A sense of loss of control is a sign of the current times. The global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and, above all, the advancing climate change – together, these events reinforce the feeling of being powerless in the face of the circumstances. In addition, many people feel dictated to in their jobs on a daily basis. Against this backdrop, the “Great Resignation”, a current worldwide wave of employees leaving their jobs, can also be seen as an act of self-empowerment, as regaining autonomy over one’s actions. If we can not change the course of the world, we can at least change our own (work) lives.
Because even if, at first glance, the word “resignation” insinuates that employees are throwing in the towel in frustration and bitterly resigning to their fate, at second glance the opposite is the case: people don’t not want to work, they just want to work differently. According to their competencies, under better conditions, in an environment characterized by appreciation, or simply in a different place. People are not so much resigned as empowered. Even the U.S. organizational psychologist, Anthony Klotz, who initially coined the term “Great Resignation”, speaks of an “awakening” of employees after they have spent years primarily functioning instead of working and living in a self-determined and fulfilled way.
The standstill of the past two years caused by the pandemic has certainly given many people the opportunity to ask themselves for the first time what their unique topics and goals are, what they truly want to devote themselves to, and what makes them happy. This new insight is now coming up against a labor market in which there are, in many sectors, far more jobs than skilled workers. Therefore, well-qualified people have the choice of which company they want to devote their time and energy to. This development is a wake-up call to companies to get moving, break up rigid structures, and give people the autonomy they are looking for in the work context. The following impulses can be a guideline for action.
Great Shuffle: If you’re ready to quit, you’re ready to start over – internally!
Companies should take their employees’ desire for change seriously – and be happy about it. A company’s employees are its most valuable asset. Retaining good employees should be a top priority. People who are willing to change are not a curse, but a blessing. The world around us is changing at lightning speed. Those who are ready to take the next step, learn something new, or try out other areas of responsibility should be given the opportunity to do so within the company. It’s up to the managers to encourage and empower employees to acquire new skills and try new things. The “Great Shuffle,” the proverbial reshuffling of the cards, should also be possible internally, through exciting gigs and projects or changing areas of work and responsibility.
Promote internal Career Crafting rather than external Job Hopping
A US study investigated which jobs people most frequently research online. At the top of the list were real estate agents, therapists, personal trainers, and firefighters. What the first three have in common is a high degree of flexibility in the way they organize their work. You could say that they are not your classic 9-to-5 office jobs, but rather tasks that different people can organize in very individual ways – in terms of content, space, and also time. The job of a firefighter, on the other hand, is characterized above all by a high degree of meaningfulness and variety. The perspective of David Allen, the inventor of the “Getting Things Done” method, is interesting in this context. He related self-efficacy and self-management to the factors “control” and “perspective”: Only when we have both – control over what we do and an answer to the question “what for” we do something – are we in charge of our lives. It is the company’s task to enable its employees to gain this control. Ideally from the very first day in the company. This begins with good onboarding, continues with close and appreciative communication about values, corporate and personal goals, wishes, and needs, and culminates in making available the (digital) tools that enable employees to network with each other, learn from and with one another, and steer their development. The employees must be encouraged to take initiative, for example by allowing them to put themselves forward for interesting projects, gigs, and positions that will help them take the next step in their careers. The goal: maximum autonomy and mobility for individuals within the organization (rather than on the public job market), while at the same time maximizing the joy of networking with colleagues and the desire to work together as a team toward the company’s goals.
Culture and AI: Using digital technology for the benefit of people
Crafting individual career paths hand-in-hand with the employees requires attention, open ears, hearts, and doors, and last but not least: time. Companies can free up time by using digital options to automate standard processes, such as applicant management, with the help of smart technology. This gives HR employees the chance to focus on more important work: establishing a connection with every employee, engaging in regular dialog, and comparing wishes, needs, and interests with their current situation. An emotional connection and “feeling seen” are crucial factors that motivate employees to stay.
At the same time, digital tools themselves can help shape careers according to individual ideas and connect with new learning opportunities, mentors, or internal job offers on digital talent marketplaces, for example. For everyone to take advantage of these opportunities, companies must first and foremost work on their culture. This includes communicating clearly and modeling the concept that development opportunities are open to employees in all phases of life and encouraged. Older and more experienced employees in particular run the risk of being overlooked in the face of ever faster-advancing technology. By offering intergenerational learning and working in mixed teams, job shadowing, reverse mentoring, etc. as a matter of course, and motivating employees to take advantage of these opportunities, companies are counteracting the loss of control and putting employees in charge of their (work) lives. They can then confidently sail through a global wave of layoffs, such as the one we are currently experiencing with the Great Resignation.