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Want to outrun the Great Resignation? Build true change in service of your employees.

Much of the conversation around the Great Resignation has focused around compensation. And while it’s true that compensation must be part of every good employee retention and satisfaction strategy, money alone won’t cut it. When I think back on my own Great Resignation moment, even though I was early in my career, money didn’t really factor into my decision. I was working in sales for an ad agency, and being asked to go in and sell work I knew wasn’t up to par. My clients’ perfectly good advertising campaigns were being ruined with poor execution. I couldn’t take pride in my work or act with integrity in my relationships. My job was slowly becoming joyless. So I quit. And I never looked back.

The Great Resignation has been fueled by employees who are stepping back and taking stock of the role work plays in their lives. In the aftermath of the last two years, workers are looking for purpose. They are re-considering their career options, and their relationship with their employer as part of a larger re-examining of their lives and how they want to spend their valuable time. Nobody wants to waste time doing something joyless, but is joy something you can truly impact as a leader? I’d argue it absolutely is, and that creating systems is the only way to have a far-reaching effect on employee retention.

Lead for Culture 

When there is demand for people and a labor shortage, like there is now, building culture becomes even more paramount. It’s the leader's job to ensure culture is alive and well. You can tell if the culture is healthy when you see the quality of the people who stay and the energy level they bring to their work. Leaders need to provide a non-negotiable cultural framework, which starts from day one. I had a conversation this fall with Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chik-fil-A, a chain that is renowned for its culture. They have a long, intense and productive process to become an operator at Chik-fil-A. The joke is that it’s easier to get a job with the CIA than the CFA. But the intensity of that process shows how crucial they believe their operator roles are to the business, because with the right leader at the top, the right culture will flourish.

Humbly speaking, as hard as I tried, in a big organization like YUM!, I’m sure we had problems where everything wasn’t run perfectly up to cultural standards, and I’m sure even Chick-fil-A, a company known for its culture, has problems at times. But culture can’t be lip service or a posture. Leaders need to provide support - the kind of support rooted in humility and compassion, not a boss mentality. And if that support is institutionalized in the way your organization lives and breathes, your culture will thrive. So even in a moment when it might feel like your employee roster is a revolving door, double down on culture–you’ll slow the churn and build meaningful change.

 Link Empathy with Action

 When people are treated like cogs in a machine, expected to perform in tough conditions without proper recognition, the lack of empathy can grind them down. Empathy partnered with action AS WELL AS the proper compensation can make all the difference with your team. This shows that a culture where everyone counts is essential. This is true no matter how big or small your business.

What does partnering empathy with action mean? It will look different in many situations, but leadership must always remove obstacles. When I was at YUM!, the first thing our best franchisees did when they bought their store was fix all the things that needed to be fixed–from finicky grills to understaffing issues–so their employees would have quality work conditions that would make them feel seen. Not only did this drive engagement, it drove accountability–meaning that the right choice for people was also the right choice for profits.

Go the Extra Mile 

Have you seen the Tik Tok posted by McDonald’s employees? This is the perfect visual of what has happened all across America, and this is the perfect example that screams leadership needs to change. I have always believed that people won’t change their life by leaving a Burger King to work at a Wendy’s, but they can change their boss, and sometimes that is the change that needs to be made. As you lead, aspire to be the kind of boss workers never want to leave. Go the extra mile to honor your people and their work, by building the systems they need to flourish. If you can do that, you will fuel true change in 2022.