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Michael Kerr: How to Turn the Great Resignation into the Great Opportunity

Michael Kerr: How to Turn the Great Resignation into the Great Opportunity

A CEO recently told me that she was, and I quote, “Tempted to stick a hot poker into someone’s eyes — maybe even my own — if I hear the phrase ‘great resignation’ one more time!”

“Oh, that sounds like fun! Can I join you?” I cheekily replied.

As someone who has done countless interviews and presentations on the topic, I understood her frustration. It’s all too easy to bemoan how your business is being brutally impacted by “The Great Resignation.”

In the interest of preventing any innocent bystanders from being impaled by a hot poker, I have an easy fix, followed by some not-so-easy but completely doable fixes that won’t result in any prison time.

The easy fix is this — every time you’re tempted to utter the phrase, “The Great Resignation” replace it with “The Great Opportunity.”

Use this phrase as often as you can. Embrace “The Great Opportunity” as your guiding light and use it as your rallying cry to fire up your team.

This is the easy step because it’s true! This moment is a great opportunity that you can’t afford to miss out on, and besides that, you really don’t have a choice at this point.

It’s time to hit the reset button and re-imagine a workplace that works for everyone. This is a great opportunity to be bolder than you’ve ever been, to try things you’ve never tried, and to make changes that, frankly, many of your employees have long been calling for — whether you knew it or not.

Complacency Kills

Motivational clichés alert. “The only thing riskier than change is not changing at all.”

Yes, you’ve heard it a gazillion times: Complacency kills. And the truth is there’s a good chance you’ve been complacent for a while now. When you look closely at the data, it’s clear that the trends we see today started well before the pandemic.

But as my grandma used to say, “There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you re-evaluate your priorities and help you realize you’ve been too complacent for far too long.”

Okay, she never said that. But if she had, she would have been right.

The companies that have managed the best during the last few years were those that had strong cultures already in place. They had already learned hard lessons about the need to change with the times.

The pandemic was simply the last straw — a reminder that you can’t keep doing things the way you’ve always done them; a reminder that leaders need to embrace ways of doing things that they should have been doing all along.

So, consider this your great opportunity to change your culture in ways that will ignite the imagination of your employees who have been waiting impatiently and agitating for change. This is a great opportunity to enlist many of those employees as culture champions to help you lead the charge.

And for your fellow leaders who tend to stay in the shallow end of the pool and never make any waves, this is your perfect excuse to boldly embrace the changes that you have no choice but to embark upon.

Re-Imagine a More Compassionate Workplace

Your workplace culture is your number one competitive advantage, and during chaotic times this becomes even more of a truism than ever before.

The data on this is clear: Most of your employees aren’t leaving because of money; they are leaving because of cultural issues and leadership styles that you have 100% control over.

Now is the time to be extraordinarily bold when it comes to your workplace culture. You must be radically intentional where your culture is concerned, after all, great cultures don’t happen by accident!

You need to hire for culture growth, not just culture fit. You need to onboard and train employees with your culture in mind. You need to invest in your culture like never before. And you need to infuse your workplace with an epidemic of compassion, respect, and kindness.

Employees who are leaving their jobs need a lifeline. So why not become the employer of choice for those employees who are feeling adrift without a home.

Double Down on Purpose

During times of crisis people tend to reconsider their life choices and they become hungrier for a sense of meaning at work.

Surveys bear this out: employees of every age are longing to feel connected to a sense of purpose in their work.

And no, they needn’t be solving world hunger or curing cancer. As Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski has shown through her research, simple language shifts or changes to how employees do their work can help reconnect any employee to a greater sense of purpose.

Live Your Values Out Loud

If there was ever a time to re-evaluate your values, it’s now.

Actions speak louder than words and talk is cheap. You need to actively live your values out loud in meaningful ways that demonstrate you have your employees’ best interests at heart. You need to translate your values into observable behaviours, model them out loud in highly visible ways, and use them as lines in the sand, not cheesy slogans.

While researching inspiring businesses in Copenhagen, Denmark, I spent time with the CEO at AFA JCDecaux. He walked me through how they had hit the reset button to re-imagine their workplace. After reinventing four workplace values with input from their employees, they did a simple exercise to bring those values to life. They encouraged every employee to live one value per week in an outrageously visible way, then week two they moved onto the second value, cycling through the four values one week at a time to show everyone what was possible.

After only four months, every employee agreed with the statement: “I now work for a brand new company.”

If you want to embrace this great opportunity, commit to living your values out loud.

When People Leave Wish Them Well

Remember that this is also a great opportunity for your employees who leave your company. Wish them well, support them in their career choices, and understand that in almost every case it’s the best decision for both parties — if they want to leave your business then they weren’t your people!

Supporting them as they leave sends a powerful message to all your employees that you respect their decisions and that you support their career development. It demonstrates you care about the human beings behind the job titles.

And it gives your company the great opportunity to realign your workforce with employees who are a better fit for your culture and who are truly committed to your future growth.

Presenteeism — the phenomenon of employees showing up at work, but not necessarily to work — is much costlier than absenteeism, and it isn’t always visible or obvious. It’s far less costly, stressful, and toxic to have employees who are truly committed to your future; employees who actually want to be there.

And you never know, when you embrace this great opportunity, some of those employees who moved on may return home to you. After intentionally focusing on happiness at work as a priority, the construction supply company Canpa saw a seven-fold increase in revenue and turned a 30% employee turnover rate into what they referred to as a “negative turnover rate” after employees who left their company returned in droves.

Don’t Waste This Great Opportunity

As Stanford economist Paul Romer said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Don’t miss out on what may very well be the greatest opportunity you’ve had in a generation to make dramatic, meaningful changes to your culture.

Changes that will empower, delight, and even wow your employees. Changes that will wow your customers. And changes that will help you stand out as an employer of choice.

Don’t waste this opportunity.

Michael Kerr is one of North America’s most entertaining and influential thought leaders on workplace culture. He is the author of eight books, including, The Jerk-Free Workplace: How You Can Take the Lead to Create a Happier, More Inspiring Workplace, Hire, Inspire, and Fuel Their Fire: How to Recruit, Onboard, and Train New Employees to Live Your Culture Out Loud, and The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.     

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