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Surviving the Great Resignation


Far too many business leaders rely on “hopium” to retain top talent.  There is no plan, no strategy, and sadly, little hope of keeping star performers as the post-pandemic mass migration begins.  Prepare yourself for the coming resignations you do not see coming.  You will be shocked, hurt, and eventually angry when the people you have invested in announce their departure from the team.

When things are uncertain professionally, people tend to stay put.  According to Anthony Klotz, we are beginning to experience pent-up resignations that did not happen during the pandemic.  “The numbers are multiplied, he says, by the many pandemic-related epiphanies—about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means—that can make people turn away from the traditional office grind.”  I tend to agree.

Businesses are struggling with the decision to continue work-from-home (WFH) or bring people back to the office.  This struggle is going to get worse moving forward.  According to a survey by Prudential, 25% of workers will look for a new job with a new employer.  What are you going to do when more and more of your team approach you with a rival offer?  Are you prepared?  What is your plan?

For some companies, it may be too late.  How your people feel about the boss and the company is baked, and nothing will change their opinion of the company in their minds short term.  If you have taken top performers for granted, not shown sincere appreciation, or, worse, mistreated them, you will not be able to prevent the departure.  They are already gone mentally.

However, if you have been deliberate as a leader to show appreciation and keep your people challenged, you may still have a chance to mitigate the impact of the migration on your business.  Do not wait any longer.  It is time to get to work.

The pandemic has caused people to rethink careers, revisit expectations, and change plans.  According to the same Prudential survey, 42% of remote workers will insist on remaining in WFH status.  Others who want to go back to work are frustrated with restricted workspaces, masking, and vaccination status.  Some see the pandemic as the opportunity to make a strategic move professionally and financially.  It is open season on talent, and mass exodus is happening.

According to Jerod Brennen, “a lot (and I mean a LOT) of folks are suffering from burnout right now.  The lines between home life and work-life have blurred, the tsunami of back-to-back meetings, the lack of drive time at the end of the day to decompress before dinner... folks are a mess.” You must be sensitive to employee needs now more than ever.  As more people leave your company, you will pass work to the remaining team, compounding this stress.  More people will go.

What can you do?  Begin an intervention with all key employees, starting with top performers.  You can slow the exodus by acting fast.  Have deep and meaningful conversations about career plans and professional development goals.  Give them access to long term training and other enrichment opportunities inside and outside the organization.  Offer them access to conferences and offer to pay for professional development.  It may sound expensive at first glance, but it is much cheaper than losing and replacing a key employee. Keep your employees challenged and make them feel important to keep them.

Listen to your employees.  Do not make blanket policies based on your assumptions.  You likely have blind spots regarding what your people want.  Do not guess.  I help organizations create stay interviews to ask employees what they desire from work.  Many workers may have refocused their lives around family, decided that commuting was not worth it, or may have found a new calling. 

Demand for talent is at an unprecedented high; the pent-up frustration of the typical employee is exceptionally high; coupled with the fact that most companies either did pay cuts or stagnated wages during the COVID crisis and add in the personal priority shifts of the individual worker and we are heading into the storm of the century – Janet Meek

Top performers rarely leave alone.  I teach companies to compound talent acquisition by asking newly hired talent to identify other potential top performers from previous employers.  Top talent is attracted to other top performers, and more people are willing to follow if the new job seems to have positive potential.  These new hires become the opening the previous employers for strategic hiring opportunities.  As a rule, if you can get one top performer, you should attempt to get two more.  Past two and the quality of talent tends to deteriorate as actual top performers are rare.

You will get tempted to make a counteroffer to save a top performer.  Should you?  It is a complex decision.  Some experts say no. 

Let them go because if they stay, neither will be happy, things will go downhill, and the new job they were so excited to start will have faded away, possibly never found again. – Carrie Stiles

Making a counteroffer is not always a bad idea.  It depends on the circumstances.  It is like repairing a personal relationship at the point of break up.  If both sides are not fully transparent about current reality and desires for the future, it can undoubtedly backfire for both parties.  Like rehiring or demotions, unchecked problems and resentments will resurface in the future.  You must get to the root of the problem and address it at that level.

You may have been lucky up to this point.  If you are underpaying people because of a great culture or work-life balance, you will get busted eventually.  People in our circles are changing jobs, and they will talk to each other.  You must develop a proactive plan to address inequities ahead of time.  Ten years ago, I created a seven-part written strategy for retaining top talent.  You can watch the 12-minute introduction to this strategy for free Or google these words “leading the tribes with John Grubbs” if you are hesitant about the link.

My advice is to act now.  Do not wait.  Start having meaningful conversations with your top performers.  Make sure they are challenged and appreciated.  Ensure they know the importance of their work for the team.  You will not stop all losses.  You will save a few.  Let’s get to work!