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Reframing the Great Resignation as a time of exploration for both employers and workers

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An era of workforce turnover can open new opportunities for both employers and workers, says management consultant Keith Ferrazzi. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

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Workers have quit their jobs in record numbers over the last year and the phenomenon known as the Great Resignation doesn’t appear to be slowing, leaving employers across industries faced with high employee turnover and understaffing.

But this period of workforce change also represents new opportunities, according to Keith Ferrazzi, chairman of the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight, opportunities which may not be all bad for employers.

“It’s time for us to re-contract and reconnect with our associates, giving them the time to explore, giving them the time to question, giving them the time to reengage and recommit to the organization that they’re working for,” said Ferrazzi, whose recent article with Unilever’s Mike Clementi argues for the reframing of the Great Resignation as the “Great Exploration.”

Ferrazzi spoke with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio about strategies for both employers and employees seeking to get the most out of the current labor market. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: You’ve been talking to a lot of people, you’ve been doing research. You don’t have a whole lot of time for employers who keep whining about their employees leaving, anymore.

Keith Ferrazzi: You know, the “Great Resignation” is a victimized way of looking at what’s going on: a massive movement of transformation that Mike Clementi over at Unilever calls the “Great Exploration.” Over the last couple of years, we have started asking ourselves: What are our priorities? And with this new, deep exploration, this cathartic look at what we really want — that’s not stoppable. And those who don’t embrace it, those who don’t find a way to serve their people, they’re going to face the Great Resignation, but as victims.

Brancaccio: So if we, employees, are in the mode for exploration, the idea is maybe their companies could help them explore. Not for new jobs, but explore for what?

Ferrazzi: We had gathered together dozens of heads of HR, like Mike Clementi, and asked the question: “What would a company have to do to meet their employees and help them explore without having to resign?” And the first thing we discovered is that we need to help our workers find their “why.” Why do I do what I do? What am I good at? How do I thrive? And also, where are my boundaries and what’s it worth to me?

Brancaccio: Because they are, as you allude to there, looking for purpose. Many of us want to know that what we do adds up to something larger than the compensation we’re paid.

Ferrazzi: Statistically, we find that those employees who have found that why, have found that purpose, have a 50% greater engagement, have more energy, have more sense of movement inside of the organization. So the key is for us to explore this. I think, a lot of times, employees feel this loss of purpose — but they’re not given space and time to explore these in the normal workplace. And as a result, they think that the only way to do is to push eject. But the reality is, if we meet them to find their “why,” we have an opportunity to retain them.

Brancaccio: But at many organizations, not each job — even though it may be crucially important work — not every job is the fun job. And you can’t promote everyone out of those sometimes not-fun jobs.

Ferrazzi: Well, what we found is that, independent of the job itself, variety is actually the spice of work. If you gave people an opportunity to pursue a small amount of their time on passion projects — those might be projects that are actually benefiting the company, or nonprofit philanthropic projects on the side — these opportunities allowed individuals to feel more tethered to the workplace that’s given them that opportunity to pursue those passion projects.

Brancaccio: You’re even proposing “re-onboarding” your team? We know onboarding — that’s when a new employee comes in and you’ve got to let them know how the systems work. But you’re talking about even people who are here might need a process like that?

Ferrazzi: We’ve all been sprinting, sprinting, sprinting a marathon. It’s time to press a reboot. It’s time for us to step back and say, “Oh, we’re now moving into the next phase. As we move into the next phase, what should all of us be doing? What should we be knowing? How should we be feeling?” Frankly, most organizations don’t do a very effective job of onboarding new associates. But it’s time for us to re-contract and reconnect with our associates, giving them the time to explore, giving them the time to question, giving them the time to reengage and recommit to the organization that they’re working for.

Brancaccio: Or — pay these people more. They’ll stay.

Ferrazzi: You know, compensation is certainly a mechanism to reward individuals. But we’re seeing some incredibly innovative ways to bond individuals’ loyalty to the organization. For instance, the same kind of education programs that you might offer your associates, offer to their kids and to their family. A long time ago, I learned that deep relationships are gained by health, wealth and children. And wealth is only one of them — helping people get extraordinary benefits for wellness and mental health, investing in their families — there are wonderful ways for us to reward without just a simple paycheck.

Brancaccio: In practical matter, if it isn’t just compensation, it’s, you’re saying, new and interesting things to do. You’re not talking about giving them more swag with corporate branding on it.

Ferrazzi: No, we’re talking about giving people what they really want, things that will build loyalty. You take care of an employee’s children’s education. You helping individuals get couples counseling or mental well-being counseling in stressful times — all of these things are contributions to a person’s whole self. And if you contribute to that, that has a lot more reward than purely compensation.

Brancaccio: All right, but in this environment especially, some of the employees are going to go, I mean, they’re going to find something else, they’re going to get an offer you can’t compete with. Is there a better way to respond to that than others?

Ferrazzi: Well, I think the way in which we behave as somebody is letting us know that they’re leaving, and treating them like alumni, is a mechanism by which you increase the boomerang effect, the likelihood that they’ll come back. The emotional connection to you as somebody is exiting — you as a manager; you as an organization — really is predictive of whether they come back.

Brancaccio: So you’ve been trying to enlighten the bosses, here. What about people listening who are in fact these employees? Many are facing a big moment when the company says it’s time for the remote working to end, it’s time to get people back to offices. There are some people just don’t want to do it — they may not want to do it because the commute is awful; they may not want to do it because of all the microaggressions in commuting or sometimes dealing with people at the office. What could we say to them?

Ferrazzi: In the same regard, I don’t think any of us as associates should be victims, either. We all have the opportunity to personally take our time and pursue our passions, to ask ourselves the “why,” to understand what our boundaries are — and also what we’re willing to pay in order to have that kind of flexibility. So this is a roadmap for each of us as individuals as much as it is for a corporation. This idea of re-onboarding is something that we can do for ourselves, as well. I also recommend that organizations that are forcing the march into the office to physical work provide an opportunity for any single one of you to run little pilots where you can show how hybrid work against physical work, when done appropriately, has been more innovative and more inclusive of different voices. If you run those personal little projects, you can bring evidence to your leadership and not be the victim of a policy that you think is actually inappropriate.

Brancaccio: If you re-onboarded yourself because the company is not doing this, what would that mean? Would that be to go on a voyage of exploration within the organization to truly understand what the point of it all is?

Ferrazzi: I think each of us has an opportunity to press our own reboot — to take a long weekend and a day off and ask those purpose questions. Ask yourself, if your organization isn’t giving you the variety that you’re looking for and assigning that variety to you, then maybe you can think about where there are adjacent jobs that you could ask for, and ask for an opportunity to experience these other opportunities inside of the organization. This is an organization that you know. This is an organization that you have relationships [at]. This is an organization where you’re comfortable. You don’t have to push eject in order to find the kind of variety that you’re looking for. You can have negotiating power, but you have to have a plan. You have to have a purpose and a reason to reach out to your boss and suggest, “Here are some things that I’d like to do to find more purpose and find more excitement in the work that I’m doing today.”

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