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Could Technology Halt the Great Resignation Wave?

Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve gained a lot of experience in HR and seen many things… I’ve worked for small to midsize companies my whole career and I even ran my own HR consulting practice. During the Great Recession of a decade or so ago, I was recruiting for hard-to-fill tech positions. But I’ve never seen anything quite like the Great Resignation ongoing now.

As the head of HR here at Shield, we’ve grown quickly to keep up with customer demand and fuel from our rapid growth, and I allow myself to say we’ve performed pretty well. But there are a lot of challenges ahead of us. As I work for a tech company, I’ve been wondering if tech can halt the Great Resignation wave.

An estimated one in four employees quit their jobs in 2021. That’s an astonishing number. This massive exodus caught most people off-guard, except Professor Anthony Klotz at Texas A&M University. Resignations are his specialty and he predicted this. For the rest of us, particularly in HR, 25% staff turnover in a very short period has consequence – grave consequences for some businesses. And, for many people, the pandemic created an existential crisis in figuring out what they want out of life and work, and how to balance both.

Essentially everyone on the planet (except maybe one person) didn’t see this coming. During the first months of the pandemic, our focus was on keeping the business stable. People were holding on to any job they had and were mainly thankful for keeping their livelihood. I think that at some point we lost touch with the market and didn’t realize the pandemic caused people to let go of old perceptions and adopt new ones. We’re all trying to get our heads wrapped around the reasons why so that those of us in HR can begin repopulating the positions left vacant. When we look closely at the data, there is one thing that isn’t surprising: women quit more often than men. In fact, the number of women in the workplace is currently at a rate so low that we haven’t seen these numbers for 30 years.

The reasons are quite clear. The pay gap has been holding steady (in the USA) at around 84% for the last 20 years. With men typically earning more, women often give up their jobs to assume primary responsibility for the child – and eldercare. When employers began demanding that people find childcare “or else,” employees responded by exiting stage left. Some wanted to exit anyway, but many had to.

If employers had used technology, like sentiment analysis of digital conversations, these losses were likely predictable.

When a woman leaves a company, there is a pronounced ripple effect. Women are recognized for (in general) having slightly higher emotional intelligence which makes us slightly better at forging relationships. That can go a long way toward corporate culture versus dysfunction in an organization. There’s also the issue of quotas and optics. Say you’re an engineering firm or an IT services company and one of the two women employed with your firm quit. The woman left behind is going to experience greater pressure. Once a woman leaves the workforce, it takes an average of two years to find employment and less than 30% find a full-time comparable job.

The employer’s optics around a percentage of women employed falls sharply (50%) and exacerbates the challenges of finding a replacement. HR is going to struggle to find another woman (particularly a woman of color) to fill that vacancy. Here’s another opportunity for a tech-enabled solution: analyze the e-Communications amongst workers to establish how the employees who identify as women are feeling, what’s been said to them, and what they are saying to each other. Perhaps doing so could deduce the potential risk for quitting; maybe even deduce the reason(s) why.

On the topic of reasons why, Prof. Klotz, a psychologist, identified four drivers behind last year’s “big quit.” One, there was a backlog of resignations (an estimated 3.7 million people were expected to quit in 2020 but hung on given the unfolding uncertainty of the pandemic). Two heightened burnout. For years now, the blurred lines of work and home with an “always-on” culture have been taking their toll: the pandemic simply tipped the scales. Three, the “pandemic epiphany” has collectively shifted our ideology around work, how we define ourselves, and prompted us to ask ourselves existential questions about what we value and what our purpose in this life is. Fourth, and finally, a surprising number of employees who began working from home embraced the remote culture and do not want to return to the office.

Another study identified the key reasons why people quit their jobs since the pandemic began. The top reasons are all related to flexibility and knowing you’re worth.

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Source: HiBob and Fiverr 2021 study on how the Great Resignation is reshaping the workforce.

Short of suggesting that you consider sentiment analysis in your employees’ digital communications or incorporating another technology to explore what employees want but aren’t getting out of their jobs, here are a few ideas on how to slow down the Great Resignation.

  • Flexibility isn’t limited to working from home or not. Office hours and which days to work in the office are obvious offshoots of this premise. But the ability to flex up or down according to personal demands is emerging as a new benefit that can help stem the tide of loss, not only for female employees.
  • Succession planning is a big deal. People want to move up. They want to be valued for the work they do and the contributions they’ve made. Analytics can help you develop tailored retention plans so that you can figure out which cohort is leaving – and why – and at what rates versus other cohorts.
  • Not burning bridges is an old-school theme that may be more relevant today than ever before. The “boomerang” effect is already happening. People that retired are coming back into the workforce out of financial need – or boredom. Some employees that left a company for whatever reason are calling their former employers and asking for consulting or part-time work, and even asking for their old jobs back.
  • We also need to nip stigma in the bud. In this “zoom era” of work, we’ve grown accustomed to the sounds of dogs barking and babies crying. It’s now a natural part of our day. Those unexpected interruptions don’t equate with poor work ethics or irresponsibility. This means that those of us in the office need to appreciate why our colleagues are working from home, and not stigmatize it. In fact, we need to support it.

Businesses – HR leaders in particular – need to find ways to halt the Great Resignation. Our collective losses as individuals and as organizations are impossible to tally. HR talent, ironically, is now the most difficult talent to replace because HR is burnt out trying to manage the complexities of health, wellness, and employment in the pandemic. Not to mention overrun with the increasing practice of ghosting by new hires. Anywhere that we can embrace technology or training behooves us. Something to think about….


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