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The Great Resignation Wave is Equally Frustrating for Employers, If Not More

In the wake of the pandemic, organizations need to discover new ways of thinking and working. NUS Senior Lecturer Dr. Wu Pei Chuan explains.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are getting more frustrated at work, fueling the great resignation wave. So are employers. Besides managing costs and profits, some employers have tried to care more for their employees during this difficult period, but still, see a flurry of resignations. The employers’ frustration could be due to a mismatch of changing expectations.

Employers in Action  

Some companies have managed better. In Oracle’s recent study, 77% of the Singaporean respondents said their employers were more concerned about their mental health now as compared to the pre-pandemic period.

One example is medical technology firm Medtronic Asia Pacific, which initiated virtual family reunion programs to support foreign employees. Besides up-skilling workers, they also introduced financial incentives to recognize employees’ efforts.

AstraZeneca Singapore launched initiatives such as “Fuel up” days, recovery time, and AxerciseZ to free employees from meetings and encourage physical exercise. They also set up platforms to identify signs of mental health issues and created an employee assistance program to help employees take better care of their mental well-being.

At speciality chemicals company Infineum, a global network of 30 volunteer Wellbeing Champions was set up in April 2020 to raise awareness about mental health and well-being at work. Besides accessing an online Global Wellbeing Hub that offers digital tools for well-being, employees are also encouraged to exercise in small groups (following the government’s COVID-19 protocols) and take stretches while working at home.

Naomi Chua (TREX [Talent, Rewards, Employee Experience] partner) at Infineum Singapore, said, “Leaders are empowered to discuss with their team members about hybrid work arrangement and decide what works best for their team.”

At the top level, some leaders have shared their well-being struggles. When leaders walk the talk, it signals to employees that “it’s OK to not be OK.” This creates trust between leaders and employees.

When Nomura Singapore’s CEO Kelvin Ho openly shared his stress and anxiety regarding work-from-home during the lock-down period in Singapore, his team opened up with their personal frustrations.

When a leader like 3M’s Kevin McGuigan removed four hours (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) from his daily working schedule (originally 8 a.m. to midnight), the company’s employees felt safe to look after their work-life balance and wellness. Showing vulnerability can make leaders appear more authentic and relatable, which helps them connect better with frontline employees.

However, a recent study showed that leaders find it challenging and exhausting to do regular well-being check-ins as demanded by their employees. Some simply do not have the skills to do so.

Over the past 12 months, nearly half of company leaders worldwide found it difficult to manage people in general (46%) and support team members’ issues related to career development (48%). They also found it challenging to manage onboarding new team members (55%), and did not find it easy to notify about employees’ problems in mental well-being (53%) and burnout (51%).

Clearly, leaders are not equipped with the skills to handle incidents related to work-life balance. As a result, only 50% of the workforce gave their leaders a “meet expectation” performance rating.

It is thus not surprising that the Qualtrics 2022 Employee Experience Trends found a rise in leaders’ resignations, too. How to support exhausted leaders with the right tools to handle well-being issues is among the top concerns for companies to ponder.

Great Resignation Leads to Great Hiring and Caring

A recent study shows that the trend of high employee turnover will continue in 2022, citing the top three reasons as reprioritizing career aspirations (30%), lack of career advancement (24%), and pay and benefits (23%).

The great resignation wave induces a further reshuffling of the workforce. Workforce burnout leads to resignation and reprioritizing. It also propels employers to be more caring through holistic and customized benefits. To attract and retain talent, employers have planned to adjust salaries for employees in 2022. Three out of four Singapore firms reportedly leveraged mid-year pay adjustments (base pay adjustment, retention bonuses, etc.) in 2021 to retain targeted employees.

However, employees’ expectations have changed. Oracle’s global study showed 92% of the respondents said they had redefined success since the start of the pandemic, prioritizing work-life balance, flexibility, and mental health. In the meantime, 90% of employees are ready to make a career move and many consider professional development as their top consideration.

Adjusting pay is merely meeting the baseline of talent attraction and retention. What’s more pertinent would be career-related issues, as employees from the frontline to senior leaders are moving across organizations.

Employers’ Challenge in Up-skilling Workers

The great resignation wave also revealed the pertinent need to up-skill workers.

Due to border controls, the local labor market has tightened, despite its gradual recovery. Labor shortages and skill mismatches hamper mature workers’ employment prospects. Professionals are also threatened by the outsourcing of remote work and need to brush up their skillsets. DBS reckoned the biggest challenge for the bank is to re-skill and up-skill their entire workforce to be future-ready.

Employees want to change but have no direction. Oracle’s global study showed 90% of Singaporean respondents wish to leverage robotic technology to support their career development needs and identify needed skillsets.

One of the employers’ bigger challenges is to show employees the links between skills mapping, learning pathways, and career growth.

They could prioritize the internal mobility of employees who are keen to learn new skills and stay on longer at the company. With data, they could also personalize the career growth journey for employees as well as build a learning community.

In the wake of the pandemic, organizations need to discover new ways of thinking and working. It’s like rowing a boat against the currents—if you don’t move ahead, you will be forced to retreat.

The article is an abridged version of the one first published in CNA and BIZBeat.