Enduring through the Covid years and adapting to the post-Covid norms have influenced many changes we are witnessing in the world of work. One of the more unexpected and unnecessary changes has been the inclination to view workplace and business events as unique and unprecedented and then to attach a quaint phrase to describe the phenomenon. Thus, we have experienced the “Great Resignation” journeyed through “Quiet Quitting,” and now find ourselves amid the “Big Stay.” Really? What this makes me think of is the well-known quote from George Santayana that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” So, how is history repeating itself?
First, some facts about employee turnover:
- The 2021 quit rate is consistent with other post-recession data (i.e., a 28% quit rate in 2001 and 2010, following the 2000-2001 and 2008-2009 recessions).
- A significant contributing factor in 2021 is the increase in retirements with 1.5M more retirements than normal. It has been predicted for quite some time that the Baby Boomer generation would start to retire in masses, and it finally is happening following the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The “Great Resignation” is a continuation of longer-term trends in the labor market. The average quit rate increased each year from 2009 – 2019. In fact, the first year of the pandemic (2020) was the outlier, as there was a pause in the quit rate as people endured lockdown procedures.
These trends bring me back to my question – how is history repeating itself? Have a look at the “headlines” below and take a guess when the headline was written:
- “Led by the dramatic pace of change in business, caused in part by downsizings, increased global competition and technological advances, human resources professionals face more complex concerns than ever before. In response to societal and workplace changes, the profession itself is in great flux.”
- Did you guess 2021? If so, you would be far off. This article was written in 1994 by HR Magazine.
- “Workplaces Will Change Quickly: Employers and employees will wrestle with such difficult issues as participatory (read: collaborative) management and childcare. Progress may be painful.”
- This one must be from the last decade, right? Wrong. This piece was published in 1990 by the LA Times.
- “According to the BLS, the median tenure for 25–34-year-olds in 1994 was 3.2 years, and the median tenure for all workers was 4.2 years. We now work with a generation of highly mobile employees who see their jobs and their career as something to manage themselves.”
- These statistics seem spot on based on today’s trends. Well, this was the same case when HR Leadership Magazine released this article in 1995.
- “Employees know better than anyone else that the American workplace is in a disagreeable and unnerving state of turbulence. As a result, says a far-reaching new survey, employees increasingly have doubts about the value of company loyalty and increasingly are putting their own needs and interests above their employers’.”
- This article from 1993 by the NY Times yet again proves the timeless challenges we face in the workforce.
What is the point? Any of those headlines (all of which are roughly 30 years old) could have been written today or at some point over the past 2-3 years; actually, any time over the past 30 years. The issues and challenges being experienced in today’s business, talent, and economic climates are not new. Certainly, technologies are more advanced today, the dissemination of information is magnified in a digital world, the pace of change is quicker. But the fundamentals underlying the talent and workforce issues have been around for decades. The headlines like “Great Resignation,” “Quiet Quitting,” or the “Big Stay” all seem to be attempts of HR and business leaders trying to capture the short attention-span of their audience with catchy one-liners or slogans to label reoccurring workforce trends.
Why does this matter and why should HR leaders be concerned? Truth be told, this is a dereliction of responsibility by those who practice in the HR discipline today. It is incumbent on HR leaders to get past the headlines, to be more “serious” about the work we do, and drive organizations and leaders to pay attention to and support the talent programs and practices that truly address the underlying and fundamental issues that employees care about. There are constants that all employees want from their work experience – connectedness, the quality and content of the work they do, growth & development opportunities, and valuable relationships with co-workers and bosses; these constants matter as much today as they did 30+ years ago.
A core problem over the past few decades is that too many companies stopped dedicating the appropriate amount of time and energy to workforce planning and moved away from talent programs that provide the career experiences employees seek. Current research supports the view that Millennials and Gen Z employees want the same things from their jobs as Gen X and Boomers did when they were at the same life & career stage. HR leaders should stop wondering why employees are resigning after career paths have been eviscerated within many companies. Instead, companies should look to reinvest in the key tenets of workforce planning.
- Understand Business Strategy: Start by understanding your company’s overall business strategy, goals, and objectives, as well as the future state of the industry, as well as market trends and business challenges.
- Conduct a Workforce Analysis: Analyze your current workforce to identify strengths, development needs, and gaps, including workforce demographics, competencies, turnover, and succession plans.
- Forecast Future Workforce Needs: Use data-driven approaches to forecast the organization’s future needs while considering factors such as business growth, technology changes, and workforce trends. Use workforce analytics and scenario planning to model diverse workforce scenarios and their potential impact on the company.
- Identify Talent Gaps: Compare the future workforce needs with the current workforce capabilities to identify areas where you may need to acquire new talent, develop existing talent, or optimize workforce utilization.
- Develop Talent Strategies: This is the bread and butter of HR work. Based on the identified gaps, create plans to attract new talent, develop and/or upskill existing talent, retention strategies to hold employees, etc.
- Communicate and Execute: Communicating strategic workforce talent initiatives to all relevant stakeholders is critical to ensure accountability and a shared understanding of responsibilities and implementation plans.
There is, admittedly, an allure to producing the “new” tagline of trendy phrases, posting it on social media, and benefitting from the “likes” and “reposts” associated with such. But as an HR leader, ask yourself a more fundamental question – do you want to repeat history? Or would you rather influence the future? If you want to repeat history, then just join the crowd of people who think everything being experienced today is unique. But if you genuinely want to influence the path your organization takes, then get serious about studying the history of workforce and employee experience and re-invest in the HR practices that, over time, have proven to add real value to company performance and employee experience.
Senior Consulting Advisor