Is this ‘the Great Resignation’ or the ‘Great Re-engagement’? 4 learnings from senior HR leaders

By Future Talent Learning

Future Talent Learning held a thought leadership event for senior HR professionals, in partnership with Hudson RPO. Saïd Business School’s Jonathan Trevor and Ericsson’s Emma Birchall explored the lessons from ‘the Great Resignation’ – the ongoing economic trend in which employees are voluntarily resigning from their roles. 


Here, we explore some key learnings from the discussion, sharing the collective wisdom of academics and senior HR leaders who attended.


Employee anecdotes and social media posts sharing resignation stories and headlines about unfilled job vacancies suggest that there is a crisis in the talent market.


The data lag makes it difficult to understand the demographics of who is leaving and the resulting skills shortages which is unnerving for leaders. If we don’t understand who is leaving, how are we are going to retain or replace them? Questions like these are why we should do the following:


1. Listen to why people are leaving (and why they are staying)

During the pandemic, employees looked to their employers for certainty in an uncertain world and many leaders demonstrated increased levels of listening and empathy. 


As society returns to a ‘new normal’, employers need to continue listening to get to the root of the role employment plays in people’s lives.


Continuous dialogue will be the differentiating factor for companies that manage to maintain engagement. This means going beyond traditional surveys and ensuring the behaviours we learned during COVID – regular check-ins, empathy, humanness – become ingrained in how we do things.


Emma Birchall, global head of diversity & inclusion at Ericsson.


HR can learn from colleagues in marketing to segment employees, gaining a better understanding of ‘age and stage’; for example, employees’ motivations for working from home or in the office and the challenges they face. Demographic similarities exist.


Generally, young people value the exposure to the tacit learning opportunities that come from being in an office, while older and more experienced staff ­– who may have space for a home office and childcare or caring commitments – value being able to work from home. 


The debate about whether employees should work from home is not binary. It raises questions about the flexibility of working in different locations, the role of trust and whether working from home would work for the whole business. 


Line managers play a crucial role in this dialogue, but they need support and ‘permission’ from the business to prioritise having these conversations with staff. These interactions can provide insights that can help develop an employer brand that appeals to current employees and will attract new talent. 


2. Develop a clear connection between purpose and strategy 


Trying to get organisational purpose onto c-suite’s agenda is difficult as it can be seen as a ‘fluffy’ or non-essential issue – particularly in light of immediate financial challenges. However, organisations aren’t born accidentally. Whether or not their purpose is clearly stated, there is a reason for their existence – above and beyond generating profit. It is often the external context that shapes and defines organisations’ value. 


Alignment for me means where you have a clear connection between the purpose of an organisation why it exists and why it matters, why you should care why somebody should want to work for it and its strategy, how it's going about fulfilling that purpose at any given point in time. 


The research we've been doing absolutely indicates that organisations that were highly aligned pre-pandemic, fared much better in the pandemic than those that, frankly, were getting away with it because times were good.


Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of management practice at the University of Oxford's Saïd Business School. 


Asking the question “who are we?”, and developing a coherent and consistent employer brand is vital to creating a narrative about purpose, values and vision. In a competitive labour market, being able to explain and differentiate yourself as an employer is key to retaining and attracting sought-after talent. 


Employers also need to be conscious of external trends that impact how their organisations are perceived. For example, as a major pilot of the four-day working week gets underway in the UK, how might that impact your narrative on wellbeing and work-life balance? 


The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many people to reflect on personal purpose and their desire to align their personal values and motivations with their work. In addition, during restrictions, employees increasingly looked to their workplaces for a sense of purpose and connection. Today, employees expect a clear articulation of how their role contributes to their organisation’s overall purpose, along with opportunities for learning, development and progression.


HR has a vital role in facilitating the conversations that enable purpose to be explored and developed.


3. Develop cultures of belonging


We know that having friends at work is critical to belonging and feeling engaged. We need to enable people to build friendships in an increasingly hybrid and virtual set up.


Emma Birchall, global head of diversity & inclusion at Ericsson.


Employers can role model dependability through consistency of purpose and building cultures of belonging.


Achieving a sense of belonging can be particularly challenging for those who self-identify as non-white or multiracial. According to a 2021 McKinsey & Company survey, these employees are more likely than their white colleagues to leave an organisation because they feel they do not belong at their company.


During COVID-19, maintaining a sense of belonging became more complicated as the relationship between employer and employee moved into adult/child mode. As we come out of the pandemic, there is a need for this relationship to shift back to adult/adult interactions. 


In addition, people who were hired during the pandemic may have struggled to connect with colleagues and make workplace friends. As many organisations continue with remote working, employers must consider how they might re-create the informal face-to-face interactions on Teams or Zoom. Employers are having to consider how they ensure that people feel safe and welcome during virtual onboarding sessions. 


4. Invest in upskilling  

The World Economic Forum has predicted that 50% of people will need reskilling by 2025 to address the changing economies and customer needs. Upskilling your existing employees will help you retain your workforce and future-proof your organisation. 


Being explicit about learning and development opportunities is also vital to developing an appealing employer brand. Employees expect these: for example, 87% of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) consider learning and development opportunities as a key factor in deciding whether to accept a new position.


Use your Apprenticeship Levy to get your employees to develop new skills in a way that is tailored towards individual jobs and individual companies. Advanced apprenticeships can be used for both new hires and existing employees so they are a great way to build new capability in your business. 


The Apprenticeship Levy means that organisations can access government funding to support skills development. Levy-paying employers can use the funds in their account to pay for training and assessment, while non-levy-paying companies can share up to 95% of the cost of apprenticeships with the government. In effect, levy-funded courses allow organisations to develop their talent in an almost free way. 


 Our Transformational Leadership Programme is like a mini-MBA. It’s 100% virtual and delivers against two management apprenticeships, so it can be funded through your Apprenticeship Levy. Clever right?


See our online management courses




See how our levy-funded level 3/5 online management courses have a positive impact on your organisation from day one.

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