Across global economies, the COVID-19 pandemic has confined employees to their homes. For some it’s been a challenge, while for others it has been an opportunity to reflect on what is important: school drop offs, morning gym sessions, lunchtime walks with the dog, home cooking, or simply seeing the light of day in the depths of winter. What’s more, for a large proportion of employees, it’s proved they can work effectively, remotely.
Sure, some things are better done in-person, and there are real gains to be made, but for many the prospect of five days commuting and five days in the office has become a non-negotiable.
Across the globe, as restrictions have eased and employees have been able to return to the workplace, we have seen a substantial increase in staff turnover. In the United States, four million workers resigned in July 2021 alone, while in the UK a recent survey found one in four workers are considering changing jobs. In Australia, resignations are on the rise, particularly in the states hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We shouldn’t consider every resignation to be negative. Some employees will have decided to change roles completely and may be following a passion or starting their own business. Positively, it’s also important to note that good employers have most often equipped their staff with the skills and confidence required to take the next steps in their careers and that is something to be proud of. What we need to avoid however, is people leaving due to a lack of flexibility in the workplace.
Here are some simple considerations to keep in mind to ensure your business can adapt and tackle the great resignation head on.
#1: Be proactive
When it comes to flexibility arrangements don’t wait for people to ask what the company policy is, or worse, resign. Flexibility can benefit your business and your employees. Engage with your workforce now and don’t be afraid to trial different modes of working.
‘Proactivity' means doing something. As an employer, do not claim your organisation supports flexible working if it does not show it. If you do, put words into action and encourage leaders to walk the walk and talk the talk. If employees cannot see flexibility in action, it doesn’t matter what your messaging is, staff won’t believe it to be possibility.
For some, flexibility means more than avoiding the commute. As a business, if your inflexibility (or perceived inflexibility) stops employees doing what they love or spending time with the ones they love, they will leave.
It doesn’t matter how great your culture is, the amount of bonuses you pay, or how impressive the fancy new coffee machine is, if you miss this crucial step or get it wrong, the reality is you are more likely to lose good employees.
#2: Create and maintain an amazing culture
A great culture isn’t an antidote to resignation; however, it does help if an employee feels a sense of belonging within a business, valued and also sees value in the work they do.
Having a great culture means we need to get the building blocks of our purpose and vision clear – if we don’t know what we are doing, or where we want to be, what chance does an employee have of feeling any sense of belonging or value? Values, strategies and business plans are your building blocks to creating a great culture and engagement.
Your leaders are key to embedding your values and role modelling the way you work. That includes flexibility, the way we communicate, and doing what we say we are going to do.
If you are considering a survey to understand your baseline, be prepared to act on it. One sure way of damaging your culture and employee engagement is by failing to take action.
#3: Be loud and be curious
A sign of great workplace culture is the comfort an employee has to speak up, ask questions, raise concerns and share ideas. Employees should be encouraged to get involved in and start discussions. For employers, this doesn’t mean sitting back and being silent until they do. Leaders should be starting conversations, provoking ideas and sharing views.
A change in approach may be required by the business or its leaders. Often when presented with a question, we ask, “why?” What would happen if we changed our approach and instead asked, “why not?”
This isn’t just about a business being flexible, it’s about us being innovative and prepared to try new things. That includes being prepared to fail and learn from the experience.
#4: React – why are people leaving, what’s the cause?
People will leave. That’s okay. But, let’s make sure they are leaving for the right reasons and not because they have formed the view that the organisation will not be flexible or because they feel unvalued.
When employees do resign, take steps to understand why. Exiting employees can provide some great insights into the business as well as what competitors are doing. Exit surveys can help elicit that information, or you can use online surveys with fixed questions and options for free text.
An “interview” sounds quite formal – avoid the formality but do put time aside for a neutral leader or manager to meet with the exiting employee to explore their reasons for leaving; things they loved, things they hated, and how improvements might be made.
Often employees come back, so investing time in an exit interview can be time well spent. Don’t burn your bridges, you never know when your paths may cross in the future.
Finally, use the data and insights to make positive changes.
#5: A final thought: don’t forget the risks
It sounds easy but there are some risks and formalities to consider.
Any employee can ask for flexibility, but there are state and federal laws that provide certain employees with the right to request a flexible working arrangement. Where a right exists, an employer must consider the request and provide a written response within 21 days. Where the legislation does apply, requests can only be refused on “reasonable business grounds.”
If an employee is covered by a modern award, enterprise agreement, or another industrial instrument, employers should understand what that says in relation to the terms and conditions of their employment. Typically, an award will state the span of hours an employee can work. Flexibility may inadvertently result in a breach and an underpayment.
Awards and registered agreements must include a clause which deals with individual flexibility. Understand what can be varied, the circumstances in which a variation can be made and how to record it.
Make sure your staff understand the fundamentals of how and when terms of employment can be varied. It’s always best to take advice sooner rather than later and our Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advisors and Consultants have a wealth of experience helping members navigate these issues.
How we can help
The Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advisors and Consultants manage an array of workplace issues and are on hand to help. Our Workplace Relations Advice Line offers general advice on:
- Flexible working
- Award coverage and interpretation
- Implementing workplace policies
- Managing complaints
- Disciplinary processes, performance management and termination
- Personal illness and injury
- Responding to claims
- Occupational Health and Safety and WorkCover.
For assistance on any aspect of your employment obligations, please call the Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advice Line on (03) 8662 5222.