Recruitment & Training

Why The Great Resignation Is Really A Great Opportunity

Staying nimble and mastering transformative change in the American workplace

Workplace trends expert Rick Grimaldi says companies should use this time to reinvent themselves in ways that maximize recruitment and retention. 

Hoboken, NJ (April 2022)—People across the country are quitting their jobs in record numbers. If you’re a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly had a tense moment or two wondering, Who’s going to leave my company? But don’t just wring your hands; take decisive action. Workplace trends expert Rick Grimaldi says smart leaders are approaching the Great Resignation as a time to pause, take stock, and really audit their business practices and processes.

“This is the perfect time to ask, ‘What can we be doing better?’” says Grimaldi, author of the new book FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace (Wiley, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-119-79510-0, $28.00) “Not only is this the secret to keeping the people you have, it also gives you the opportunity to attract some of the amazing talent floating around right now.

“People aren’t leaving the workforce altogether,” he adds. “They’re leaving old-school environments that aren’t meeting their needs for those that will. When you shift in ways that create the kind of culture people are drawn to, everyone wins: current employees, talented prospects, and, of course, the company.”

So how do you leverage this opportunity? What do you absolutely have to get right? Grimaldi offers 14 tips for becoming a great place to attract and retain talent.

Ask yourself: Have we flexed?

In a shockingly short amount of time, the employment landscape has changed dramatically. What about your company? Have you evolved to keep up? To answer, you’ll need to audit “what we’ve always done” and ask, “Does this still make sense for a talent base that demands an employee-centric workplace?”

“This has to be a permanent shift,” says Grimaldi. “While there’s a talent squeeze right now, the new employee expectations are the new normal. Make sure leaders understand this reality. Then, honestly ask yourself, What do my employees, current ones and future ones, REALLY want? This is the first step to moving your company in the right direction.”

In general, today’s employees value training and development, the opportunity to collaborate with teams, a sense of meaning in their work, and an affiliation with socially responsible entities. They insist on fairness, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“If any area of your culture is not in alignment with these values, move to fix any glaring problems right away,” advises Grimaldi. “Then get set on making long-term changes that will make you more likely to meet the needs and wants of modern workers and protect you from costly litigation and other issues.”

Once you get a sense of where you are and where you need to improve, ask yourself, Do our leaders need more training?

Do they understand the attitude shifts your company needs to make? Attracting and retaining talent needs to be top of mind for everyone, and that includes leaders at every level.

“Getting employee-centric is about building emotional connections,” says Grimaldi. “If leaders inside your company have no idea how to make and nurture these connections, it may be time to take a hard look at the culture you’ve created. Like it or not, if you’re to win the war on talent, there have to be some changes in the attitudes of your leaders.”

Stay flexible and fluid.

Since the gig economy exploded on the scene, it has reshaped the American workforce. Consider that today, more than one-third of Americans report that they are participating in one way or another, with 49 percent of adults under 35 “gigging it.” The flexible nature of gig work appeals highly to the younger generation. To them, the work/life integration built into the gig economy is not a cool trend but a priority, even a value. And companies competing for Gen Y and Z workers need to bake it into the jobs they offer.

“More and more, workers are demanding flexibility in where they work, how they work, and when they work,” says Grimaldi. “Millennials and Gen Zers in particular value work/life integration. As much as possible, accommodate them. If it works for the position, allow fully remote, hybrid, and flexible arrangements. In light of the Great Resignation, it’s vital to give employees a work life that suits them.”

Understand that it’s not just about WHERE people work; it’s about WHEN and HOW.

Many employees want flexibility to work remotely. Give it to them if at all possible—but be aware that simply transitioning your old practices to Zoom isn’t enough. You need to be truly flexible, and that means giving people the freedom to structure their workday and week in a way that fits into the rest of their lives.

“To the extent that you can, let employees maintain control over when they’re available,” says Grimaldi. “Even if a job can’t realistically be done remotely, people may still be able to tailor hours to their own schedule. For example, they might come in earlier (or later) and leave earlier (or later). This often ensures that their work is done at the most effective times and enables employees to fulfill family obligations without interfering with their working hours.”

When hiring, focus on skills, not academic histories.

For decades, companies have prioritized candidates’ educational backgrounds: the schools they went to, the degree they earned, the grades they made. Now there’s a huge shift underway. More and more, employers are hiring based on skill set instead of academic pedigree. This makes perfect sense in a rapidly changing workplace where frequent disruption is a given and in-demand skills are constantly changing. This recruitment approach also makes it easier to build a more diverse workforce.

“Hire for the skills you need in the moment and develop them based on how your needs evolve,” advises Grimaldi. “Just don’t try to lock employees down in the same role long term. Let their talents and interests drive their skill development. It should go without saying, but try to hire people who are excited about learning and growing—education is a lifelong journey now.”

Put relationships at the top of your to-do list.

Relationships have always been important, but they matter now more than ever. Get intentional about building strong relationships with your team. But don’t stop with the manager/employee relationship, says Grimaldi.

“People always say that employees ‘leave bosses,’ but that’s not the whole story,” he says. “People don’t just leave jobs and bosses. They also leave coworkers and others in the organization. You have to pay attention to ALL relationships in the workplace.”

Get intentional about knowing your people.

Of course managers need to know employees’ goals, strengths, and other work-related factors. Hopefully that’s a given. But they should also know their birthdays, who their kids are, and where they like to go on vacation. This requires regular human connections, and they aren’t going to “just happen.” You need to make it happen by holding people accountable and creating the right environment.

Getting employee-centric is about building emotional connections. If leaders inside your company have no idea how to make and nurture these connections, it may be time to take a hard look at the culture you’ve created...

“There is a resurgence of the old ‘management by walking around’ method happening even on factory floors,” says Grimaldi. “When you schedule time to do this, and also make a point of having regular face-to-face meetings with employees that go beyond performance reviews, a lot of things will change.” This can be challenging with remote workers, but with a few extra steps by managers, it can be done successfully.

Start a real dialogue and be open to what they’re saying.

Don’t just send out questionnaires or use a passive “feedback box.” Talk to people one-on-one and give them the freedom to give you hard feedback. Proactively ask questions about their well-being. Are they happy? Why or why not? What can you do to keep them around? The answers may surprise you. The more you involve people in running the company, and the fewer surprises there are, the happier they’ll be.

“One-on-one conversations can help you get a sense of where people are coming from,” says Grimaldi. “You can learn who is burned out, who might be planning to leave, and who has new ideas around the future of work in the post-COVID era. It’s a great way to take people’s temperature and work together to find solutions to make the transition back easier on everyone.”

Make employee well-being a top priority.

This means checking in with people. Don’t wait on yearly assessments; now we do what’s called a pulse check. When times are tough, we always need to know how people are doing on a daily basis. Mental health issues are no longer in the closet. They can’t be, in a time when so many have moved past stress and into trauma territory.

“Companies are realizing that psychological well-being impacts not just engagement, but also productivity, performance, and every aspect of culture,” says Grimaldi. “Do everything you can to promote employee well-being. Keep an eye on this issue as you design benefits, career tracks, and work arrangements. And destigmatize mental health issues. It has to be okay to ask for help.”

Create a culture where everyone belongs.

For the first time, beginning in 2019, the majority of American hires in their prime—ages 25-54—were people of color. Also, for the first time in 2019, women made up the majority of the college-educated workforce. And the 66 million working women today are expected to grow to 92 million by 2050. Though immigrants make up just 18 percent of the workforce over age 25 in the U.S. today, they obtain 28 percent of high-quality patents. They’re also more likely to be recognized as Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, medicine, and physiology.

“We know diversity and inclusion are important,” says Grimaldi. “But organizations that want to thrive go further: They work toward what DEI expert Tristan Higgins calls metaclusivity©. In other words, they cultivate a true sense of belonging. Feeling that they belong is what gets people engaged and allows them to do their best work.”

Keep people fulfilled by getting reward and recognition right.

Regular reward and recognition for a job well done helps keep people fulfilled and engaged. Doing this right means recognizing things in the moment.

“It’s not about a big yearly ceremony or a group thank-you; it’s more about individual efforts,” says Grimaldi. “It’s about noticing when people do something positive and recognizing them the way they want to be recognized. In this way, you help to constantly refill their cup.”

Carefully manage the onboarding process.

Know that people often make decisions to stay or leave in the early days of their job. In a staff crunch, every single hire really counts. It’s vital to check in immediately and see how things are going—and to stay in touch as time goes by.

Make sure you manage goodbyes well.

In the new gig economy, people are going to leave and come back. And even if they don’t come back, chances are good that they know lots of other people who might be a good fit, and will tell them how you treated them. The last thing you want to do is burn any bridges (with good employees).

With a few exceptions, drop outdated NO REHIRE policies and see what you can do to help with the transition. Remember, it is just business, not personal.

Embrace inter-generational differences and bridge the gap between young and older workers.

Research shows multigenerational companies do well in performance and productivity. It makes sense: A blend of different ages means you get more diverse perspectives and a synergy that gives you a competitive edge. You can also leverage the gifts of different age groups to boost engagement. To do so, Grimaldi suggests setting up a bi-directional mentoring program.

“We know Gen Y and Zers crave development,” says Grimaldi. “Well, you’ve got these seasoned employees who could share their expertise with those less experienced. And reverse mentoring is a big trend now too: How better to engage Gen Y and Z employees than to get them involved in working with boomer employees on the latest innovations in technology or social media?”

Another key to creating a strong multi-generational company is to learn what truly motivates your employees.

“Leaders might think all millennials and Gen Zers care about is money, but maybe it’s because that’s all we’re offering them,” says Grimaldi. “Research shows that they really want a sense of fit and ‘skin in the game.’ We need to do the work of getting to know them and developing them. Make sure they know where the advancement opportunities are. When we make the effort to give younger employees what they really need, we’ll usually find they’re huge assets to us.”

Collectively, the Great Resignation is a gift for employers who are willing to accept it, says Grimaldi—the chance to reinvent themselves.

“It’s kind of a national pause, a national regrouping,” says Grimaldi. “From time to time, everyone needs to step back and look at their life and say, ‘Is this really working for me?’ It’s true of individuals, and it’s also true of companies. Very often we find the status quo really isn’t working—and that’s our impetus to shake things up, shift our mindset, and create something fresh, new, and energizing.”




About Rick Grimaldi:
Rick Grimaldi is a workplace trends expert and the author of FLEX: A Leader’s Guide to Staying Nimble and Mastering Transformative Change in the American Workplace. Rick’s unique perspective comes from his diverse career in high-ranking public service positions, as a human resources and labor relations professional for an international hi-tech company, and presently in private practice as a partner with Fisher Phillips, LLP, one of America’s preeminent management side labor and employment law firms. Day to day, Rick works with companies to help them adapt to the ever-changing business environment, achieve their workplace goals, and become better employers. Rick is an internationally recognized writer and keynote speaker, and has been selected through a peer review process as one of The Best Lawyers in America© in three of the last four years.
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