How to keep your employees from joining the ‘Great Resignation’

Companies must work hard to keep their staffers happy because there have never been so many people ready to leave their jobs.

Last week, when I wrote about the “Great Resignation,” I knew things were already bad. I mean, Gallup analysts reported almost half of America’s workers were looking for new jobs. I thought most of them were in lower-end jobs. I was wrong.

According to another recent worker survey, this one by Dice, the technology job site, almost half, 48%, of employees said they are likely to find a new job…in 2021. In other words, if you want to keep your top techies, you have little time.

I’ve also learned since I wrote that piece, that friends of mine who are senior staffers at Apple, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Red Hat, Cloud Foundry, and other firms have all left their jobs. This is not some hyped-up news story. This is no drill. People are literally walking away from their jobs.

To quote a colleague, “I have never seen a job market for technical people like this. I’ve heard the same from CEOs and private-equity firms.”

And so have I.

That being the case, what can you do? Start by talking to your workers. Don’t push this over to HR. Take time from your day—a lot of time, if necessary—and have one-on-one conversations with your crew. Have your people talk to their people. 

Ask them: “What's bugging you? What changes would you like to see with your jobs? What can I do to make you happier?” You need to know what your employees are thinking, what they care about, and what they’re concerned about.

Don’t go into these conversations with preconceived ideas. Listen closely. If you find common themes, note them, and act as soon as possible.

For example, if everyone’s telling you that they feel overworked, you’d better get to hiring as quickly as you can. If you can’t do that, bite the bullet and cut hours anyway. It’s better to have the folks who are still on the job rested and able to cope rather than burnt out.

I recently spoke to a workaholic boss who insisted that since he worked 70 hours per week, the rest of his troops wouldn’t mind working 60 hours per week (even though the company had already lost some employees). Yeah, I told him his employees may not see it the same way. He ignored me.

I wasn’t surprised when last week he texted me to complain that yet another staffer had just walked off the job.

I know some people insist even now that the good old work-til-you-drop routine is the American way. Please. The 1990s are calling and want their job ethic back.

Yes, some people respond well to 12- to 14-hour days until the project is done. But not every project is mission-critical, and not every startup will turn into a billion-dollar unicorn. People have wised up. And now, when you demand a lot, they’re more likely to walk.

You should also let your employees talk to each other. I cannot believe, for example, that Apple recently blocked a pay equity Slack channel. Do you know what happens when you tell employees to shut up? They talk behind your back, and grow hostile, and then quit. Let them talk. Let them vent. When you block a steam kettle so the steam can’t get out, eventually, it blows up.

You’ll also find that many workers like the new normal of working from home. I’ve been preaching for a while now that many employees will never want to return to the office. With the ongoing COVID-19 Delta variant still raging, fewer people than ever want to go back to the office park.

Indeed, here’s a quick prediction. As I write this in early September, schools are still trying to get kids back into classrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that more than half a million children tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. between  Aug. 5 and Aug. 26. More than 200,000 of those cases were reported between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26. Do you think schools are going to stay open for much longer? I expect most public schools to shut their doors by the end of September, which means workers will need to be at home.

Get over it; tell your employees that they can keep working from home for at least the rest of the year. If you tell them they can’t, they’ll quit. And I can’t blame them.

Let me sum this up for you. Right now, for the first time in generations, companies need workers more than workers need jobs. People know they can get a better job, or at least a different one, tomorrow. If you want your business to survive, the only way you can make it is by putting their concerns and well-being higher than ever.

Do that and all will be, if not well, at least a heck of a lot better than it could be.

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