The Great Resignation, should HR have seen it coming?

Content Team

Future Talent Learning held a thought leadership event for senior HR professionals, in partnership with Hudson RPO.

Saïd Business School’s Jonathan Trevor and Ericsson’s Emma Birchall explored the lessons from ‘the Great Resignation’ – the ongoing economic trend in which employees are voluntarily resigning from their roles.

Headlines about spiralling job vacancies, plus employee anecdotes and social media posts sharing resignation stories, suggest that there is a huge churn in the talent market.

There have certainly been seismic changes in the employer/employee relationship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we explore some key questions from our event and learnings from the discussion, sharing the collective wisdom of academics and senior HR leaders who attended.

What are the current pressures on HR professionals?

With stark financial challenges in the wake of COVID-19 (and the subsequent cost-of-living crisis), many HR professionals currently feel that their voices are being drowned out by the need to employ crisis management tactics and appease short-term performance pressures.

However, if (as has been argued) the pandemic was no more than a catalyst for mass resignations, is it fair to say that HR could have listened more closely to employees in the past – and responded better to their needs – thus pre-empting some of today’s problems?

Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of management practice at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, argued that it could – though he added that the influence of HR professionals hit its peak in the 1990s and has been slowly declining ever since.

This could now be changing in the aftermath of the pandemic with talent shortages coming to the fore, plus a new focus from investors on ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) reporting.

ESG encompasses a range of criteria that ‘responsible’ companies use. The ‘S’ focuses on a company’s relationship with people (in other words, its employees, customers and suppliers) and its reputation in the communities in which it operates. These are all the domain of HR – and bring opportunities for renewed influence.

How has the pandemic changed the role of HR within organisations?

“There is the saying ‘never waste a good crisis’. And actually, this is the time when HR’s voice can be amplified.” – Emma Birchall, global head of diversity & inclusion at Ericsson.

HR professionals are now able to steer ‘people conversations’ at a strategic level as c-suite contemplates how to address talent shortages, the overnight move towards remote working and the shift in the balance of power from employer to employee.

But what ‘good’ looks like will differ between sectors, organisations – and even teams. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model to draw on. HR’s role is to help develop a consensus on best practice within their organisation.

“I think there needs to be a degree of honesty, we also need to have solutions, we need to have a position, we need to have values and principles and beliefs about what good looks like and what it looks like on a case-by-case basis.” – Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of management practice at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

Can HR help c-suite to develop the new ‘management playbook’?

“I’ve never met a manager or a leader in an organisation who isn’t deeply worried and deeply thoughtful about, ‘Am I a good boss? Am I doing this really well.’…. This crisis has provided an opportunity for HR to really get in the forefront for some of these issues.” – Emma Birchall, global head of diversity & inclusion at Ericsson.

Managers at all levels are finding that the traditional playbook for leadership no longer exists as workplace norms and employee expectations change.

Managing people in a virtual or hybrid workplace is harder than within a traditional 9-5 office-based model. For example:

  • While the technology that enables virtual working has been around for years, its widespread adoption is relatively new. Managers have had to improve their IT skills and adapt and develop their leadership for the fourth industrial revolution – with varying success.
  • Managers who were promoted during the pandemic have only ever managed people remotely. How do they develop face-to-face/in-person management skills
  • How do managers develop that feeling of connectedness and belonging when their employees are not working a traditional 9-5 day in the office? In the ‘new normal’ there are various different working models, from five days back in the office to fully remote or hybrid working.

All these issues have an impact on retention and wellbeing and are relevant to the role of HR professionals.

How can HR professionals respond to an increasingly transactional work model?

HR professionals have to balance c-suite’s need to respond to investor demands with a shifting relationship with employees.

“It becomes very easy to change jobs, because what are you really giving up? You’re giving up one platform for another. The difference between the work experience was the difference between zoom and teams.” – Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of management practice at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

For many employees working fully remotely or partly from home, work has become more transactional. It becomes easier for people to move jobs because when they have less investment in their organisation and feel less connected to colleagues.

Workers hold most of the cards in the post-COVID-19 workplace, with power shifting from employer to employee. One school of thought is that we should treat employees as customers, but is this realistic – or desirable?

“The employment relationship is undeniably more individualistic, more diverse and more complex than it’s ever been. Gone are the days of having industry-level collective agreements. Now, it’s, it’s become much more of a personal affair. But that is both a challenge and an opportunity.” – Jonathan Trevor, associate professor of management practice at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

HR can learn from colleagues in marketing to segment employees to gain a better understanding of what their employees want, what they value and their aspirations, and they’re able to craft a message and align behind it a proposition. Build your employee brand on what your talent wants and needs so attract and retain the very people.

This year, Future Talent Learning and Hudson RPO are collaborating on a series of white papers supported by seminars. Each of these will explore the changing nature of work and how this impacts the talent agenda, with a view to helping senior HR leaders like you consider how they can strategically invest in their people proposition for long-term success. Click here to download our whitepaper: Surviving the Great Resignation, and here for the whitepaper: Purpose, Culture and Belonging.

This article originally appeared on the website of our partners, Future Talent Learning, find it here.

Hudson RPO

Content Team

The Hudson RPO Content Team is made up of experts within the Talent Acquisition industry across the Americas, EMEA and APAC regions. They provide educational and critical business insights in the form of research reports, articles, news, videos, podcasts, and more. The team ensures high-quality content that helps all readers make talent decisions with confidence.

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