It has been dubbed The Great Resignation: the trend for employees to leave their jobs voluntarily as the coronavirus pandemic unwinds. US Labor Department data showed 4 million people quit their jobs in the US in April of whom 650,000 worked in retail.
Other data, including from the UK, supports the view that these are devilishly difficult times for businesses looking to keep hold of their staff.
Anecdotally, many of my current conversations with senior retail leaders are dominated by concerns over employee retention and how to manage the transition back to the office in a way that ensures people feel both comfortable and motivated.
Many reasons have been put forward for The Great Resignation: one straightforward theory is that people who delayed leaving roles at the height of the pandemic now feel emboldened to make the change, leading to a surge in resignations.
Some people will have moved out of cities and are no longer prepared to commute now that offices are reopening.
Others will have reassessed their work life balance following the pandemic and decided that their current role is incompatible with the life they wish to lead.
I regularly hear reports of people – and this includes senior leaders – feeling burnt out after 18 months of working non-stop in an unfamiliar, high pressure environment.
Significantly, the resignation trend appears just as strong, if not stronger, among those working remotely. Anyone who was relatively new to their role pre-pandemic might have had little or no physical interaction with their colleagues. Reports are widespread of people feeling disconnected from their employer, undervalued, lacking support, mismanaged or detached from the culture of the organisation. A career change offers hope of a fresh start both personally and professionally.
So what can be done to reverse the trend? One obvious starting point is to manage the transition back to the workplace as sensitively and effectively as possible. Going forwards, the first question candidates will ask recruiters is not about salary but about a business’s policy on flexible working. The more flexible the employer, the more access they will have to talent.
Imposing an inflexible ‘one size fits all’ return to the office policy is a sure-fire way of alienating employees and putting health and wellbeing at risk. Employers need to treat people as individuals, understand what works for them and find a way of balancing that against the needs of the organisation.
For employees who will continue to do most of their work remotely, businesses need to find ways to help them feel valued and included. This requires regular communication from managers and a willingness to listen to employee feedback and take steps to address concerns. It will also be important to find ways for remote workers to network with colleagues, including bringing teams together in one place on as regular basis as possible.
It’s important too not to forget the strain being placed on those at the top of organisations who are responsible for ensuring their team members feel supported and valued but often lack support structures of their own. This is where external help, in the form of coaches and mentors, can play a role.
They say a break is as good as a change, but despite the summer break many employees have returned to work with the mindset that a change is still required.
Amid all the challenges retailers face this autumn, convincing people their job is worth sticking around for will be one of the greatest.