Many experts now think that The Great Resignation, a hallmark of the COVID-19 pandemic, will impact the U.S. labor market into the foreseeable future. A combination of talent shortages, changing employee priorities, retirements and job-switching rooted in frustration has rocked businesses and created deep concern around employee retention. According to “The 2022 HR Trends Report” by TrustRadius, which polled over 700 human resources (HR) professionals across industries in the U.S., 76% of respondents believe that change in the labor market accompanying The Great Resignation is permanent.
Employees and employers alike face an uncertain world. On top of the labor shifts and stressors caused by COVID-19 comes the fallout of war in Europe — destruction utterly incongruent with the interconnectedness of the 21st century. According to Bloomberg, global companies employ roughly 250,000 technologists in Ukraine, who are highly educated, relatively low-cost workers who write code and develop software across verticals. Many of these colleagues are fearing for both their loved ones’ safety and their own.
Co-workers in the U.S. and other nations not physically affected by the war are often still experiencing a kind of psychological shell shock.
Whether it’s a global pandemic, unprecedented turnover or a war overseas, let’s look at three kinds of training that can help employers and employees cope with the new realities shaping life and work.
A New Scope Is Needed for Crisis Management Training
For many companies, what’s happening in Ukraine is personal. CNBC reported that an estimated 20% of Fortune 500 companies have remote development teams in Ukraine. And at least 330 companies announced their withdrawal from Russia or suspended actions. Employees in the U.S. and elsewhere feel heightened distress and sorrow at the situation and the suffering. Beyond the physical war, businesses and their employees also deal with the threat or reality of cyberattacks.
One answer is to expand the scope of crisis management training so that all employees feel prepared logistically and emotionally for catastrophe. This kind of training covers a lot of ground, typically to prepare a small number of leaders to guide their organization through a range of disasters, both natural and human-made. Expanding the scope doesn’t mean that every employee needs to take a full course. Rather, it means a non-alarmist integration with other categories of training. For a wider audience of employees, it’s possible to develop hybrid courses that use key elements from both crisis management and mental health coaching.
It’s instructive to look to industries like health care, where employees receive regular crisis management training that considers a wide range of scenarios which create mass trauma or disruption. Creative kinds of learning and drills provide a foundation of how to keep operating day-to-day amid crisis, even if the specifics of the next crisis are unknown. In healthcare, that preparation is part of the culture because it’s critical for the continuation of patient treatment. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the pandemic showed us healthcare workers are human and have limits. Prolonged reliance on heroism must be replaced by a sane system that can refresh employees amid tragedy and that’s built for resilience.
With expanded crisis management training that takes employee well-being into account, leaders must zero in on empathy and compassion. Leading teams through a crisis requires more than just knowing what to do, but also how to do it in a way that makes people feel resilient and empowered.
Professional Development Should Feed Mid-career Employees and Soothe Burnout
A recent in-depth analysis of The Great Resignation described in Harvard Business Review involved researchers studying more than 9 million employee records from more than 4,000 companies. They found the resignation rates increased most among mid-career employees, specifically people between 30 and 45 years old — with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. The study also found resignations have been highest in the tech and health care industries.
Looking at workers across all industries, amid ongoing uncertainty, a new Pew Research survey found that “low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year.”
Employers must get serious about creating meaningful professional development programs that target mid-career employees in particular, as much as newcomers. The importance of offering thoughtful opportunities for workers who do much of the heavy-lifting can’t be overstated. But offering isn’t enough. Build ample time for employees to learn and grow. An organization may have an exceptional learning management system (LMS) in place. It may even have hundreds of courses available to employees on topics that appeal to a diverse array of learners. But if their workday is so jam-packed that they don’t feel like they can take the time to complete training, then offering training is just as ineffective as not offering it. In fact, it may be more ineffective because employees know there’s resources available but feel frustrated that they don’t have time to use them.
Structured, strategic development can be effective, but it also needs to be integrated into the flow of work. Short bits and prompts work well as a complement to more structured learning events.
Employees know if they’re being set up for advancement or stagnation: The latter contributes heavily to burnout and a lack of well-being. Remote engagement has also blurred the line between work and life. Managers need to be aware when their team members are consistently spending 10 to 12 hours a day working, and whether those employees are feeling pressure to do so. Organizations can watch for signs of burnout, worries about a lack of advancement and disrespect, among other negatives, with pulse checks and surveys. Maintaining an open dialogue can provide psychological safety and substantive professional development can refresh teams. In a sense, companies can re-recruit their employees with meaningful professional development opportunities and dedicated time to use those opportunities.
DEI Must Remain a Top Priority
The U.S. continues to grapple with matters of social justice that are in the news daily. The uncertainty and stress that large swaths of people have felt over the past two years and still feel is acute. Recent research has shown that 71% of HR professionals think that The Great Resignation will impact their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, with 41% saying it offers an opportunity to increase diversity, 44% saying it will require a complete rethinking of company efforts, and 21% saying it will derail company DEI efforts. The Pew study found that “non-white adults who quit a job last year are more likely than their white counterparts to say the reasons include not having enough flexibility (52% versus 38%).”
Making DEI an integral part of the design of training programs, with forethought rather than as an afterthought, is vitally important. But businesses must be wary of some ill-conceived training programs specifically targeting people of color (POC). A recent Time article explains how these actually can be a red flag: “Whereas diversity spending used to more often encompass anti-bias or sensitivity sessions, it is increasingly targeting people of color themselves.” This refers to in-house approaches that exist at many companies with programs for women and POC, rather than work that dismantles systemic inequities in advancement and leadership at its source — the tendency to see value in that which is most like oneself. Access to leadership networks and sponsorship, where a leader actively supports a protégé rather than just mentoring with advice alone, are key.
By prioritizing thoughtful DEI, nurturing more and better professional development for mid-career employees and expanding the scope of crisis management training, organizations can bolster their long-term preparedness. That preparedness helps us take on a world that may become more insecure before society catches up to the remarkable connectivity and technological advances of this age.