I connected with a friend this week who leads a very successful service business. Lots of people, lots of money, lots of pressure. He is very good at what he does and has helped build a business that impacts thousands. Truth be told, I am super jealous of his professional success. #OneDay

During our chat, he was commenting that his team is seeing the start of the ‘great resignation’. Like so many other large employers, after 16 months of pandemic pressures, members of his team were handing in their notices. Many of them with no job to go to. They have just had enough. A survey this spring showed that 38% of employees in the UK are thinking about moving on from their current roles.

Seeing people starting to leave in larger numbers was a shock to their leadership team, both professionally and personally. Professionally because they thought they had done everything possible to support and encourage the full team since March 2020. The list was long and came from a place of wanting to be a great employer: giving people the tools they needed to work from home, flex hours, lowered expectations (even during times of incredible demand) and lots of acknowledgement. On a personal level, it was clear the resignations stung: why had their leadership team bothered to spend so much time and money to support staff (not to mention the incredible workload they took on in the process) if there was little or no apparent benefit back to the company as they were finally ready to build back better. Was it all worth it?

It is a tough question to answer and my friend’s team is not the only one dealing with this. We are seeing a growing perception gap here between what employers feel they have done for staff over the past 16 months and what staff feel they have received. As I learn more about these gaps from leaders in the community benefit and for-profit sectors, I am wondering how service can help us close that gap. 

Taken at their face value, companies have been investing time and money into processes and systems to help employees adapt to the challenges and pressures of working through a global pandemic. They have been in service to the (sometimes literal) survival of their company, making hard decisions that the pandemic has forced. 

Is the expectation that those investments would eventually come back to benefit the company reasonable? Of course, it is.  

At the same time, it is clear that employees also have been in service to the success of their employers feeling they have juggled responsibilities at work, home, and school while still producing work. The shift in how they were working was an opportunity to ask what they have been in service to and the cost/benefit of that juggling. Employees’ expectations and needs from work have changed and their need to connect with a higher purpose may be more important than a title or pay.

What can employers do? Our Service Leadership research suggests three things:

  1. Over-communicate (and more importantly tangibly show) their commitment to the long-term success of the company by acknowledging that the well-being of all staff is mission-critical. Heads up: empty words and false promises will not longer be tolerated. 
  2. Listen carefully to those leaving and be ready for a hard and uncomfortable look in the mirror about what we thought happened over the last 16 months vs how those actions were received by our teams. Did we ask the team what they needed or did we just assume? 
  3. Lead through vulnerability and let teams know that the struggles they are dealing with do not stop at the manager level. Everyone, regardless of their title, is tired.

This of course will not stop people from needing or wanting to leave. These steps however can encourage leadership teams to view this as an opportunity to ensure that current team members and new hires are fully connected with the profit and purpose goals of the company. Focused on how the company wants to really serve, the great resignation is an opportunity to be the great re-alignment. 

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