Monday 7 June 2021 5:00 am

Avoiding the great resignation will require some creative thinking

Atholl Duncan is chair of the leadership development business Black Isle Group and the author of Leaders in Lockdown

They’re calling it “The Great Resignation” – the fear of a tsunami of departures from City firms as battalions of workers change jobs post-pandemic. One survey suggested that as many as 40 per cent of employees are considering moving on in the next six to twelve months.

Some say they just can’t stomach the anxiety of returning to the office.

Others have got used to more time with their families. While it’s dawned on many they can live on less. The result could be an eye watering exodus of employees and a fierce war for talent.

After fifteen months of working from home the shock of retrieving the work skirt or the pinstripe from the back of the wardrobe will be a watershed moment for many. What can companies do to help influence at this crossroads? 

Read more: Office politics: Hybrid working will make WFH look like a walk in the park

First, it’s not about the money this time. Most importantly, there is an urgent need to spell out what the new world of work will look like. It must be enticing and intriguing – a sea change from the past. We must bring innovation and creativity to inventing something amazing.  Involving the workforce in that new design is essential.

So, far we’ve been transfixed on whether the hybrid world is two days or three days in the office. That’s not the crux. We need to create compelling reasons to go to there. Think destination marketing.

This essential re-imagination of office life means striking at the heart of The City’s culture and traditions. Let’s ditch the formal wear and shred the grey skirts, suits, and ties. Let employees come to work in whatever they feel comfortable in. Let’s make the office feel and look like an environment that’s more enticing and wonderful than anything we could create at home – a Disneyland for City folk. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, let’s scrap the need to turn up at 9am. Let the vast majority self-schedule, allowing them to continue the flexibility of balancing family life with their work commitments.

With such a focus on employee wellbeing and mental welfare, let’s put valuable initiatives to help with calm and contentment at the heart of office life.

Let’s think unthinkable thoughts! So, what would be wrong with employees Zooming in from the ski slopes or sun kissed beaches, for a few weeks a year – as long as they deliver great results? After all, virtual working has made geography history.

Once we’ve changed the environment, let’s change the culture and behaviours. Could we make work fun? Could we start trusting the people who work with us?

Let’s re-consider what it means to empower; ditch command and control; and consign presenteeism to the past. Let’s transform what it looks like to be a leader at every level in business. 

The biggest influencer on happiness at work is the behaviour of the person we report into. That makes the line manager more important in retaining talent than the CEO. It means we must focus far better on selecting, training, and nurturing our line managers to raise their games as leaders.

Let’s live the values of care, compassion, listening and inspiring. Let Covid mark the end of the era of the Superman and Superwoman leader. Let them be victims of the virus.

For line managers who are dying to get back into the office to resume their overbearing oversight at the shoulders of their team, let’s say, “There is no going back”. We’ve scotched the myth that collaboration can only take place if we’re all in the same room. The world has changed, and the world’s line managers must change with it.

The next few months mark a crucial phase in City life. Businesses who use their imagination will win the talent war.  City firms who go back to the past will rue the day.

The stakes are high. The cost of a Great Resignation could run to many hundreds of millions in The City alone. Now is the time to think differently, innovate and invest to quell the quantity of quitting. 

Read more: Office Politics: Apprenticeships aren’t the only way to nurture young talent

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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