The Great Resignation: How To Stop Losing Your Talent

Christian Wandeler
Written by Christian Wandeler May 07, 2022

Companies across the globe, and particularly those in the US, are facing a great challenge: people are quitting their jobs or people are checking out. One could say that this movement was unforeseen but progressive leaders and organizational culture experts saw it coming.

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It was only so long that the work-life unbalance and unfair conditions would last. For decades, a great portion of the workforce has been submitted to uninspiring workplaces and meager wage growth.

And at some point, the tables would turn: the COVID pandemic was not only the catalyzer but also an accelerator. Some people had more time, others were completely stressed out, many lost their jobs, but the commonality was that people got snapped out of the daily grind.

The “train train quotidien” as they say in French got disrupted. A moment to slow down and think.

And questions that people asked themselves were fundamental:

  • Why?
  • What if I die tomorrow? What if one of my loved ones dies tomorrow?
  • Am I happy?
  • Should I seek better opportunities? If not now, then when?
  • What is the purpose of experiencing burnout for a job where I am nothing more than just a number?

People are actually changing careers and jobs or starting their own businesses, finding a lifestyle that suits them. Others decide to stay on unemployment rather than go back to a draining job.

And all of a sudden, employers find themselves competing with a variety of alternatives: remote, agile, human-first, purpose-driven companies that understand and value their people.

But What do Employees Really Want?

But what are people looking for in a workplace? Is it free food, good coffee, ping pong tables, great healthcare, retirement benefits, attractive salaries, and generous bonuses?

Employers that are still attached to the idea that these are the benefits and perks that will attract and keep talent in the house need to understand better how human motivation works. While they may keep workers satisfied for a period of time, there are other important human needs that are not being fulfilled.

My academic research in positive psychology investigated how the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs highlighted in self-determination theory impacts employees' motivation, performance, and mental health (Wandeler & Bundick, 2011).

Many other research and countless case studies support that the most effective and successful way to attract and retain talent is by satisfying people’s psychological needs and finding out what truly drives them.

Rigby and Ryan (2018) even refer to it as the “Copernican shift” in approaches to motivation and management in human resource development and management circles.

The COVID pandemic was a catalyst, and the Great Resignation is a testament to the lack of aligned action from some business leaders when it comes to upgrading their workplaces.
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In 2011, Dan Pink did a great job highlighting some of these theories in his book Drive and his TED talk has over 10 mio views and has made research on workplace motivation very accessible to the broader public.

However, no matter how much research is conducted and how much evidence is presented, there is still a huge gap between insights from research and actually applying this to the modern workplace.

The COVID pandemic was a catalyst, and the Great Resignation is a testament to the lack of aligned action from some business leaders when it comes to upgrading their workplaces.

For decades MBA programs and leaders perpetuated traditional styles of management and they still seem to think that self-managed and empowered teams, distributed decision-making, financial transparency, mental health protection, profit sharing, are still too utopian and radical to be considered.

It is no longer a matter of being a startup or a modern, avant-guard company. Nowadays, the reluctance to change brings about more pitfalls for established businesses and even entire industries are at the risk of being disrupted.

And not only business models are disruptive but the attractiveness of your organizational culture can make or break you. And the Great Resignation is here to prove it.

A Radical Leader, An Unusual Workplace

Enter Ricardo Semler and the people at Semco.

The people at Semco have been inciting leaders and workers across the globe to change the way they work. In his 1990 book “Maverick”, Ricardo Semler discusses the success story behind the world’s most unusual workplace: Semco.

Semler did things differently than organizations that rely on traditional autocratic management style by choosing a decentralized participative style.

Freedom, autonomy, and accountability have always been the core values of Semco, and so have common principles of trust and transparency.

His radical approach to management created an average annual turnover of employees of less than 2% (against an industry average of around 20%) and an increase in employment numbers from 100 to over 5000. Sales also escalated to 24% annually and profits tripled.

And all this took place within the two decades that he led the Semco Group. In 2016 Ricardo Semler has founded the Semco Style Institute to share Semco’s philosophy and practices with the world, so that other companies can create awesome workplaces.

Practices that Can Help You Retain Talent

I would like to share some practical, understandable practices from the Semco Style framework that can be applied to retain the talent in your organization and attract great workers in the near future.

There is much more detail about each of these practices and there are many more, but this should help you to get started with creating the engaging, meaningful, and human-centered workplaces employees crave.

1. Ask Why

The first Semco practice to use is to ask “why” three times? Why are people leaving you? The answers will teach you a lot about the gaps in your own work environment. Are your salaries competitive? Is your culture attractive?

When working with a client, a younger employee was headhunted and offered more salary and a better position. Our client interviewed the employee, developed an attractive career path, and also met the salary expectations. A key benefit was also the opportunity to be part of developing a Semco Style culture and thus a unique work environment with lots of freedom.

2. Flexible Hours

People decide when, where from and how long they want to work. Employees are given the trust, freedom, and flexibility to manage their personal and professional lives. When discussing this with different groups of employees it becomes immediately clear what an impact this can have.

“I like the idea of flexible schedules because I have two young daughters. And it would be nice to be able to drop them off at school. Or on other days go pick them up.” A Latina in her 60’s: “I get up at 3 am in the morning to beat L.A. traffic. I get here at 5 am, but then I have to wait until 6 am to start my work.”

There is more to a company than just profit, and there is more to a worker than just performing tasks. Which path do you choose to go?
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3. How Your Work is Up to You

Workers decide how they wish to perform their tasks and have the possibility to openly share their ideas, develop new processes, and test concepts. More than often people have proven to take action according to the company’s best interests.

4. Using Common Sense

Fewer rules and more common sense. Employees are seen as adults capable of making rational and wise decisions that benefit the company as a whole. Bureaucratic processes sometimes can be appropriate, but typically they complicate things and slow things down. Fewer rules are liberating for people and autonomy leads to higher job satisfaction.

5. Information Belongs to Everybody

Company data is available to everyone in the whole company. This further busts bureaucracy and helps increase employee engagement and a sense of trust throughout the whole organization. The more informed your employees are, the more conscious decisions they can make and the more ownership they feel towards the organization.

There is more to a company than just profit, and there is more to a worker than just performing tasks.

Which path do you choose to go?

This is a guest post from Christian Wandeler, founder of the Semco Style Institute USA. For more information on Christian and The Semco Style Methodology, check out his rebel page.

Written by Christian Wandeler
Christian Wandeler
Associate Professor @FresnoState | People & Organizational Transformation Expert | US Partner of Ricardo Semler @Semco Style Institute USA | Positive Psychology PhD
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