Combating the Great Resignation: Transforming Organizational Culture

The Great Resignation — there’s that buzz phrase again. You are likely tired of hearing it at this point. But organizations must understand why they can’t sweep it under the rug and hope it never surfaces again. It is impacting all organizations.

Across the country, organizations are seeing individuals leaving their jobs at unprecedented rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in November 2021 alone, a record high of 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs. That was up from the previous record set in September 2021 of over 4.3 million quits.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, employee turnover was steadily on the rise. In 2019, over 42 million U.S. workers quit their jobs.

These numbers are staggering and have a profound impact on organizations. So why is this happening?

The pandemic has allowed employees to reevaluate how they spend their time at work and the type of culture that aligns with their values. Employee priorities have been steadily shifting, with mental health as a leading factor.

A recent report uncovered that nearly half of the people who left their jobs in 2021 moved on due to mental health reasons. Organizational response to managing mental health has also contributed to whether employees left. Employees who feel their employer supports their mental health are 2.7 times more likely to be satisfied with their job and 2.5 times more likely to stay at their organization for two years or longer than those who didn’t feel support.

Organizational culture is critical for reducing turnover and increasing employee loyalty.

A clearly defined culture guides employee actions, keeps them focused on their goals and helps them connect to the organization and its mission. It also gives purpose to employees and is directly correlated to job satisfaction. Higher job satisfaction and greater loyalty lead to better productivity and organizational performance.

The pandemic and the Great Resignation have been catalysts for organizational transformation and have led to positive culture change. Many organizations understand that they must value their employees not just for their stamina to complete work but also as human beings.

Let’s look at how organizations are transforming their cultures to foster a mentally healthy workplace that retains employees and improves loyalty.


Understand Why People Are Leaving

Before your organization can change, it must realize who is departing and the reason for their departure. Are you seeing mid-level people leaving? People who have been with the organization for over five years? Are they reporting burnout? Do they not feel supported by their manager? Are they unhappy about returning to the office?

Exit interviews and employee pulse surveys are practical tools that offer organizations invaluable feedback, particularly regarding culture. Use these tools to uncover how your organization can improve itself and provide perspective on employee satisfaction.

Another consideration is looking at the different perspectives of employees and leaders. You may find that there is a disconnect in the perception of your organizational culture. For example, you might uncover that 70 percent of your leaders believe that your organization fosters a great culture, while only 47 percent of your employees agree. A disconnect like this should raise a red flag and be addressed as quickly as possible.


Define Your Plan

Creating a mentally healthy culture looks different for every organization. After you understand what needs to improve or any disconnect between employees and leaders, you can plan your course of action.

A crucial component of your plan is gaining buy-in from your leadership team. The last thing you want is to spend time creating a program that is not embraced by leadership.

Review the data you collected and get them to acknowledge that a change to organizational culture is essential to reduce turnover and improve loyalty and performance. Include your leaders early in the planning process and provide periodic updates to gather their feedback. Be clear about the terms of your plan and where there is flexibility.


Address Burnout

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout was on the rise. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Unfortunately, burnout is continuing to rise. A survey conducted by The Conference Board found that nearly 8 out of 10 workers (77 percent) are concerned about their mental health listing stress and burnout as their most significant challenges at work.

The increase in burnout is attributed to several factors, including the Great Resignation. As employees depart from their organizations, their responsibilities are often passed on to other employees until a replacement is hired. Workdays are interrupted with heavier workloads, causing higher stress levels and burnout.

Identifying, managing and preventing burnout will create a workplace culture that cultivates positive morale, employee engagement, and retention.


Invest in Empathetic Leadership

Empathy is an essential leadership skill used to build trust and relationships and create a culture of resilience. Now is the perfect time for leaders and managers to start practicing empathy.

Continually investing in empathetic leadership skills will be a growing part of every leader’s role. Empathy in leaders is directly correlated with decreasing an individual’s chance of burnout and increasing their sense of belonging. This can contribute to overall loyalty and commitment to the organization.

As organizations create their return-to-office plans, they must rely on their leaders to manage flexibly and empathetically. Leading in this manner requires organizations to place just as much focus on supporting their leaders as they do with their front-line staff.

Leaders must also understand that people don’t want to be valued just for their productivity. They want to be seen as dynamic humans with rich lives outside of the workplace. Organizations benefit when employees have full-spectrum well-being, from being happy and challenged at work to be healthy outside of work.

Empathic leadership allows managers to build strong relationships with their people. It creates a greater level of trust, making it more likely that an individual is open to sharing when something impacts their well-being.


Be Flexible

Flexibility is a critical component that impacts the mental health of employees. It’s time for organizations to allow flexibility, especially when considering returning to the workplace plans. The pandemic has allowed for ultimate flexibility for nearly two years. Taking that flexibility away can be disastrous for employee retention.

Create an organizational culture that allows employees autonomy wherever possible. This includes their schedules, goals and priorities.


Evaluate Your Resources

A mental health solutions partner who understands the importance of organizational culture and its impact on mental health and productivity can alleviate the burden of effectuating positive culture change. More organizations realize the benefit of finding quality mental health solutions partners over reducing costs.

Organizations must ensure that employees have access to quality and timely mental health resources. In addition, management-level employees must be thoroughly trained to have critical conversations around mental health in the workplace. Training should be part of a long-term strategy and scheduled at regular intervals to ensure progress in transforming organizational culture.

The Great Resignation has been a great wake-up call for organizations. Improving organizational culture does not happen overnight. It requires a strong commitment from organizational leaders and continuous evaluation. Those organizations that foster a mentally healthy workplace culture will be better positioned to retain employees during times like these.

Ready to dig deeper? Watch our on-demand webinar on The Great Resignation: Reexamining Organizational Culture.

Post Written by

Organizational Management Consultant

Paige is an Organizational Management Consultant at BHS. In her role, Paige serves as a senior clinical liaison providing BHS client companies with clinical consultation, guidance, and troubleshooting on high-risk, complex or problematic situations. Her areas of expertise include empathetic leadership, change management, transformation leadership, employee engagement, leadership development and coaching, and customer service.