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This articles was written by Collette Eccleston and originally published in Forbes.
Despite more generous wages, better benefits and increased flexibility, some 47 million people across industries quit their jobs last year. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s important to assess how your company is reacting to this massive disruption and how you can stem an exodus of workers in 2022.
Changing Habits & The Great Resignation
I study habit formation and disruption in the Behavioral Science Practice at Material, so I’m fascinated by how changing habits are influencing the Great Resignation. Before the pandemic, I worked in a cozy Manhattan office that got great morning sun. When I needed a break, I’d amble over to the kitchen in search of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and chat with colleagues. But in March 2020, the routines and habits which helped me be productive and feel connected to both my colleagues and to the company were disrupted.
Beyond employees’ individual habits, companies have habits, too. At Material, we used to have companywide monthly meetings we called “Muffin,” where everyone enjoyed baked goods and coffee. As the company grew, “Muffins” became quarterly “Quffins,” and the mood remained fun and celebratory. We haven’t gathered in person as a whole company since March 2020 and instead must find new ways to keep those connections strong.
Because habits tend to be linked, disruption to one habit or a few can cause the whole infrastructure to become shaky. And it is disconcerting when habits are disrupted because we’re forced to expend much more cognitive energy accomplishing our goals. Just as I’ve had to find new ways to focus without my cozy Manhattan office, companies must also adjust to new circumstances.
Covid has shifted the very nature of work, along with the value and role of work in our lives. As we experience a massive realignment of employee habits, companies should embrace this opportunity to discard old habits for better ones.
Here are three steps for attracting and retaining motivated employees:
1. Cultivate a culture of inclusivity.
Identity matters. Broadly, identity refers to our sense of self and includes values, goals and relationships. In an inclusive office culture, people can stay true to their identity without fear of retribution or of not fitting into the company culture.
Whether it was socializing, commuting to an office far from affordable housing or scheduling obligatory work trips, many pre-pandemic workplaces pressured employees into routines and habits that were either implicitly or explicitly exclusive. Teetotalers or religious employees might have been uncomfortable at company happy hours, for example. Most parents already pay huge amounts for child care, so for a single parent with a long commute, after-hours socialization posed additional logistical and financial burdens.
In 2022, company culture should be inclusive enough to allow people to be upfront about their schedules, needs and values, whether school drop-off, elder care, religious duties or other personal obligations. When planning overnight or week-long work trips, ask whether a particular meeting really needs to happen in person. When arranging social events, think outside the box and don’t always make happy hour the default choice. People have space to thrive when they don’t have to compromise their values or identities.
2. Foster a sense of trust.
Old-world ideas of productivity often meant sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day under the boss’s watchful eye, even if it accomplished little apart from endless emails. But now, instead of building our lives around work, we’re building work into our lives. You can pick your kid up from school, walk your dog, take a break to hit the gym and return to work refreshed. In fact, numerous studies support that we’re more likely to generate great ideas when we’re moving around—good news for employees and their employers.
Of course, a culture of inclusivity necessitates trust. Covid disrupted decades of habits overnight and forced us to recognize how difficult it had been to balance our work and home lives. During the pandemic, employees enjoyed more autonomy over their habits and routines. No one wants to return to taking a personal day for a doctor’s appointment or sneaking outside to run an errand. It’s key to trust that your employees will get the job done (and easy enough to know when they haven’t).
3. Maintain a strong company identity.
Identity is not only an individual matter. When we identify with someone else or a group, we are embracing a connection between ourselves and another entity. The stronger the identification, the stronger the sense of belonging established by that connection.
When customers identify with a brand’s values and mission, for example, they are more likely to be loyal even when disruptions occur. When there’s a strong connection between a brand and consumers, customers are proud when the brand does well and quick to defend it when something goes wrong. They’re also less likely to end the relationship because a brand is imperfect.
The same is true when employees identify with their employer. People are less likely to jump ship during a challenging period or when habits are disrupted if they feel their identity is closely tied to a company.
Focus on the whole person.
As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, wellness and mental health have become important to conversations around work-life balance. It’s vital to cultivate a culture of inclusivity and trust where both individual and company identities not only flourish but strengthen each other. When employers and employees are in sync about establishing positive routines and habits—including giving people greater flexibility to balance work with their personal lives—everyone is more likely to be motivated and inspired, and your business is less likely to become another casualty of the Great Resignation.