We’ve all seen recent articles talking about the “Great Resignation” and the “Great Rehire.” As the pandemic continues on and people reevaluate their life and career, it’s become clear there’s a fundamental shift that organizations need to make to attract and retain top talent. Leadership, their approach to upskilling and reskilling, career pathing, and company culture all reign supreme as workers decide how, where, and what they want.
According to a recent Washington Post article, there are 10 million job openings, “yet more than 8.4 million unemployed are still actively looking for work.” Workers and organizations alike are reassessing their options and what they want their career paths and culture to look like in the future. Resignations are the highest on record — up 13 percent over pre-pandemic numbers (aka the “Great Resignation”). A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 66 percent of the unemployed had "seriously considered" changing their field of work.
Many thought once the pandemic subsided and the unemployment-insurance supplement ran out in the US it would force that number down (aka the “Great Rehire”). While some have begun returning to work, the imbalance remains high because people are reassessing — both in and out of work — what priorities mean most to them.
There’s also been an increase in retirements impacting this number, with 3.6 million people retiring during the pandemic (over 2 million more than expected), as industries like education, retail, and food services left many choosing to end their careers early over safety concerns. This leaves many industries with far greater job openings than available talent.
The unhappiness many are feeling about their existing career is a culmination of how the traditional workplace is structured — one broken open during a pandemic where many successfully worked from home. This not only gave workers more of a work/life balance (barring the year many parents spent homeschooling kids), it allowed people time to contemplate what exactly they wanted from work and provided the flexibility most craved. (Of course, it also showed the stark divide between white and blue collar workers and set women’s workforce participation back by more than three decades, but that’s another article entirely).
The opportunity for leadership
The opportunity for innovation and to reinvent what it means to be a successful worker in today’s workforce is one all leaders should be considering. Upskilling and reskilling, new benefits like mental health days and daycare stipends, four-day work weeks, and other “out of the box” ideas will be attractive to top talent. But I’d argue that to attract and maintain them, how leadership navigates the future of work and adapts their leadership style may be more important.
Preparing for a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world as a senior leader or executive requires vulnerability, says global leadership development firm The Leadership Circle. Leaders, especially today, must let go of fear and offer empathy when managing and leading their organizations. Reactive leadership styles — ones that promote compliance, distance, and control — are simply not working. Some would argue they never have.
Chris Dwyer, Senior Vice President of Research and Managing Director of the Future of Work Exchange at Ardent Partners agrees. “Employee wellness, wellbeing, and mental health are now all crucial pieces of the Future of Work movement and business leaders are taking note,” he wrote. “77% of executives anticipate that empathy-driven leadership will become a more critical foundation of the employer-employee relationship.”
Author and TED speaker Brené Brown also refers to the split in leadership styles as armored leadership versus daring leadership: “The need to be right versus the need to get it right.” Changing the narrative and one’s leadership style to match the dramatic shifts happening in today’s workforce is what will either set companies up for success or leave them far behind.
It is incumbent on leaders to ensure their worker’s needs are being taken into consideration in every part of their organization and to absorb new ideas, voices, concerns, and opinions. This can only be accomplished when leaders are honest and transparent about where they sit as an organization today, pitfalls and all.
Harvard Business Review found that what leaders say and do “makes up to a 70% difference as to whether an individual reports feeling included. And this really matters because the more people feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate — all of which ultimately lifts organizational performance.” What’s good for workers is good for the organization, especially now as the pandemic has fundamentally shifted so much in our lives.
While real change starts at the top, it’s up to every leader in the organization to embrace a more empathetic leadership style. If leaders don't create an environment where flexibility, openness, and emotional availability are present to all workers — be it full-time, part-time, contract, freelance, or consultant — the needle won’t move in a significant direction.
Regular mentoring, training, and leadership development initiatives should take place within every department and at all job levels. This is especially true of large companies that can have hundreds — even thousands — of management-level leaders. Those leaders directly influence their workforce's day-to-day experience and culture and impact how workers experience an organization, and often how long they will stay.
As a leader, how you adapt those leadership qualities to manage a remote team and build relationships with your virtual organization is even more critical. As such, we will be exploring ways leaders can set their organizations up for success in our three-part series: The Great Reassessment: How Leaders Can Plan and Lead Tomorrow’s Workforce. Stay tuned for more!
In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Utmost, please contact email@example.com.