I'm constantly having conversations with professionals as an aspect of my coaching business, and what I'm hearing over and over again from people in their fifties, sixties, and even forties is that they are just wanting to retire. Some are burnt out, others are grappling with the disillusionment of their career choices (such as my colleagues in the music industry), and some have felt devalued for so long that they're just done.
A recent study by Ben Zweig and Donald and Charles Sull revealed the main reasons for the Great Resignation. Culture has been a key component to so many people leaving the workforce, and it's fair to blame toxic culture for the types of feedback I'm receiving in these conversations. Going forward, how do we as leaders create a culture that allows our teams (and ourselves) to recover from the pandemic and the myriad of environmental and political stressors of the past few years?
More time off
A 2014 study showed that 79% of Americans would choose a pay increase over more vacation time, and a record number of vacation days were left on the table in 2018. With burnout now at epidemic levels, that's no longer the case. Jenny Gross, in a 2021 New York Times article, concluded that more vacation won't solve burnout from the viewpoint of stopping burnout in the workplace, but she doesn't address recovering from burnout. For that, people are going to need more time away from work. More than that, establishing a culture in which employees are expected to use all their vacation time and are not contacted or expected to check in while on vacation will allow for them to take vacation without worrying about lost promotions or interrupting their healing.
A safe environment
This may seem obvious, but some companies actually forced their employees back to work in person and then dropped mask policies. The politicization of the pandemic lead to unsafe work environments for those at risk and for those who had loved ones at risk.
Flexibility and child care
Women in the workforce have been set back an entire generation due to pandemic-related job losses, according to the National Women's Law Center. Flexible schedules and company-sponsored child care are ways to encourage their return.
Minorities are tired of feeling devalued and unappreciated in addition to being tired in general. More than ever, employees need to be connected to purpose and common goals, but that won't happen without inclusion. From my personal point of view, I've severed connections with several organizations that are clueless about DE&I because I could no longer stay quiet about gender-promoted injustice. People need to feel valued and appreciated to be able to heal a poor relationship with their employers.
The most confident leaders aren't necessarily the best; they may just be suffering from Dunning-Kruger effect. If not, Tasha Eurich's research has shown a big disconnect between how self-aware leaders think they (95%) are versus how self-aware they actually are (only 10-15%). The take-away? Don't be fooled by confidence; it may be misplaced. Look more carefully at candidates who are more thoughtful than boastful and more soft-spoken than gregarious. Empathy is what your best employees want most out of leadership, not confidence.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to toxic cultures or regaining the trust of employees who've been treated poorly. There are no quick fixes to burnout. The Great Resignation is forcing companies with high attrition rates to make changes, but it may not be enough for those anywhere near retirement. Leadership is going to have to be compassionate and empathetic, as well as making an effort to re-engage certain members of their team through inclusion and appreciation.
Dr. Nancy Williams is a music educator and leadership & life coach. She specializes in helping overachievers create cultures of joy and empowerment through self-leadership. Sign up for weekly emails of inspiration, leadership tips, and links to new blogposts and receive the free worksheet "5 Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm."