Before the pandemic, Gallup reported in September 2019 that 69% of employees were ‘actively disengaged,’ indicating they were unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers. At the same time, 51% were ‘not engaged,’ meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.
In March 2021, during the pandemic, the number of actively disengaged employees even increased to 74% (3 out of 4 employees). Compare this to Gallup’s 2011-2012 study, in which 24% were ‘actively disengaged,’ while 63% were not engaged.
The Great Resignation
As the pandemic continued and despite labor shortages and high unemployment, workers have recently quit their jobs in large numbers. This exodus has been deemed The Great Resignation by organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at May Business School at Texas A&M University. Given work’s elevated place in American culture, Klotz said he knew the existential crisis of business was bound to lead to an existential crisis for workers.
In an interview for Business Insider, Klotz pointed out: “From organizational research, we know that when human beings come into contact with death and illness in their lives, it causes them to take a step back and ask existential questions,” Klotz said. “Like, what gives me purpose and happiness in life, and does that match up with how I’m spending my right now? So, in many cases, those reflections will lead to life pivots.”
This should create a moment of reflection for employers, according to Klotz. “I think we are entering a period where companies are trying to figure out, ‘Who are we in this new world of work? What kind of schedule do we want to give our employees?'”
How to Avoid The Great Resignation?
Research by Deloitte, the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends, concluded that [what could be causing the current employee departure], “is mainly the [lack of] meaning and growth people find in the work itself—and to improve that [condition], the entire organization has to be involved.”
One of the biggest challenges Deloitte identified is the need to improve the “employee experience.” Eighty-four percent of the survey respondents rated this issue important, and 28 percent identified it as one of the three most urgent issues facing their organization.
MIT research shows that enterprises with a top-quartile employee experience “achieve twice the innovation, double the customer satisfaction, and 25 percent higher profits than organizations with a bottom-quartile employee experience.” Employee experience is defined by two factors: work complexity and behavioral norms associated with collaboration, creativity, and empowerment, i.e., the ability to create value.
The Demise of Linear Thinking
There is another pressing issue. Even before the pandemic, technological disruption and new business models drove incumbents to lay off staff, which increased anxiety and fear amongst the remaining personnel. While breakthroughs are generally welcomed, breakdowns allow those negative feelings to build up. When the future becomes unpredictable, and we can no longer trust that whatever we did in the past will secure our future, things become dire.
Disruption has put an end to our linear way of thinking. Linear thinking is that way of thinking in which we consider an idea or a process to begin from a point (A), follow a series of connected steps, and end at a point (B). With disruption coming from every angle, whatever we did in the past has lost its meaning because it will not help us address the future. Instead, to cope with uncertainty, we are forced to live in the moment. And that is causing even more anxiety and fear because we have no idea what to expect, how to prepare, or even what to avoid.
How to Cope with Uncertainty?
So, what do people do when they fear the future? Let’s discuss two ways of coping:
- People look for a leader who can inspire them and tell them what to trust,
- People look within themselves to make sense of the situation.
Let’s start with 1. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 shows that trust and confidence are at an all-time low:
“With a growing Trust gap and trust declines worldwide, people are looking for leadership and solutions as they reject talking heads who they deem not credible. In fact, none of the societal leaders we track—government leaders, CEOs, journalists, and even religious leaders—are trusted to do what is right, with drops in trust scores for all. In particular, CEO’s credibility is at all-time lows in several countries, including Japan (18 percent) and France (22 percent), making the challenge for CEO leaders even more acute as they try to address today’s problems.”
So, what are the odds that coping rule #1, to trust your CEO, will comfort most people?
The second coping rule seems to be favored by most. One of the most apparent indicators is The Great Resignation: by resigning, they’re saying, I trust no one but myself. However, people don’t quit just because of a lack of trust and confidence. During the pandemic, most had ample time to think about the meaning of work and their contribution to it. And many concluded that their job did not provide them with a higher sense of purpose.
Years back, we had already concluded that dividing work and rewarding specialism over generalism throughout the entire organization drove people to dissociate from work and alienate from it, as Karl Marx had predicted. While functional silos detached staff from the corporate culture, leading to multiple, often conflicting subcultures, Covid-19 got people to become detached from their peers. With no one to share your thoughts and fears with or to cheer victories, what’s the point of staying?
Trust in Crisis
Moreover, Edelman’s Trust Barometer found (image above) that business (61) is still the most trusted institution, compared to NGOs (57), Government (53), and Media (51). Businesses could take the lead, but how if their leaders aren’t trusted? The answer is obvious: we need to organize business in such a way that trust and confidence are built amongst all stakeholders: we’ve got to establish a connection with the future together, regardless of rank or status, by creating a new vision and setting new goals and objectives, as a collective, to give meaning to our next mission.
This means we need to let go of linear thinking (of strict protocols and procedures) and acknowledge that nonlinear thinking (and distributed authority) has to prevail. Informed decision-making, for instance, needs to be replaced by rapid assumption-testing based on ideas from different fields and backgrounds. With a 1:200 chance of success in innovation, we need to eliminate as quickly as possible those innovations that are not going to help us secure future growth. At the same time, those that are favorable get the resources they need.
What’s your risk exposure?
Generally, when a firm loses one-third of its workforce, the likelihood of bankruptcy raises significantly ─ as the organization can no longer fulfill its most basic duties.
On our website, we’ve raised several flags related to the division of labor and specialization, such as shifting the scales way too much toward specialization. It also leads to having a lack of:
- Psychological safety
- Emotional intelligence
- and so on.
This list goes on. We saw this long coming!
ROUNDMAP™ Framework is first and foremost about engaging employees and improving employee experiences by working together across the mental and functional silos. Not just to act as close as possible to the market ─ to respond quickly and effectively to change due to new opportunities and threats ─ but to empower and entrust employees to give their best to increase customer value significantly.
Because in the end, we’re all social creatures: we love to be part of a genuine cause, and we need to feel that we belong to a group and can indeed make a difference in someone else’s life.