We were catching up after a long. My ex-colleague KP was on a brief visit to the city. The conversation turned to deciphering whether the Great Resignation was overhyped – 4 million people in the US quit jobs in April 2021 – including ones who were ‘stuck’ in toxic jobs prior to the Covid crisis? Was it just an overreaction to ‘being locked up for too long’ or was it something deeper about the culture that had been suppressed but reappeared because people had enough time to reflect while they were locked up?
KP himself was in a pensive mood about his new job that had initially seemed like a glamourous break. “The visiting cards, business suits, and stationery all reflect a new MNC brand but the ‘soul of the workspace’ remains that of the company prior to ‘takeover’: the boss is always right, cronies laugh at his jokes and no one contradicts the legacy systems … 40% attrition figures are quickly explained away to the overseas bosses as ‘nature of industry’. No one dares to whisper that the toxic culture of the place has a prominent role to play…
This led us to reflect on several inter-related themes: ‘Culture building’, ‘Institution Building’ -how it might translate into higher Retention. While comparing notes the key questions we pondered together:
Do Purpose/ Mission/Value Actually Play a Role
The crisis forced employees who saw colleagues meet an untimely death to rethink – why do I work? How does the Purpose of my workplace enable me to find value and expression in my own life’s deepest purpose? If the stated mission and values on posters don’t translate into day-to-day experience then I might as well rethink my journey?
Can There Be a “Human” Treatment Of ‘Resource’
‘Human Resource’ seems to imply ‘resources’ to be managed not ‘careers to be built’. A small change in the lens and the Culture that grows is dramatically different.
HR teams are being renamed as ‘Talent and Culture’– probably as a reminder that we cannot attempt to buy the ‘human’ resource off a shelf but need to think of them as Talented H-U-M-A-N-S who require a cultural environment with psychological safety and appreciation with growth.
Is There an Alignment Between Professed and Practiced Values
“During the crisis, the first aspect that was noticeable in some of our teams was a worry about productivity. This was in contradiction to our professed value.”
Employees judged that there was a gap between the values in the poster on the wall of the cafeteria and the actual action ‘come- to- office- even- if- you- are- scared’ philosophy.
Peer Pressure of Sorts
One senior leader shared that his wife could witness the nature of office calls in her spouse’s organisation during WFH period: respect, camaraderie, and trust. For many years she had forgotten what a civilised disagreement could sound like.
It made her reflect and acknowledge that her own office culture was certainly toxic. The high salary notwithstanding, she eventually quit.
Similarly, many freshers from campus had a chance to ‘compare notes’ with batch mates not merely about infrastructure but respect
Great Places to Work Have Great Managers to Influence Culture
Can the micro-cultures created by leaders affect attrition? The immediate managers translation of Purpose can certainly impact the employees (Example – might is right; as long as you impress the folks and don’t keep your commitments it’s ok).
KP agreed but argued that exit interviews in his organisation never cited Manager Conflict in the Top 3 reasons of Resignation – employees chose to quote better role, compensation, or higher studies.
Culture can occasionally take a beating. Someone had a bad day and broke a behavioural code. How do we address the inevitable conflict and truly get the team members to ‘move on’ without anyone feeling suppressed or cheated? Culture Champions or Coaches can play that neutral role
Life-Long ‘Loyalty’ vs. 100% Committed- While- It- Lasts
KP also argued that with the increasing Gen Z population, long tenures need not necessarily imply Loyalty. Some power-hungry and not-so-competent folks might be the ones contributing to a toxic workspace. Unless Performance benchmarks build a true meritocracy, the Culture of the place can’t retain those who are truly adding value.
In the end, we both agreed that the Great Resignation is like an intense flash flood tearing away everything in its way. The Culture of an organisation is acting like an anchor to which the Top Talent might cling while colleagues get swept away in the high tide of attrition.
Before the Great Resignation recedes into the annals of history, those who put the basic building blocks of a great culture –Purpose, Respect, Direction, Appreciation, Growth, Meritocracy will help build great Cultures that withstand future shocks.