home.

 

It is not surprising then, that many women, feeling exhausted, are re-evaluating their roles and work lives. Many women I have worked with over the past few months are taking a step back and asking: is this job really fulfilling me? Do I really need to work 5 days a week? Do I want to return to the office? Am I getting the development opportunities I need? Do I have enough time for myself, my family, my hobbies?

 

Any of these questions sound familiar?

 

So, what can we do?

 

As an organisation, the time to act is now if you don’t want staff to leave, because they think that role re-design, taking a sideways step, or flexibility is not an option.

 

Step one: make sure the lines of communication between managers and staff are open, clear, and honest. This means building trust and vulnerability to allow staff to say what they really think and feel in those weekly, fortnightly, or monthly catchups.

 

If your organisation already has regular ‘performance reviews’ in place – great! If possible, bring that meeting forward to before the December break. This will give you a chance to acknowledge, reassure, and offer support to those staff who have faced multiple challenges this year, and set the stage for further, collaborative conversations about the future. Suggest to staff who are thinking about a change that they reflect over the break, and come back in January with a proposal on how they would see a newly-shaped role working in the new year.

 

Step two: watch your language! Posts and comments like ‘how to manage getting staff back to work’, ‘What is your return-to-work policy’… could put those who are already considering a move, offside. Given many people have worked harder in the last 18 months than they potentially have in the past 5 years, the phrase ‘return to work’ might be triggering. Phrases like this also include an underlying assumption that your staff will want to return to the office so make sure you take this into consideration when communicating with the broader team.

 

Final step: purpose is power. Having a clear strategy for your business for the next 12 months, including the resources you need to achieve your goals, will make any discussions around role flexibility 100x times easier. You’ll know instinctively whether any changes will fit into the plan, and what you’ll need to do to make potential new roles work.

 

And if you’re the staff member looking for a change?

 

First, I would advise anyone thinking of leaving their current role to sit down and do an in-depth values elicitation process (we can help with this!) particularly around exploring your values at work. Spend some time deep thinking about what is most important to you, and where your current role, team, or organisation may not match your needs or align with your values.

 

Developing your own personal strategy map – a tangible, practical document that helps you understand where you might be making unconscious trade-offs – is incredibly important. Get in touch, we can help!

 

Second, don’t jump ship before you have really thought about what it is that is driving your decision; is it really a new organisation with new people and ideas you are seeking, OR do you need a break to refresh? Do you need to quit your job to pursue a new avenue, OR can you re-arrange your current role so that you have more time at home or to spend on that creative project you started in lockdown?

 

And last, a simple and effective exercise you can do before considering a move. Write a pros and pro’s list, rather than  pros and cons list, outlining the pros of staying where you are, and the pros of leaving.

 

For both parties, the recruitment process is long, tiring and often expensive, so before you hand that resignation in make sure you explore all the options.

 

So, whether it’s the Great Resignation or the Great Realignment we are facing over the next few months, there are plenty of ways you can prepare for change, either as an employer or an employee.

 

Emily Markwell
National Program Manager, Compass

 

Need more support, get in touch! Our Compass Program for women can help you gain clarity and support in making conscious choices. Our coaching experts can support you, your team, or organisation through the important career transitions ahead. Or talk to our consulting team, who work with senior leaders to help build cultures and teams that makes people want to stay. Email info@dattnergroup.com.au for an obligation free chat.