- Most employees are confident in their organization’s future, but there are a considerable number who don’t intend to be part of it. Employee exits are on the rise.
- Clues to why this trend is occurring can be found in how leaders are handling the closing stages of the pandemic
- For many organizations, it is time to evaluate and mend a fragmented employee experience
Reports that we are about to see a wave of employee departures as the pandemic eases suggest that companies in many industries must take action or brace themselves for significant turnover. In a recent global survey by Dale Carnegie Training, we found that most employees (79%) are confident in their organization’s future, but there are a considerable number who don’t intend to be part of it. In the U.S., for instance, a record number of people left their employers in April and high numbers continue to quit.
Reasons For Post-Pandemic Employee Departures
Some of the departures are easily explained. A number were just delayed due to uncertainty in the first months of pandemic. Early on, many older workers took the opportunity to simply retire a little earlier than planned, reversing a decades-long trend. Some quit to take care of their own health or that of loved ones. Others found the pandemic experience changed their core attitude toward the purpose work has in their lives and are reassessing accordingly. But these explanations don’t fully account for what appears to be a remarkably large group still at work but looking toward their employers’ exits.
Employees Were Generally Satisfied with the Way Leaders Managed the Crisis
When we asked more than 6,500 employees around the world how satisfied they were with the way their organization managed its business and people during the pandemic, 71% said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied”. In our examination of the emotional drivers of employee engagement, we found that since the Covid-19 emergency, a significant number of workers (roughly 4 in 10) actually reported feeling more connected, empowered, valued and appreciated by their leaders and organizations than before (only about 2 in 10 felt less so).
In addition, job satisfaction during the pandemic has been high. As was reported in Forbes in May 2021, “many of the components of employee job satisfaction that companies directly control, such as the health plan, performance review process, flexible time plan, family leave plan, sick leave, and supervisor, significantly improved in 2020” with those changes carrying over into 2021. If all this is true, why are so many considering leaving?
How The Employee Experience Has Evolved
Covid-19 has shattered the “employee experience” that organizations have spent years crafting to attract and retain talented employees. It made aspects of work life easier for some and tougher for others. Those working from home no longer share similar offices or workstations, lunchrooms, or even internet speeds. People in the physical office have had to adapt to virus-driven safety guidelines. Times of stress tend to be revealing. When we asked how well their organization stayed true to its values when making decisions during the Covid-19 emergency, just 62% said “well” or “very well”. Memories of this period will influence people’s feelings about their organization’s culture for some time.
Employees Have Come to Expect Empathy, but Leaders Find It Hard to Sustain
The effects of the pandemic also resulted in empathetic behavior some employees never expected from their leaders: offering to cover the costs for backup childcare, extra sick leave and “hero pay” for front line workers. In India, one CEO announced they would reimburse employees forced to seek oxygen on the black market for family members, without regard to reasonable and customary limits and with no requirement for a receipt. Another committed to cover education costs for the children of its employee who succumbed to the virus.
In fact, research shows that workplace empathy ratings rebounded in 2021 after years of decline. Yet as (what we hope is) the conclusion of the health emergency nears, many CEOs can’t wait to get back to the “old normal” that better suited their own preferences. However, these preferences often conflict with those of many of their employees. Empathy doesn’t come naturally to many senior leaders.
In their 2021 State of Workplace Empathy study, Businessolver reported that this year nearly 7 in 10 leaders admitted they fear they will be less respected if they show empathy in the workplace and about the same number said they struggle to consistently show empathy in their work life. On both points, there were big increases over 2020 suggesting many leaders are finding empathy especially hard to sustain over the long term. It wouldn’t be surprising if employees now feel a sense of betrayal as leaders’ empathy begins to evaporate–while the problems they face themselves remain.
When compelled to by the crisis, companies allowed WFH and communicated more often and clearly, providing a window into an employee experience that some workers didn’t know could exist. Now there are a considerable number who are unwilling to return to a time when company leaders chose to ignore difficult issues such as burnout, childcare, mental health, diversity and inclusion and other challenges of integrating of work with home-life.
Advice For Leaders To Build A Culture Of Empathy
This is a critical time for employee retention. Here’s some advice for leaders:
- Embrace and continue empathetic leadership. If it’s not a strength for you, make the effort to build the skill.
- Actively listen and consider how the employee experience looks now for each employee – and how decisions may once again change it for better or worse.
- Gather good data and use it. Don’t be misled by your own experiences and preferences; doing so may be detrimental to productivity, engagement, and the bottom line.
- Remember that it’s all about expectations – you can’t turn back the clock. Employees know now what they want and it’s up to employers to deliver if they intend to retain top talent.
The pandemic’s effects have been different for each of us. Leaders, too, may need a little extra support. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you and your organization, please contact us.