By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Digital transformation of businesses got accelerated by a decade during the pandemic. We forget that when work changes, the workers and workplaces have to change too. You are now looking at the employee as they would be in 2030.
Exit interviews reflect our own assumptions
This has to be the most meaningless ritual in the workplace. The employee tells you that he or she is leaving for better career or because of some family compulsion. Doing a meaningless job or working weekends for an incompetent manager is not considered socially acceptable to share. The employees rarely want to burn their bridges and share inane reasons to quit. The employer is relieved that they are still a great place to work and should have no difficulty hiring the replacement of the outgoing employee. Exit interviews reflect our own assumptions about why we should stay or go.
In US alone, 15 million of these conversations have taken place. 40% employees intend to quit over the next few months.
The exit interviews need to take the post-pandemic reality into account. The employee has changed forever. The reasons that prompted someone to quit five years back are not the reasons that prompts someone to quit today.
The employee has changed
The pandemic has changed the employees. Each one has battled uncertainty, ambiguity and balanced complex challenges. We have lost loved ones. Seen horrific sights of human suffering. Faced job losses and carried the anxiety of a million anxieties we have not been able to articulate.
Physical ailments: Low level continuous stress results in blood rushing to make us alert and spot any possible threat. Continued stress leads to physical symptoms like aches and pains, chest pain, exhaustion and having trouble sleeping. Digestive problems, sexual problems and weak immune system come from continued stress. Read more
Mental health: Irritability, depression, panic attacks and unarticulated grief is impacting the workforce. Isolation and loneliness is impacting sleep patterns. Stress and anxiety during the day makes it hard to sleep. There is a 42% increase Melatonin supplements in 2020 to help people handle pandemic related stress and get some sleep. People delay their sleeping hours to rebel against the loss of control over their lives during the day. This is called “revenge sleep”. This is another form of self-harm.
Quitting as Instant Gratification
If you had to choose between eating an apple or a delicious chocolate, what would you choose? What would you choose if this was a choice applicable for tomorrow? Most people choose the chocolate today and an apple tomorrow. That is instant gratification for you. Quitting is providing that instant gratification for many people.
Millennials are quitting without even having a job in hand. They are rethinking their life’s priorities. Leisure, status and money have become important than having a job. Sometimes peer-pressure is the reason to change. (read more)
“Everyone from my engineering batch had changed jobs. I was quite happy with my last job. I changed because friends kept telling me that I was not adventurous and risk-averse. That is so uncool. LinkedIn makes it so easy to apply for a job with one click. One day I just tried it and now here I am.”
Does that sound like instant gratification? Not surprisingly so many under-thirty somethings find fulfilment in becoming entrepreneurs, freelancers and doing creative gigs. These are all professions that provide instant gratification. A stand up comedian knows instantly if the jokes are landing well or not.
‘N’, 34, is a HR professional in a Unicorn. She has spent the last eight years in a super stressful job which has been very rewarding. The company is pleased with her and sees her as a star performer. She is eligible for a sabbatical. She wonders if she should start a family or find a less stressful job. She always wanted to be a writer. She wonders if she should become a full-time writer for a while.
Emotions matter in the workplace – more than ever
Offering more money when an employee quits is an old habit that employers must rise above. This is of course assuming that the employees are being paid fairly in the first place.
1. The person matters – not just the employee
The people managers may need to build new skills to learn to manage a remote first workforce. Building a personal connect with the individual matters more than ever.
“My boss must know, I am not just a nameless factor of production.”
The change has to be driven at 3 levels:
People : what new skills will they need to manage the new reality. Listening and being able to have honest conversations to address workplace issues is an important skill.
Process: how will the processes like performance management, compensation, upskilling adapt to this new scenario.
Technology: what can technology do to enable hybrid work – especially routine repetitive tasks.
2. The people-manager as a relationship-worker
The workplace is full of people-managers who see themselves in the image of slave drivers who built the pyramids. Their entire engagement with a team member is limited to the task. The hybrid workplace needs people who are high on emotional intelligence. The model of cold blooded machine that allocates tasks and dishes out the salary is a relic of the industrial era. Put in the most rigorous system assessment to decide who can lead teams. Then invest in building their skills.
Making the person feel valued can take many forms. Actively shaping their work to let them build their skills can be powerful value-proposition in a world where skills have a diminishing half-life. The employees want to work for managers they can learn from.
3. Delivering goals is not the ONLY thing employees worry about
Defining start and end timings is necessary for the employees mental health.
“Anthropologists find that for more than 95% of human history, people enjoyed more leisure time than we do now. Generations of hunter-gatherers subsisted on 15-hour workweeks. When we started treating humans like machines, we began confusing time spent with value created.”
The employees are evaluating the goals set by the employer with their life goals. Making time for them to address their other roles (eg as a parent or sibling) may not be something employers have done before but may be worth thinking about.
The future-proof organisation
All said and done, the organisation must make the organisation future proof. This high attrition phase is likely to continue over the next 2-3 years. Defining the talent strategy begins by identifying which jobs are mission-critical. According to HBR, no more than 5% of your jobs are mission critical. The good news is 65% of the future roles can be done by existing employees provided employers invest in management development.
Ask the leaders to write their job description as it would look like three years later. Then ask them if they hire themselves in that role. Ask them to focus on what people are running towards when they leave. Then craft the roles to address those emotional needs.