The Great Resignation and a Workplace Maturity Model

Blog article written and contributed by Brady Mick

One of the more fascinating developments created by the pandemic is “The Great Resignation.” Attraction and retention of the best and the brightest has been a core precept of workplace strategy for the past three decades. While the reasons for an individual resigning from their job lean toward the issues of relationships with bosses and teammates, the relationship with the workplace is also a high value factor for consideration.

The art of belonging is oft desired by company culture. While we focus on our individual doing, we separate, even momentarily, from the value of being an integral part of our comrades. Separation adheres to the risks of becoming permanent.

If seeing is believing, and belonging is tied to presence, how does the Great Resignation we are experiencing connect to the remote work result of our pandemic context? Does a lack of presence, along with a reduction in physically shared time in the workplace, impact the rampant decision people are making to quit their job?

The Impact of The Great Resignation

The Great Resignation has added a new set of data when considering the value of the workplace. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, used by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that this “quitter market” has historically increased throughout the age of Covid. In November 2021, a full 3% of the workforce voluntarily resigned their work, topping 4.5MM individuals in one month.

The cost of losing employees is profound. Galup estimates that:

“The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary — and that’s a conservative estimate.”

Consider the potential of losing and replacing 3% of your people next month. If you are an organization of one hundred, and your average salary is $50,000, the loss for this coming year could be a million dollars in productivity, or more. People choosing to not belong to their organization is expensive.

As work navigates through the waves of pandemic that rise and fall, and as business waits for insight into the future value of the workplace, at Infinity Group we are asking questions about how to prepare now for what is next.

What is your workplace “doing” right now?

If you are following the trends, your workplace is probably around 50% occupied, or less. The efforts to reopen safe and healthy workplaces has been quite the struggle throughout Covid. While companies would stive to be 100% open to the workforce, safe practice indicated transitional team approaches, dubbed as The Hybrid Model.

Hybrid provides a reasonable model to utilize existing workplace strategies within the Covid context. But, as a long-term solution, Hybrid is freezing good thinking about creating a high value workplace ready for what is next. Hybrid strategy is best when overlaid with existing workplaces that were built based on pre-pandemic paradigms for work. The qualities include assigned desks, scheduled meeting spaces, and team centric zones.

Hybrid naturally relieves the pressure of requiring all to navigate their preferred days in or out of the office, and physically or virtually present to meetings. Hybrid requires minimal changes to past workplace designs. Yet do these patterns and models represent the needs of your people to belong and thrive? The Great Resignation might suggest otherwise.

What do we already know?

Consider that before the pandemic, at any point in a work week, across most all regions and workforce productivity, on average one-half the total number of seats for individual to work in were empty. And, if you were to review every private office in the US that was assigned to an individual and monitor their use of that room, on average private offices went unused at least 70% of the time.

Yet people were working. For the past two decades workplace design strategy has continuously measured increasing demand for meeting spaces. At the same time technology matured to untether work processes from fixed and singular assigned desks. Informal contracts were agreed between team leaders and team members, opening the utilization of work-from-home strategies. Some formal remote work programs were successful. Many were not.

The reality is that when covid struck, much of work had already adopted the behaviors of agile work processes that were already emptying the traditional cube-office-conference room workplace settings. We know so much today about the workforce connection to the workplace, offering a course of action that is appropriate for both today during the continuous bouncing of the epidemic, and for tomorrow and the renewed value of people working in high performing teams.

In what way does workplace fill our desire to belong?

How do we know when we belong? We seem to know when we are properly and suitable placed in a context where we experience harmony, meaning, and value. We belong at work when the experiences of purpose and production prevail. Whether extraverted, or introverted, belonging socially and intellectually blends efficiently to strike chords of resonance that builds positive and meaningful relationships.

When we belong, we experience the complex nature of happiness that drives us to expound in the experience. Human connection within a built place is a base requirement of wellbeing, and we work effectively when we are well. The shortest path to achieving belonging comes from the convergence with colleagues in places where the goals of belonging and achievement are shared.

Does Workplace Drive Culture?

Workplace organizational dynamics centers on belonging as a function of culture. Culture represents the memory of the behavioral preferences deemed right and good over time. Organizational culture is measurable.

For example, cloistered workplaces often exude sensory deprivation in the form of quiet, serious, and often disciplinary glances against noise. Cultural change becomes apparent when people leave their job because they are not having a viable work experience. Often this points directly to a workplace that is void of energy because of outdated cultural expectations.

The opposite is true as well. Overactive workplaces void in respite settings can drive people away. The ebb and flow of work process requires a workplace strategy that balances community and focus as integrated and agile. Even with the absence of people working together in a physical setting, culture forms and changes. More often cultural separation develops anxiety, misunderstand, and under the cloud of covid, fear. People change their settings when in fear. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Workplace Strategy Maturity Model

Space changes around us as we grow and experience living. Remember for a moment your childhood bedroom. Possible you can recall the elements of that room. What hung on the walls? Did you have toys on the floor? What technology did you use while in your room? It is probable that technology is irrelevant today.

Next consider your room in your teenage years. Not only did the bed serve as a study place, so did other places throughout the house. The kitchen might have been the center of activity and the couch a decent place to focus on activity.

Recall when you first went away from home. Possible you moved away to attend school or begin work. How many years after this move did you return home for a visit? How different was the value of your bedroom (if it had not yet been renovated) to you between your childhood, your adolescence, and your early adulthood?

Please recall your version of those transitions and apply to the personal work setting in the office.

If your workplace has some form of personally assigned cubes and private offices, they are strategically like your childhood bedroom. They are personal, private, and representative of the preference of each person.

If your workplace has open team strategy, with dedicated team meeting spaces and overlapping use of individual focused work points, this strategy is akin to the adolescent use of home.

The pandemic has been like going away from home for the first time for many at work. For some time after going away there is comfort in knowing that your home is still there. Missing the patterns and culture of the family is common, but the future is exciting as new behaviors and expectation come into focus.

If you have prepared nothing for your workplace, then your people are coming home to an environment that they have outgrown. Just like a mature college student would not prefer to go home to stay in their sixth-grade bedroom, a team of people who have learned to work agile does not prefer to return to a cube farm under the past cultural rules of work. Thus, people are easily choosing to leave their jobs.

Acting in a time of discontinuity

None of us knows how long the pandemic will continue to bounce. It is possible that our two-year trial could continue for much longer. While natural attrition in the workforce is logical, loosing people at the rate of The Great Resignation is damaging. Through caring and diligent study of your cultural evolution, your work process agility, your technology interfaces, and your brand equity, you can achieve much today to embrace the changes that are currently happening to you instead of for you. Workplaces that are waiting for clarity to advance will be detrimental to curbing the changes you do not want to have.