Business Owners: What Lessons Did You Learn From The Pandemic That Are Helping You Prepare For The Future?

This article could have easily been a list of lessons learned and what actions you can take to mitigate the impact of (fill in the blank) on your business during a time of economic crisis.  But you wouldn’t really care. Ok, I admit, this sounds a bit harsh.

But, let’s face it.  If we truly cared about what happened to employees and businesses that were terribly impacted by the Pandemic and the Great Resignation, then we would have done something YEARS ago to prepare for times like these.  But we didn’t.

So, this article is more of a call to action. You’ll get some insight into why it’s hard to change, why we keep doing the same things, despite what research says, and what we can do to take real, deliberate action to address a common, chronic business challenge amplified by the Pandemic: employee retention.

Let’s jump in!

Pandemic Lessons? No Thank You. I’m Ganna Keep Doing What’s Easy!

Now don’t get me wrong.  You’re an amazing person and I’m sure that your business is solving a real problem for many people.  I get you.

In fact, I want you to succeed.  That’s my purpose.  To help people like you make a difference through the development of HR best practices. So that your employees stick around long enough to help you advance your business objectives.

Doing proactive work involves a lot of grinding.  And who has time for that when you’re busy running your business?  

I Can’t Help Myself!  I’m Wired To Take The Path Of Least Resistance.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take the easy way out, to get quick wins, and grab the low-hanging fruit.  When we’re presented with more difficult options, even though they may be better for us, we tend to look at them less favorably and justify in our minds that those harder options don’t work.

Behavior is contagious!  “If everyone else is increasing pay and offering better benefits to attract and retain talent, then this is what I shall do too!”

When you fall into the trap of doing what feels safe and comfortable, you’re discounting and missing out on what years of (pre-Pandemic) research has taught us about the real reasons employees leave their jobs.

For Over 20 Years, Many Like-Minded Folks Like Myself Have Been Saying That The Real Reasons Why People Leave Their Jobs Go Beyond Better Pay.

Although pay is an important factor affecting attrition, here are some, dare I say equally if not more important, factors affecting people’s decision to leave – and did I mention they’re based on research?

  1. Orgs are in denial about chronic HR issues and don’t know how or are not willing to address them because “it will work itself out.”
  2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is not a business goal, priority.
  3. Nobody cares about professional development, people feel undervalued, unmotivated, disengaged, and even powerless.
  4. People feel excluded, like they don’t belong, people organize themselves around cliques, personal interest versus teamwork.
  5. The organizational culture s*cks, the work environment is toxic.
  6. Management practices are transactional; managers don’t care personally, they treat people badly, they lack communication skills.
  7. Leaders are not held accountable for their actions, they get away with unethical, bad behavior.
  8. Honesty and diverse ideas are discouraged.
  9. Cut-throat competition, masculine-informed, assertive, power-motivated behavior is rewarded.
  10. Orgs keep operating from a fear-based, scarcity viewpoint and a “don’t speak-up, keep your nose down” culture.
  11. Orgs keep hiring the “wrong fit” and terminate people when they disagree with them.
  12. Leaders avoid having uncomfortable conversations with problem employees so they ignore the problem and are “OK” with seeing good people leave because of leadership’s inaction or toleration of bad behavior.
  13. Work-life balance is not encouraged and flexibility is out of the question.
  14. People’s mental health, self-care is not taken seriously.  

Do these reasons sound familiar?  Yes! They’re all symptoms of a toxic work culture.  We’ve all heard some sort of variation of these reasons way before the Pandemic.

What Does Current Research Say Are The Biggest Reasons Why Employees Left Their Jobs As Part Of The Great Resignation?

According to a McKinsey and Company survey, these are the top three factors employees cited for quitting:  

  1. 54% said they didn’t feel valued by their organizations.
  2. 52% said they didn’t feel valued by their managers.
  3. 51% said they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.

Do they sound familiar?  Absolutely!  I’ve Been Shouting ‘em Out Loud For The Past 20 Years!

I couldn’t agree more with Danny Nelms, CEO, Work Institute, when he said that employers caused the Great Resignation.  This is contrary to the popular narrative, as Danny Nelms states, “that employees had time to reflect on their life and career during the pandemic and simply decided to do something different. Sure, there are examples of this behavior, but the data tells us a different story. Upon reflecting on their current workplace, employees believed it would be better to work somewhere else.”

Work Institute’s research indicates that the biggest reason why employees left their jobs in 2021 is for career reasons, which includes: opportunities for growth, promotion, achievement, security, or to attend school. 

This fact about career reasons as a key motivator for attrition is significant because it supports data from McKinsey and Company that substantiates what we already knew: If you boost employee engagement efforts, such as fostering inclusion within your organization and providing professional growth opportunities, you will create an environment (i.e., culture) where people feel like they belong and are valued by their managers and their organization.

As you can see, a more sophisticated picture emerges when we begin to investigate the true nature and reasons for employees leaving as part of the Great Resignation. The reasons are symptoms of a non-inclusive, organizational culture that doesn’t value people. We cannot just say that pay is the biggest motivator for employees leaving. We need to do way more than competitive pay if our goal is to retain good people.

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  1. McKinsey Quarterly, ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, by Aaron De Smet, Bonnie Dowling, Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi, and Bill Schaninger (Sept. 2021).
  2. 2022 Retention Report: How Employers Caused The Great Resignation, Work Institute.

Retaining Good People… If It Were Easy, Everybody Would Be Doing It!

Creating a people-centered culture is hard work.  If you take anything away from this article it is this: most things worth doing are hard but worth it.

Stop convincing yourself that working on culture to retain top talent is not worth doing because it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources. And therefore, it’s easier to go after the low-hanging fruit like increasing pay to attract and retain top talent.

When we take the path of least resistance we’re blinded by denial and often use rationalization to justify why we’re taking that path. That’s why it’s easy to keep doing what we’re familiar with – change requires too much mental energy and real-dollar investments, strategy, planning, and action.

So, where to start?

Awareness Is A Powerful Tool For Beginning The Cultural Change Process. Drip By Drip By Drip.

Change doesn’t have to be hard.  You just need to be aware that change follows a pattern.  What seems to be a people problem (“they’re not the right fit,” “they just want better pay”) is often a situational problem (“a toxic culture”).  If you change the situation, then you’re making it easier for people to behave differently, hopefully in a more positive way that you help shape with the changes you initiated.

And who can help you make this change real for you? Your managers.  Focus on hiring or developing managers who are able to care personally while challenging people directly to build emotionally healthy relationships and you’ll see amazing results in behavioral growth from your people. 

Pro Tip: Focus on management development that strengthens their knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve as guides for people and coaches who provide ongoing feedback that is meant to praise and criticize performance for growth and improvement.   

This idea about awareness comes into play when you are able to pause and take a step back from a situation so that you have a broader view of all the moving parts contributing to a particular outcome.

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3. Here I’m referring to Kim Scott’s approach in Radical Candor for building awesome relationships with people by engaging in “radical candor” when you care personally while challenging directly.

For example, say that you’re having a hard time retaining good employees.  Do you take the easy way out by doing what you’ve always been doing (“because that’s the way things are”)?  Or do you take this opportunity to do something different even if it is more challenging?  Of course you do something different.  Gather your leadership team, including managers and supervisors, and investigate the true causes of attrition in your org to help you understand the path you must take.

In this way, your awareness of the situation, and your self-awareness to react differently, helps you pause and question what might be a better decision that will solve the problem.  And to determine your course of action (how to change the situation), you need to understand the problem. In this case, the problem of retention and attrition need to be investigated if you want to align your solutions with the causes of the problem.

“I Do Not Like Green Eggs And Ham! I Do Not Like Them, Sam-I-Am. You Do Not Like Them. So You Say. Try Them! Try Them! And You May. Try Them And You May, I Say.”

You will continue to get the same results unless you try something new (that is based on research and best practices, of course).  You will never know if it works if you don’t give it a try.  Give it a try. You just might like it!  

It’s gonna take hard work – but you already know that.  In fact you’ve built your business on hard work – you’ve got this!

What comes next is a brief example of real-life, practical steps you can take to drive positive change that improves retention. And this is how you change your culture: one small step at a time.

Action You Can Take Today To Address The Need For Increasing A Sense Of Belonging At Work.

Ok, so let’s make this real. To retain employees, create an inclusive workplace so that employees gain a stronger sense of belonging.  What follows is a tiny glimpse into what is possible for transforming your culture. It’s not meant to provide a comprehensive guide to implementing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategy – but if you’re looking for more, get in touch, I got your back.

So, let’s break it down with a sample action plan for increasing employees’ sense of belonging.

An awesome DEI Action Plan includes the following elements:

  1. Goals and Objectives.
  2. The resources needed.
  3. Tasks of each resource (these are the steps/tasks/objectives you need to take to achieve your goal).
  4. Timing of the tasks, including initial dates and preferred timeliness.
  5. Who is responsible for implementation.
  6. Desired outcome or outcome statement.
  7. How to measure success (What does success look like? Will you measure an increase in belonging, improved employee engagement?).

Here’s a formula for writing a spectacular outcome statement:

Who/What (target subject) + Change/Desired effect (action verb) + In What (expected results) + By when = Outcome Statement.

And now, we put it all together as a sample DEI Action Plan you can use.

We’re Here To Help.

We’d be honored to help you create a strategic approach to foster employee engagement and inclusion within your org.  Contact us today to learn how be the change HR can help you align your DEI and retention efforts with your business objectives.

We also have prepared a free assessment to help you Recession Proof your HR.  Contact us to get on the list and receive your free copy!Written By: Raul T. Pereyra.  Raul is an HR Pro and Consultant with be the change HR. He has over 20 years of experience as an educator, trainer, and HR Pro. Raul’s expertise includes DEI, employee engagement, and HR compliance. Connect with Raul on LinkedIn.