Blog Post

Combat The Great Resignation with Your Return-to-Office Plan

By Stefanie McNamara
December 8, 2021

This past summer, the term “The Great Resignation” started to make headlines around the world. According to the US Department of Labor, a record high 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September 2021. That’s three percent of workers.

Even though companies continue to post vacant positions, they are having trouble filling them: there were 11 million employment openings and 6.5 million people looking for jobs in October. In 2021 so far, just under 40 million people have quit their jobs, with more than 28 million doing so between April and October. To put this figure in context: 36.3 million people quit their jobs in all of 2020 (down from 42.1 million in 2019).

Why are employees leaving?

So what is behind The Great Resignation? The issue is complex, but one of the main reasons is lack of flexibility in return-to-office plans. The pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way employees function. They are enjoying a more balanced, commute-free life.

With The Great Resignation comes The Great Reshuffle, in which employees are leaving positions that ultimately do not meet their life needs, which can include quality of work experience, caregiving, mental and physical health, and the ability to prioritize personal needs. Industries that require frontline employees, including food service, hospitality, and retail, are seeing the highest rates of resignations ever recorded.

What should employers do about it?

As offices are reopening, how can corporate America avoid the pitfalls of The Great Resignation and The Great Reshuffle and retain their top talent, especially those from underrepresented groups who have been disparately impacted? Two key words: flexibility and intentionality.

Flexibility is proving to be the new must-have in the workplace, with 76 percent of the American workforce seeking new jobs to improve their workplace flexibility or to work from home permanently. After 18 months of working from home, having freedom—albeit restricted under quarantine mandates most of the time—and being able to be present for family, pets, and self, very few want to go back to pre-pandemic norms.

Organizations must be intentional when it comes to implementing their return-to-office plans by not expecting their employees to come to the office on random days for the sake of coming in (and sitting behind a closed office door). Have employees come in for a purpose, such as a team meeting or team building activities.

The current employment market has higher expectations when it comes to positive workplace culture and is forcing organizations to differentiate themselves beyond compensation. This challenge presents a unique opportunity for leadership across organizations to be intentional and assertive in institutionalizing DEI strategies in the new normal as they seek to attract, develop, and retain the best talent. Employers need to adapt quickly and regularly assess internal culture while focusing on career pathing and flexibility. Creating strategies that are employee-centric and intentionally based on listening directly to the employee voice will be key in winning the war for talent.

Four key takeaways

Seramount’s  Return to Office: Part One insights paper explores different return-to-the-workplace models through a lens of inclusivity. Seramount’s follow-up paper, Return to Office: Part Two, dives deep into how organizations can lead effectively (and with empathy) into this new era of flexibility as leaders develop their return-to-office plans. This paper focuses on solutions and recommendations to mitigate the impact on underrepresented talent in the workplace, while tackling operating issues employers need to consider when creating their return-to-office plans.

According to Deborah Munster, VP of People, Culture and Operations at Seramount, here are four key takeaways employers should consider when creating their return-to-office plans:

  • Create a workplace ecosystem (rather than a monolith) that encourages a human-first culture, including flexibility and relationship-building in a new workplace landscape.
  • Train managers in essential soft skills, such as empathy and building psychological safety, as well as how to manage employees in hybrid settings. Consider how to equip managers to knock down silos to keep inclusion at the forefront of collaboration, and how to avoid biases based on who is in the office and who may be working remotely.
  • Utilize current company structures, such as Employee or Business Resource Groups. They will be essential in engagement and retention of a diverse workforce. ERG/BRGs are a critical diverse talent pipeline and can provide invaluable insights while the company transitions to a more flexible, inclusive, and employee-centered work environment. Place ERGs/BRGs at the heart of your efforts. With the right amount of leadership support and intentional development plans, ERGs and BRGs can confidently feel their voices are being heard and their contributions are valued.
  • Facilitate brave and safe spaces where everyone can speak up by making psychological safety a priority. Women, especially women of color, often experience little psychological safety in the workplace. Organizations with a coaching culture will be most successful at establishing these spaces for employees to gather and respectfully discuss hard topics with open minds, compassion, and empathy. Leaders who discuss the importance of psychological safety and its impact on their own lives and the company can connect safety to the higher purposes of promoting organizational innovation, engagement, and inclusion.

Download the insights paper here.

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About the Author

Stefanie McNamara
Director, Marketing Communications