One of the biggest workplace trends of 2021 is The Great Attrition, also referred to as The Great Resignation or The Great Reshuffle. Research conducted by McKinsey across industries in Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States, suggests that employees are quitting at record rates and "(many) cite a lack of connection to the organisation as a primary reason.
Many feel increased burnout, grief, and exhaustion. Employees also report wanting to feel valued and treated as an individual, yet organisations are relying on transactional strategies to retain them.”
The Pandemic Has Shifted Employees' Needs and Expectations
A related trend is the pandemic’s effect on the employee experience and expectations. The pandemic has caused many employees to reflect on their purpose in life and reconsider the kind of work they do. Now more than ever, employees expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives, and if leaders are not able to meet this need, they will lose talent to companies that will.
The remote work dynamic has left many leaders with little sense of what their employees are struggling with. By the time they find out, it’s often too late.
These developments have surfaced after a prolonged season of remote work. While being a contributing factor to relational disconnect, the remote work dynamic has left many leaders and managers with little sense of what their employees are struggling with.
Day-to-day interactions may portray an employee who is coping well, making it difficult for leaders to pick up on red flags about their team’s motivation and sense of fulfilment at work. By the time the resignation letter reaches the leader, the employees have already made up their minds and are past the point of return.
Employees Show Greater Relational Needs
Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, the main causes of employees leaving relate more to the human and relational aspects of their work lives. Leaders need to address their employees’ need for connection, well-being, and purpose.
“Our Great Attrition research suggests that employees are prioritising relational aspects while leadership is focused on transactional elements.” — MCKINSEY & COMPANY
Psychological safety: A key component to addressing the pivotal relational aspects
Several studies have shown that psychological safety is a leading predictor of both work satisfaction and performance, influencing performance indicators such as employee engagement, retention, quality of work, innovation, customer service ratings, and client relationships.
When there is psychological safety in a workplace, employees feel comfortable being themselves and they believe that they will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Psychological safety breeds trust. When there is safety and trust, there is a positive trickle-down effect on all areas of work.
Employees thrive in safe spaces
When employees feel safe to truly connect with their leaders, they are more likely to share openly. They are able to voice their ideas, opinions and concerns. This allows leaders to get a more well-rounded understanding of their team, and better understand how to engage and motivate each individual.
When there is psychological safety, leaders can get a more well-rounded understanding of their team.
Leaders can then have the opportunity to address issues and make more informed choices that impact their employees. This is especially crucial in a time of remote work where physical separation can make it difficult for leaders to pick up on cues that a team member is losing motivation and is at high risk of leaving their job. When team members feel safe to share their struggles, leaders can respond before employees reach a breaking point and leave.
Secondly, psychological safety allows leaders to draw out the passions and values of their staff and help align them to what they are doing in the organisation.
Psychological safety allows leaders to draw out the passions and values of their staff and help align them to what they are doing in the organisation.
Research shows that a sense of purpose is a crucial part of every employee’s day-to-day job satisfaction. Thus, one of the most important roles as leaders is to create a purpose-driven environment, one where employees feel like they’re working towards something greater than themselves.
When employees feel heard and valued at work, they become more engaged, productive, and committed. When they have a sense of purpose, they will more likely feel like they belong and are where they are supposed to be.
In essence, safety and trust allow leaders to see beneath the surface. Understanding these undercurrents is the key. It allows leaders to connect and increase engagement, and respond in a way that is meaningful for the people and for the business.
Understanding these undercurrents is the key. It allows leaders to connect and increase engagement, and respond in a way that is meaningful for the people and for the business.
Overcome the Great Attrition by Building a safe space
Psychological safety in the workplace is an outcome of empathic leaders who are competent in the human aspect–relational leadership. Here are four ways you can become a better relational leader and counteract the threat of attrition:
1. Listen and cultivate empathy
Empathy is crucial in enabling relational leaders to bring out the best in others. When you practise empathy, you will be better able to understand your employees’ perspectives and connect with how they feel. Internalising their thoughts and feelings will equip you to discover what they truly value and what motivates them. This helps you to communicate effectively and listen receptively, providing invitations and indicators of safety for your team members. Also, when leaders lead with empathy, employees feel heard and valued.
2. Be vulnerable and authentic
One of the best ways to promote psychological safety in the workplace is by having a genuine and truthful approach to working with employees. When you are able to unmask and be transparent about your weaknesses and upfront about your mistakes, you enable your team members to feel at ease and be their true selves regardless of their shortcomings. Leaders who embody authenticity engender trust and inspire those around them to also be authentic.
3. Encourage ‘we’ over ‘me’ conversations
When making decisions, seek input from everyone in the group. Invite your employees to add strategic value and assert their opinion without being judged or interrupted. Additionally, allow them opportunities to demonstrate their value at higher levels or with challenging assignments so that they establish a sense of belonging and ownership. By creating an environment where employees are given full responsibility for tasks and are unafraid to speak up, offer perspective, take risks, and learn from their mistakes, trust and psychological safety are built.
4. Lead like a coach
Leadership begins the moment you are more concerned about others' flourishing than you are about your own. — ANDY CROUCH
To lead like a coach, leaders need to focus on people and not problems. This type of leadership requires a paradigm shift from being self-promoting and outcome-oriented, to being others-enabling and people-focussed. This shift is significant: when you are able to bring out the best in your staff without an ulterior motive, you create a safe environment for the team to work together to find solutions.
To cultivate psychological safety and build trust, leaders must lead relationally. Relational leaders take the coach-like approach and walk alongside their team members. They do not only challenge but care deeply about their employees. When employees experience relational leadership, they are more likely to stay rooted in the organisation.