There’s a lot of conversation around the “Great Resignation” as employers are losing talent to other companies that boast higher pay, cool perks, flexible work, sign-on incentives, and professional growth opportunities. It’s an interesting phenomena, but we don’t speak enough to the other side of the coin, something called the “Great Regret” or the “Big Mistake”—where an employee leaves one company for another believing the grass to be greener, and it turns out to be, in fact, worse than where they left.
Early in my career, I had a Great Regret moment, back in 2008, where I left a job for more money and what seemed to be an amazing opportunity. From day one of my new job, I immediately had negative, early indicators about what was to come. It was a terrible six months in a role punctuated with a culture of high turnover, low morale, scandals, and toxic leadership. I deeply regretted my decision to leave my prior company where I was valued, had great leaders, wonderful colleagues, and a positive environment, and I truly enjoyed my work.
Companies can avoid the Great Regret altogether by being proactive and constantly ensuring the culture is optimal.
There’s a saying that the best offense is a good defense. And that defense is focusing on the fundamentals of what makes an extraordinary environment and reminds staff why they stay or joined in the first place.
Nailing the fundamentals
The key to an enduring culture is getting the employee journey right. Many people leave companies for the same few reasons: a bad manager, more money, and greater opportunity. It’s important to not lose sight of your values.
Fundamentally, the values, along with the people and product, are what brought people in in the first place, so double down on what makes your employee value proposition stand out.
Everyone knows there’s a war for talent, and recruiters everywhere are scrambling to find new talent. Recruiters needn’t look too far–they should look at former employees. It doesn’t hurt to point out to former employees what they left behind by reminding them of how wonderful the experience was and is.
Consider building out an alumni program to reach former talent. Communicate the latest news, and share cultural moments and all the great things they’re missing. The grass is often not greener, and former talent might just need a nudge to consider coming back. I did after my Great Regret moment, and, thankfully, after those chaotic six months, I was able to boomerang back to my former company, returning to my team and a new role. Moreover, I came back with more loyalty and appreciation.
Diagnose why they may want to leave
A lot of people may be getting multiple solicitations from recruiters on a daily basis. It feels nice to be wanted, and while those overtures may feel good, your folks may be leaving the job for the wrong reasons. As an organization, diagnose all parts of the employee journey—attracting, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, promoting, developing, and retaining talent—to determine weakness in the experience.
Many organizations overpromise and underdeliver on what the experience might be. HR folks need to really dive into employee survey information and try to get a real signal on why people might be contemplating jumping ship. Moreover, consider asking talent why they want to leave or performing stay interviews to help engage staff and hopefully avoid unwanted departures.
People seeking alignment and purpose
There are a lot of factors driving the Great Resignation, but some people are seeking alignment and purpose. There’s more intentionality by talent, and many folks are yearning for greater impact. The talent market expects more of companies and demands that those organizations have a positive social imprint. People are even willing to take a pay cut to find fulfillment in their role and perhaps even their legacy in the world. If your organization can satisfy this need of purpose, a Great Regret moment can be averted.
When the Great Resignation began to happen in early 2021, many employers were caught flatfooted in response. However, we all should have seen the precursory signs–the gig economy. The gig economy that preceded the Great Resignation offered talent the freedom of when and how to work and the ability to be their own boss, to a degree. When I worked at Uber, anytime I got in an Uber, I’d always ask the driver what their experience was, and resoundingly the No. 1 answer was the freedom to work when they wanted–folks loved the flexibility and autonomy. I think most people want options to live and work as they desire.
Bernard Coleman is the head of Employee Engagement at Gusto where he leads the Employee Engagement team which encompasses our diversity, equity and inclusion, employee relations, and people integrity/governance/compliance functions.