Can the Great Resignation become the Great Reimagination?

People are calling it the Great Resignation, a phenomenon that describes huge numbers of employees exiting their jobs and changing their lifestyles, careers and working habits following the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of this trend, companies are coming up with new ways to navigate these uncharted waters. The result could just add up to a new equation for how to attract and retain talent. 

We at PwC prefer calling it the Great Reimagination. In speaking with John Parkhouse, our CEO, and Lieven Lambrecht, our People Leader, we gained some insight into why the great resignation has occurred, and how we can reminagine a better scenario on a global level and in Luxembourg specifically. 

But first, what is the Great Resignation?

“The Great Resignation” is a concept first proposed by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, and it refers to the decisions of millions of workers to quit their jobs during the pandemic.

That COVID has changed the workplace is now obvious. In the earliest stages, the swift spread of the virus challenged the way people worked and lived. Countries, including Luxembourg, had to go into confinement while still trying to keep businesses going. This put entire countries on the front line of a “new normal” with remote or home-working challenges, supply-chain issues and operational disruptions, a lack of face-to-face contact with colleagues and clients, changing pandemic and compliance regulations, and the list could go on. In fact, we are still suffering some of the consequences now, in particular soaring inflation, and supply-chain and fuel issues exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. 

In a Strategy& article, entitled, “Is the ‘great resignation’ coming for you?” the author, Wanda T. Wallace, proposes that, while it’s easy to blame the pandemic for the Great Resignation, the issues are more complicated and began long before COVID-19. And she lists five red flags that companies, should watch out for, if they want to keep their people from the exit door: 

Loss of trust. When a person’s career doesn’t follow the expected trajectory, even formerly supportive managers can be viewed with scepticism and decreased trust.

Unclear career paths. Uncertainty breeds questions about leaving. Younger employees are more likely to make quick, regular career moves. When people progress to mid-level positions, those moves begin to be less frequent and less obvious. When talent can’t see what’s next, they begin to doubt the career choices they have made.

Work–life imbalance. When employees feel their personal ambitions are too difficult to achieve, they start to think about leaving. Those ambitions might involve having a family while maintaining a career, gaining a range of professional experiences, or even accumulating personal experiences such as travel.

Lack of managerial care. Managers often show great care about performance and little concern about the whole person who is delivering the results. Feeling uncared for is deadly for motivation and destructive to performance over the long run.

Self-sabotaging behaviours. All of us have preferences in how we work with others that, when overused, create barriers to our ability to win people over. Those preferences become quickly attached to our “brand” and are hard to correct. Early detection and feedback are essential to make sure such personal perceptions don’t become entrenched.

All together, these catalysts for change are having a profound effect on employers and employees. Although change is often difficult and even can be painful for some, many of these shifts are heading in a progressive direction that suggest a better future for everyone.

How can we turn resignation into reimagination?

In an article originally published in the Delano’s Working in Luxembourg supplement, entitled “There is a shift from an employer market to an employee market” PwC People Leader Lieven Lambrecht, outlines that, “Companies that don’t adapt to the shift the world is experiencing will be left in the dust.” And by this he refers to everything, from technology to the strategic role of HR in the future of organisations.

Lieven suggests that the future of business will evolve from a drastic change of  — and then mix of — the four potential societies the world could progress towards until 2030, as outlined in PwC’s “Workforce of the future” report. “The red world of 2030 focuses on innovation, while the blue scenario accepts individualism, capitalism and ubiquitous corporations as its foundation. The green one is characterised by a strong social awareness, environmental efforts, and trust. Lastly, the yellow approach places humanness, ethical practices and the greater good at its heart.”

What he sees going forward is a world that poses many challenges, in particular those originating from ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and sustainability. But he also says that he believes, “Coming out of COVID, we are in a new reality we could not have imagined before. One where we could really address the demands of millennials and the next generations, one where we understand technology and learn how to underpin business with it. And ultimately, a world of flexibility and purpose”. 

There has been an acceleration of people wanting their lives and their careers to mean something, for themselves but also for society. Lieven explains that more and more, people  want to work for a company that represents their values. Everyone is interconnected in a way they never were before, and this moves their personal and professional lives closer together.

“People want their job to fit them, not the other way around,” Lieven says. “This is the primary shift that companies have to realise and address. For years it has been an employer’s market. Today, it is an employee’s market.”

Physical, remote and hybrid working. Where is the workplace now?

Companies had to very quickly make the leap from physical office to remote reworking. A lesson learned was that those companies that already had partial and full virtual working in place, which involves having the right technology and knowing how to use it, had the most seamless experience. This means companies have had to profoundly reimagine their digital and physical interaction. 

An experienced expert in HR, Lieven goes so far as to challenge the notion of what the workplace is at all. From his perspective, there are no longer set workplace locations. Everyone will eventually work in a hybrid way. This could be a combination of office and home, but it will also include co-working spaces, rented offices, libraries, cafes, and even seaside on occasion (or the mountains). And that sounds quite exciting. 

Another sea change occurring is defined work hours. People will work when it best suits them, most likely somewhere between the hours of 7am and 9pm, depending, of course, on the job or role. This will allow people to work at their optimum time and pace and allow employees to integrate parenting responsibilities, for example, or other activities. It also means the line between private and professional life can blur, something we will all have to keep an eye on. 

John Parkhouse and Lieven agree that only a reimagined strategy will help to win the war for talent and retention. John naturally speaks specifically about PwC Luxembourg and the Grand Duchy itself as he highlights four key pillars of the company’s strategy. But the core of this rethinking can be extrapolated for other companies and countries.  

Recruiting in excess of needs

John explains that one of the biggest reasons for turnover at PwC is the heavy workload, which is not unusual for any one of the Big Four, and certainly not for many major global organisations. To combat this, and lighten the load for everyone, he explains how the company is actively recruiting well beyond its needs. The targets established at the beginning of the year were purposely set to be significantly in excess of the company’s growth predictions.

Training employees for where they work and beyond 

Another initiative PwC Luxembourg launched was a programme called Your Tomorrow. This aims to affirm to new recruits that when they join, they do so not just as an accountant or lawyer, but as a professional entering a supportive ecosystem. Once inside, the company provides training, upskilling, and mobility across domains. These are tremendous assets for an employee wherever their future career takes them.

Support and engagement

As mentioned before by Lieven, leaders are redesigning their organisations in a way that’s more exciting and fulfilling for employees. 

Another key feature that John believes will help to make working  for PwC Luxembourg more appealing is proximity – the creation of a real team spirit – by appointing the system of having team leaders. These are longer-term employees who work with clusters of eight to 10 people and help to manage, offer support, and coach — especially in circumstances when an employee might be hesitant to see his or her supervisor. 

Further support is offered to new joiners in a dedicated buddy programme, which assigns a team member to look over a new joiner. This buddy will help him or her with quotidian concerns and familiarise them with the intricacies of the company. 

“Such expanded support networks are vital at a company such as ours, which increasingly recruits far beyond Luxembourg’s borders,” says John. “With our situation, we have so many cross-border and foreign workers who travel far from their home. Their first point of contact after arriving in Luxembourg – especially during the COVID era – is PwC.” 

John stresses that it is critical that companies, especially as remote working grows globally, make great efforts to watch after employees on a personal level – and encourage them to return to the office in order to foster connections that are best developed with face-to-face interactions. “Otherwise they lose out on the all-important social element of work, which is often critical for client relationships as well.”

In addition, companies should maintain a close eye on key diverse talent. As Wanda T. Wallace explains it, “Employees from underrepresented groups at your company need extra support, in part because they often lack the mentorship and sponsorship that others take for granted.”

“Provide wisdom on navigating careers, creating good development plans, and handling the inevitable setbacks that happen in every career. Don’t wait until something goes wrong to begin these discussions, because the message will be discounted at that point,” she advises.

Integrate employee desires into the employment scenario

Another Strategy& article, Turn the “great resignation” into the “great renegotiation, agrees with both John and Lieven’s thesis of an employee-centric recruitment and workplace strategy, stating, “Encouraging employees to approach you with their wish lists might seem counterintuitive, but it may just be the key to retention.”

“Engagement and retention are driven by trust and a purpose for our company,” John tells us. “During the pandemic, we have learned many lessons that we are putting to good use to benefit our organisation in the long run. For example, we trusted our people to do what is right, and what we witnessed is that they did it in spades. They performed fantastically. That is something we definitely want to keep. And if that is by giving them a leading flexibility in how they can do their work, then that is what we should do.”

In the end, high levels of attrition become inordinately expensive. But the great resignation can be turned into a great reimagination, making more people want to stay at a company. Business leaders must consider the desires of employees and offer more opportunities for people to shape their work lives in a way that is more desirable for them. The goal is to create a new type of organisation with greater stakeholder buy-in, where everyone benefits more. 

What we think
John Parkhouse
John Parkhouse, CEO & Senior Partner at PwC Luxembourg

I like to stress the three C’s – care, clients, and career, ie creating an environment where we really care for each other, for our clients and our community; where as a result we have motivated people who have the opportunity to work with amazing clients and ultimately where we focus on career development in a way which makes most sense for our people – whether or not they stay with PwC for the long-term. These 3 components are a critical part of what we continue to strive to bring to our people.

Lieven Lambrecht
Lieven Lambrecht, People Leader at PwC Luxembourg

The world has been absolutely changed by COVID and was already experiencing a mindset shift before then.There is no going back. Now it is employees, rather than companies, who will become the key players and companies will have to adapt their strategies in accordance.

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