The Emotions and Reality of the “Resignation Nation”

What are employers to think about the developing "Resignation Nation" consultants are talking about more frequently, and how does this affect your ability to stay union-free? Positive employee relations result from a formula of employer caring for plus responsiveness to employees and were having a positive impact. Employee engagement levels were rising before the pandemic hit, per Gallup. So, the question remains, how are employers supposed to appropriately acknowledge and deal with this information?

There is an acknowledged labor shortage, and thus a more competitive labor market, so significant numbers of employees wanting to change their job could be a severe problem for employers. There are many reasons why people want to change careers, including new generations of workers having different perspectives about work compared to older generations, especially about things like personal happiness, flexible work schedules, and mental health. Add the fact the emotional level has gone up several notches since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and the formula for employee retention gets more complex, presenting significant leadership challenges

However, the Union Proof and A Better Leader teams at Projections, Inc. firmly believe your organization doesn't necessarily have to be among the "Resignation Nation." You can avoid unionization by enhancing leadership skills and attention to the organization's emotional culture and mental well-being of employees, and the physical well-being of employees.   

The Statistics Around Resignation

The statistics on the surface look grim. It's easy to just look at the statistics and get discouraged, like the statistics found in the Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index report, for example. Yet, behind every statistic is a story. At Projections, Inc., our experts say the story behind the statistics is this: There are clear pathways for avoiding the
"Resignation Nation" and staying union-free.   

But first, consider some of the statistics. 

  • 41 percent of the global workforce is considering changing jobs by the end of the year 
  • 73 percent of workers want flexible remote work options 
  • 67 percent are craving more in-person time spent with their team members 
  • 42 percent say they still lack office essentials 
  • 42 percent say their employer helps with remote work expenses 
  • 66 percent of leaders are considering redesigning workspace for hybrid work 
  • 37 percent of workers say their leaders are asking too much of them  
  • 62 percent of team calls and meetings are unscheduled or conducted ad hoc, and digital communication (chat, email, meetings, etc.) is creating work overload 

Gen Z (ages 18-25) needs attention. Many are joining the workforce as it transforms, which makes adaptability more difficult. They also feel their youth in that they say they have difficulty bringing new ideas to the table or being heard during meetings. 

Improvements Are Still Taking Place, Despite Resignation

Now the good news statistics. The U.S. Department of Labor issues a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, and it indicates improvements are taking place as businesses fully reopen.  

  • The quits level and rate decreased to 2.5 percent and 3.6 million people for May 2021 compared to the prior month.  
  • Over the 12 months ending May 2021, there was a net employment gain of 8.2 million people. 
  • The quits rate for businesses with more than 50 employees decreased in May 2021 
  • Total separations (resignations, layoffs, terminations) fell from 5.8 million in April 2021 to 4.6 million in May. 

One of the dangers of the statistics sounding the alarm concerning voluntary turnover is that the economy is still not in full swing after the pandemic shutdown. A variety of surveys are finding a wide range of statistics, and it's essential to understand the people included. 

For example, Microsoft's found 41 percent of employees want to change jobs, but the survey was global. A Prudential Financial's Pulse of the American Worker found 26 percent of employees in the U.S. are planning on changing jobs once the pandemic becomes a less volatile issue. The rate is still too high, but certainly not as alarming as 40 percent, and workable through employer interventions. One thing you can count on, though, is the labor unions running with only the most negative numbers they can quote.  

Case Example: Restaurant Industry  

Additional research in the restaurant industry indicates the toll the pandemic has taken on some employers and employees. Many workers were laid off during the pandemic, and many resignations occurred because they found new jobs, decided to stay home with the children, or moved. Now people are quitting during their shifts, further driving the Resignation Nation talking point. In many cases, it's not due to anything the employer has done or not done. The customers are frustrated and often vocally abusive over issues like meal wait times and mask policies. We live in an "instant serve" culture, largely due to instant access to information, products and services ordering, fast food businesses, etc. Impatience is common.  

An employer at Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona, tackled the issue by implementing a plan to address employee needs. He increased wages and now offers health benefits and flexible hours. Clearly, though, you must be willing to step in when customers treat your staff poorly and have clear policies on acceptable employee responses, whether it's a customer service representative or a waiter/waitress. It's the emotional aspect of jobs that is so challenging in the workplace.   

Paying attention to the emotional level in the workforce is critical, even when the team is remote. The Microsoft report found that 17 percent of workers cried with a coworker. Black and Latino workers in the U.S. said they have difficulties building relationships with their team, feeling included, and bringing authentic selves to work. Jared Spataro, CCVP at Microsoft 365, says, "Before the pandemic, we encouraged people to 'bring their whole self to work,' but it was tough to truly empower them to do that. The shared vulnerability of this time has given us a huge opportunity to bring real authenticity to company culture and transform work for the better." Feelings of inclusion and belonging are emotional issues. 

Addressing Emotions to Increase Employee Retention

It's interesting to realize that many expert suggestions for avoiding becoming a part of the Resignation Nation center on emotional issues. Some leaders are simply not prepared to deal with the high level of emotions impacting employees. Following are some suggestions that could help your employees better cope with the emotional turmoil, reduce resignations and turnover, and stay union-free.

resignation emotions

Address Employee Burnout

Researchers have studied employee burnout for decades and conclude it's a significant contributor to greater absenteeism, lower performance, and voluntary turnover. Recognizing your employee's mental health needs is crucial because they want to know their managers and supervisors understand and will help in any way possible through actions like shifting workloads, directing them to supportive resources, and flexible scheduling.

This is also an element of emotion because employees experiencing burnout aren't happy, eroding positive employee relations and trust in leadership. Some companies are extending remote work into 2022. George Penn, VP of Gartner HR practice, recommends employers make sure their decision clearly communicates what the decision was based on.  

Recognizing your employee's #mentalhealth needs is crucial -- they want to know their managers understand and will help in any way possible. You can do this through things like shifting workloads, directing them to supportive resources, and #flexible scheduling. #workplacewellbeing

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Recognize a Variety of Remote Worker Issues

Some remote workers want to return to the office or other job location. In contrast, others are distressed that they are being forced to return. This is a tough challenge because you must balance what's best for the employee and the company. Ordering people back to the office or job location when they want a hybrid schedule will lead to discontent and higher turnover. The Prudential survey mentioned in the preceding section found that half of the people working remotely will look for another job if they aren't allowed remote-work options long-term.  

Some consultants ask a question you should thoughtfully consider. If remote workers are performing well, is it really necessary to force them to return onsite? For some employers, the answer is "yes," but not for all employers. The important point is to have a basis for your decision and not simply revert back to the "old normal." 

Focus on Well-Being and Happiness

Researchers have often found that people pursue two goals: happiness and meaning. Work is a significant element of life in general, meaning a job is more than a job. It should contribute to an employee's happiness and have meaning.

Work is a significant element of life, and that means a job is more than a job. It should contribute to an employee's happiness and have meaning. Think of the whole employee experience. #employeeretention #workplacehealth #mentalhealth

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In a real-world example, a staff member visited a restaurant and found new procedures in place for customers. The restaurant owner had creatively found a way to reduce staff stress and workload while understaffed and still keep customers happy. Customers order at a counter and are given a number to take to their table. They get their coffee or other drinks. A waiter/waitress brings the food to the table when it's ready. There were no dissatisfied customers, and the staff was smiling because their workload was normalized despite understaffing. There are many ways to increase employee happiness during times of stress. 

Anthony Klotz, Associate Professor of Management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, recommends taking a more personalized approach with employees. He suggests holding one-on-one conversations to talk about well-being and the possibilities for re-crafting jobs to increase happiness and meaning. Klotz is talking about active listening, in which two people really listen to and consider what each is saying and provide feedback. 

Strengthen Mental Health Policies and Support

Employees continue to worry about getting sick from COVID. They want to know they are not being forced into situations for the sake of the bottom line. Biases concerning mental health still exist in workplaces. A McKinsey survey found that fewer than 1-out-of-10 employees say their workplace is free of the stigma on mental or substance-abuse disorders, so they don't seek help.

As people return to onsite work, it's important to recognize the impact on the mental health of remote and onsite workers. Dynamics will change. All employees will have concerns about safety, work schedules, work adjustments (again), and family issues. McKinsey recommends employers design strategies that account for the employees' varying mental health needs and communicate the policies early and clearly.  

Leaders can also communicate a belief that positive and negative mental health impacts are valid. They can allow employees some trial, flexible work schedules, reinforce safety measures taken, and ensure policies are non-discriminatory. It's critical to train your leaders on maintaining healthy attitudes towards mental health. These are major strategies for staying union-free because employees will look to their leaders instead of unions for help.

Have Regular, Open Dialogue

This is a catch-all strategy because each workforce is unique. You want to make sure you have an open dialogue with your employees on any topic they want to discuss. It could be about mental health, remote work, flexible scheduling, labor unions, workloads, company policies, or general discontent. Don't wait for employees to ask about issues.

Lindsay Lagreid, Senior Advisor at the Limeade Institute, encourages employers to take the initiative and ask for employee feedback. A Limeade Institute survey found that 56 percent of employees say their employer never asked for input on topics like return-to-workplace policies and procedures. It's a formula for unionization. 

culture of connectedness

Company Culture of Connectedness

Every organization has an emotional culture, say management experts writing for the Harvard Business Review, that is often overlooked. Most people talk about cognitive culture, which consists of the shared intellectual values, norms, and assumptions for the workforce, driving how employees think and behave at work.  

The emotional culture is the shared affective values and assumptions guiding the emotions employees have and express versus suppress at work. The emotional culture plays a significant role in employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, absenteeism, and more. One of the reasons labor unions try to create a negative emotional culture among employees is because it's so important to workplace satisfaction. They don't want employees feeling satisfied because they can't grow membership with satisfied employees.  

Too many leaders shy away from understanding and actively managing how employees feel and express emotions in the workplace or believe it is not something they should get involved in. Your leaders have a huge impact on the emotional culture, i.e., the supervisor always looks angry, so the staff feels angry too.

Fostering Joy and Taking a Holistic Approach

The management experts shared a story about Cisco Finance. The company surveyed employees and learned management needed to foster joy as a priority. The survey didn't ask employees how they felt at work. It asked what emotions employees saw coworkers expressing. It was joy that was needed to maintain employee engagement, so management made joy a cultural value and called it "Pause for Fun." 

There are two points to keep in mind. One is that shared goals are crucial to a culture of engagement. Second, the frontline managers and supervisors have the most influence on culture – cognitive culture and emotional culture. Leadership training should embrace these two points, so you don't have gaps in your organization concerning culture development and management. Furthermore, taking a holistic approach to the employee experience, or a comprehensive strategy to support the whole employee, can have a profound impact on engagement, retention, and overall business success.

Also, your leaders need to make sure they connect with remote workers as often as onsite employees. Since remote workers are not face-to-face, they are sometimes overlooked. Make sure the supervisors who have the most direct contact with employees are included in the training to detect the signals of employee anxiety, stress, or distress. Employers can schedule video calls, for example, to detect stress. They include facial cues and things like a drop in productivity or missing deadlines, for example.  

Addressing Employee Emotions to Avoid the Resignation Nation

There has been an increase in emotional distress for all employees, from high-paid tech workers to frontline restaurant employees and CEOs to supervisors. This is certainly an opening for labor unions unless you realize the workplace of the future is already here and requires new leadership skills and approaches. It's also important to be wary of statistics cherry-picked to purposely present a problem. The "Resignation Nation" may seem real at this point, but until the pandemic plays out and the economy is fully reopened, there is simply no way to know for sure if the problematic statistics are a trend. 

But this is not the time to indulge in wait-and-see. The time to address the new normal is now, during the gap period between total lockdown and the reopening process. Directly addressing employee emotions is a path to higher retention and staying union-free. At Projections, we are honored to be able to provide expert resources for customized training for your leaders on picking up on subtle clues of employee distress and responses to emotional turmoil among employees. Schedule a demo today with the most effective online labor relations training for your leaders and employees.

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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