And How To Stop Them

Vaccines are here. Hopeful for post-pandemic normalcy, employers across the country are bringing their employees back to the office. But not all of them.

To put it mildly, many people are quitting their jobs in what the media are calling “The Great Resignation.” Back in March, the 2021 resignation rate was 2.4 percent – the highest rate of quitters recorded in any March of the last 20 years. Some of this is the release of a backlog—would-be leavers who kept their jobs in 2020 to fend off pandemic-driven hardship. But, as the backlog clears and businesses welcome everyone back to the office, many are still saying, “No, thanks.” Just this week the Labor Department released its November 2021 jobs report showing a record number of workers opting out.

Why? There are several reasons. One is increased savings and debt reduction. Another reason: people hated the pandemic, but loved working from home. Faced with a choice between going back to the office and quitting, some people will quit.

And, if they have another job option, why not? During remote work, they saved a lot of money and a lot of time—no commute, no travel costs, no dry cleaning, no costly lunch, no co-worker-you-hate, no drop-ins from the boss, no sharing the bathroom with dozens of strangers… I could go on, or I could sum it up in one word: Control.

Yes, pajamas are comfy and your dog’s head resting on your lap makes a meeting more bearable. But home is greater than the sum of its perks—working from home (or a coffee shop, or a beach) gives humans the autonomy we crave. It’s not the fuzzy slippers; it’s the choice to wear the fuzzy slippers.

So what’s a company to do? Create control.

In our change management work for clients, we use the concept of control to create momentum and improve adoption of a change.

We do this by making people feel in control of a change. That doesn’t mean we’re tricking them, just building in autonomy where we can and focusing their attention on those autonomous feelings.

Here are a few ways you might create feelings of control to entice workers to stay with you.

  1. Flexible Hours. Giving people their choice of shifts—earlier, later, or even a four-day week—might soften the return to a commute.
  2. Goal-Based Weeks. Don’t make people sit at their desks eight hours a day, regardless of what they’re doing. Set realistic performance milestones and give employees the remainder of the week off after they hit them.
  3. Work-at-Home Days. Schedule all-hands-on-deck days, for in-person work, and let them work from home the rest of the time—but only if they want to! Choice is the point here.
  4. The Comforts of Home. Think about what workers will be missing when they come back to the office, and give them alternatives. Cheap lunch? Pay for it. Privacy? Create pods for people who want to get away. Kids nearby? Set up a day care. A better view? Think of your office space as a campus. Open up new spaces to work, so people can curl up on a sofa near a window, or feel like they’re at their favorite coffee house as they work.

The keys to making any of this work are genuine choice (not a top tier for some choices and a slower track for others) and communication (clear, consistent messaging on choice before they decide to quit… so get on it).

Some of these ideas sound costly, don’t they? Maybe not more costly than turnover and productivity dips.

A final thought: As they contemplate bringing the work force back to the office, the C-Suite might ask itself why. Why do you need them in the office? Is it because seeing the work and the workers right in front of you makes you feel in control?