It doesn’t take genius to understand “The Great Resignation”... Or does it?

Greg Weitzman, Principal & Chief Operating Officer

Employers, let’s face it: as far as “The Great Resignation” goes, the writing’s on the wall.

The stats speak for themselves: According to SHRM data, in November of 2021, just over 4.5 million people quit their jobs. That’s over 1 million more individuals than the next largest November measurement (3.48 million in 2019). And, don’t fool yourself - “The Great Resignation” is showing no signs of slowing down.

What’s clear is that the trend is a very real, resounding repudiation of the status quo. One that no amount of ping-pong tables, free lunches, or fun perks is going to solve.

Why are workers leaving? Research shows that apart from pay, workers are walking away from a toxic workplace culture.

So I’m going to start with a truth that I think far too many employers in the US still need to urgently recognize: Work is meant to be dignifying.

Everyone - from the fry cook to the delivery guy to the copywriter to the executive vice president - has something important to contribute in a unique way.

As the saying goes: There are no small roles.

What ‘The Great Resignation’ is showing us, is that all over the country people are being made to feel very small indeed.

What’s the antidote to a toxic culture?

I think there are two main ones:

  1. Psychological safety: creating an environment where workers feel safe to offer ideas, ask questions and raise concerns without fear of humiliation or punishment
  2. Harnessing natural strengths: ensuring that people are doing work that engages their talents

The likelihood of your team sticking around often comes down to how well you fare in these two areas. Ask yourself: do your people feel safe and how fulfilled are they?

You’ll realize these two areas are very closely related. Workplaces that offer psychological safety will often see individuals flourish in ways that unleash their talents.

A great deal of work is being done around strategies to help workers connect their day-to-day work with their innate talents and a greater sense of purpose. Here’s one that I find game-changing: the “Working Genius” model. So much so, that I’m a Working Genius Certified Facilitator.

Developed by organizational health pioneer Patrick Lencioni, Working Genius espouses the idea that all of us have innate gifts (called “geniuses”) - whether it’s the ability to ponder greater potential in any situation, the gift of coming up with original ideas and solutions, or the gift of rallying and inspiring others. When we’re doing work that taps into these strengths we find we are energized. It’s work we love doing and can do for long periods without feeling exhausted or drained.

On the other end of the “Working Genius” spectrum are “Working Frustrations”. This is the work that drains and exhausts you. If you’ve experienced “burnout”, it’s likely because you’ve been plugging away at your “Frustrations” instead of your “Geniuses”.

Judgment and Guilt

There’s a more insidious (and sometimes toxic) dynamic that develops in teams where people are working in areas where they have little or no innate talent. They inevitably underperform, leading to judgment on the part of team members who have to pick up the slack. And this, of course, leads to feelings of guilt on the individual’s part as they burn out trying to deliver what they see colleagues delivering quickly and easily.

The Working Genius framework explains why some teams succeed and others don’t. And, as a Working Genius Certified Facilitator, I have seen this tool used effectively across many organizations.

It also goes hand-in-hand with the work we do at Flexability. Our approach to DEI leads organizations to develop inclusive cultures (rather than ticking diversity boxes). And an inclusive workplace culture sees people unleash their talents and express identities in ways that benefit both the business and the individual.

And here’s the bottom line: all of this ultimately leads to excellent retention.

Employees will be the ultimate decision-makers

So forget ping pong tables. The organizations that leverage systems like Working Genius and get their leaders to embrace psychological safety will win the battle against ‘The Great Resignation’.

In these companies, leaders will be able to creatively tackle productivity challenges in a new remote-first world. Their engaged employees will grow professionally and ultimately grow these businesses.

In this era of work, agency lies with employees, not employers, in how they want to work, where they want to work, and what kind of company they want to work for.

Employers have a unique opportunity to approach culture and teamwork differently, engage different models and tools, and build trust with employees. The future of work is shifting, and employees are looking for employers that can best recognize and harness their unique Genius.