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Forget the Great Resignation, focus on the Great Attraction instead

Investing in cultural evolution instead of inflated salaries will provide a continual pipeline of talented people who want to be happy and fulfilled in their work, argues Colin D Ellis.

Here’s my take on the Great Resignation: if you spend time and effort creating a great culture, then you’ll only ever lose the people whose values don’t reconcile with yours, people whose motivations change, or those who have another opportunity that they just can’t say no to.

Movement of staff is a normal thing and your organisational focus should be on becoming an employer of choice so that, should people decide to leave, you have a large pool of people who are desperate to join you.

If you have a good culture then your attrition rate will likely be lower than most and, once people do leave, they’ll realise that while they may have more money in the bank, there won’t be the same level of camaraderie or support. Indeed, one CEO I spoke to recently told me of a case where one of his staff was offered more money and lasted two weeks in his new job as he realised that the culture of the new organisation was significantly worse than the one he’d left.

Of course, throwing large salaries at people is a short-term strategy that many organisations will employ, which in the medium- to long-term leaves a hole in operational expenditure and ultimately leads to never-ending restructures. Trust me, I’ve been on the end of a few myself during my career.

Yet by investing in cultural evolution instead of inflated salaries, organisations can create something that will provide a continual pipeline of talented people who want to be happy and fulfilled in their work.

Put simply, the main reason that people will leave is because of the culture you have. While you might like to tell yourself stories about staff being greedy, wanting more flexibility or opportunities you don’t believe them to be ready for, if those same people loved working for you, they’d stay. Period.

Culture is, and always will be, the key determinant of organisational success. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the public or private sector, defining the environment that people need to bring their best selves to work should be the number one priority.

When organisations do this, they see higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher profitability, lower absenteeism and fewer safety incidents. And yet, many still see culture as a human resources initiative, rather than an organisational one.

Culture is seen by senior managers as something that needs to change, rather than something that needs to continually evolve over time, and is consequently put into the ‘too hard’ basket, by people who – paradoxically – still want consistent results.

The Great Attraction – where to start?

Given the changing nature of work over the past 18 months, some organisations are struggling to get started with culture evolution. There’s a real sense of ‘let’s get people back to the office, then we’ll see’, rather than ‘how do we create the conditions where people look forward to interacting with each other face-to-face again?’

And make no mistake, expectations of employees have shifted. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, during 2020, 95 per cent of employees who’d been in their job for more than a year were happy to stay put. Just 7.5 per cent of people changed jobs during that time, the lowest in history.

Yet, if we’re to believe the intentions of the 1,800 people who answered the PwC What Workers Want survey last month, 38 per cent of people are looking to leave their employer in the coming months.

The length of the pandemic has led to many people feeling uncertain about their futures. For some, their concern is about career progression, while others have questioned their career choice and are returning to study. Many people have simply realised that they aren’t being provided with the conditions where they can be the best versions of themselves and do work with purpose.

There’s nothing like a crisis to shine a light on poor working practices and human behaviour, and I know, anecdotally, that many people have not liked what they’ve seen over the past 18 months. People have had time to think and they now feel empowered to take control of their lives and create a situation where they’re happy, productive and able to successfully balance their home and work commitments.

To build an attractive cultural proposition, organisations should start with purpose and ask themselves: what good are we seeking to do in the world? From this, they can build a short-term vision that is compelling and exciting.

Once the vision has been created, the strategy demonstrating how it will be achieved can be written and at that point, organisations have the blueprint around which employees can come together and define how they’d like to work together. The key considerations include:

  • Reconnecting as humans. What are their personalities? What have they learned about themselves over the past 18 months? How do they like to be motivated? What opportunities do they have for improvement?
  • Defining how they’ll work together. What tools will they use? How will they set expectations and establish trust? How will they address some of the low-value activities that erode productive working time, such as excessive emails and back-to-back meetings?
  • How they’ll create an environment of safety. What does it mean to belong to the team? How will they ensure there is continual learning? What words, phrases and actions will they avoid so that people feel included regardless of where they are working?

These are the foundations for great culture and, once built, provide employees with the conditions where happiness and productivity thrive. These are the stories that they will tell to others and that the organisation can share through social and traditional media to build a pipeline of willing (future) employees.

This is something that Spotify is expert at. The company was recently voted the number one loved workplace in the US and it even provides guidelines to potential employees on how they can get a job there, such is the level of interest.

Spotify’s Chief HR Officer, Katarina Berg, said in an interview with Newsweek, “In an atmosphere of constant ‘controlled chaos’, cultural change is inevitable [but] we have founders who understand that culture evolves.”

Organisations would do well to copy this approach and rather than focus on who will leave, instead build a culture that prompts the more exciting question of who could join!

Colin D Ellis is bestselling author of The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work and helps organisations around the world to transform their working cultures.

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