How can brands navigate The Great Resignation?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people around the world have been quitting their jobs in what economists are calling The Great Resignation. In America alone, 4 million people handed in their resignation back in April, and according to the Bureau of Labour and Statistics, 3.9 million people ditched their employers in June. The same can be seen in the UK job market where one in twenty (4.7%) UK workers turned away from their jobs. Affected industries have been retail service (supermarkets, drug stores, clothing, convenience store, food service, etc.), which is profoundly interesting as workers in some of these essential services were championed for their roles during the initial stages of lockdown.

But what is fuelling this mass wave of resignation?

Not to look so far, it’s the pandemic, forcing people to evaluate their priorities which also includes their mental health. They are looking for better working conditions, flexible time, more money, and happiness in a world still ravaged by coronavirus. For companies that eased their workforce into working from home due to physical restrictions, many are grappling with employee retention as workers have begun to realize that they aren’t shielded from burnout.  

Blurred lines between life and work with difficulty to compartmentalize, while experiences of isolation, loneliness, and lack of support have been cited as drawbacks. The pandemic was a watershed moment in recent history, severely impacting the corporate environment and interpersonal relationships. Loss of family members to the virus and dealing with grief, and workplace mistreatment by employers are also driving people to put themselves first. 

Consciousness around global capitalism is also becoming a thing, where many young people are getting radicalized online by the proliferation of political economy to challenge the exploitative nature of businesses and corporations. In response, companies have deployed a number of measures to avoid or cauterize this negative marketplace trend – pay increase, targeted training, bonuses, etc. In Nigeria particularly, some brands have offered hybrid work options, first as a tentative workaround because of the pandemic but now integrated as a working policy. Unarguably, employees make up the engine of a brand or company and they strive towards maintaining or upgrading customer experience. Along the way, employee experience or general wellbeing of staff isn’t always taken into consideration. 

How can brands shift employee culture towards producing results in retention? Although the aforementioned brand-driven initiatives to retain employees are great, transforming the workplace environment in a way that feels personal to employees is worth looking into. This means personalizing the employee experience in order to meet specific needs of an individual worker. 

Working from home used to be praised as the future of work, washing over various industries like an epiphany. But there’s only so much good this model can do, as the assumption is often that employees have no reason to be less productive or satisfied since they are operating in their comfort zones. Striking a balance between in-person and remote work can help certain individuals, especially young employees who need guidance and mentorship. For others, though, full remote work would mean allocating resources to ensure they don’t feel alienated. 

Are brands genuinely interested in how their employees scale through their responsibilities or do they only want to see results? Brands are often big on the latter, but cultivating a space where employees can freely ask for the necessary tools and resources can make them feel valued. Since the human resources units are usually in direct contact with employees, HR practises need to change and evolve, whether it’s overhauling language used in communication, shifting away from saying “How are you?” to ‘’What is going on in your life?’’ to incentivizing the ways brands ask for cooperation, feedback, and community. 

Alex Madu, a HR practitioner who’s been in the field for 10 years, says he’s recently witnessed a flux of employee departures in various industries in Nigeria, from tech and banking to media/comms, but doesn’t think that the pandemic is the sole reason for the trigger. “Nigerians are always looking for better opportunities because of the state of the country and it’s why people usually relocate abroad,’’ Madu says. “I used to be in the hospitality industry and our employees left for a number of reasons like pursuing educational degrees, wanting to start their own business, or female employees whose partners asked them to stop working. But we also can’t deny the way the pandemic has brought a tough reality in the job market, and rarely have I had someone say they are leaving a job to take care of themselves until now.’’ 

Brands have always been in a competitive race to gain market share, but now it appears they are waking up to see employees as legitimate assets altogether. It is why brands like Bank of America, Target, and McDonald’s have increased their wages to retain and attract employees. Hopefully initiatives like these can catalyse more rewarding and personalized experiences for employees in the workplace. 

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