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Your Employees Are In Charge – What Do You Do?

| March 15, 2022

by Jack Wolfe

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Jack Wolfe, MOR Associates Executive Coach and Senior Consultant.  Jack may be reached at [email protected].]
Today’s employees can leave their job with you and be reemployed in a heartbeat – there has been a major shift in the employer/employee power structure in the last year, and it’s NOT to the employer’s advantage.  A few notes, primarily from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • At the end of 2020, we had 10.7M people unemployed with an unemployment rate of 6.7%; at the end of 2021, we had only 6.3M people unemployed with an unemployment rate of 3.9%, roughly the same level as February, 2020, just pre-Covid.
  • At the end of 2021, we had 10.9M job openings – comparing that to our 6.3M unemployed folks, we thus have 1.7+ job openings per unemployed individual. The employment market has shifted strongly in favor of the employee. Demand far exceeds supply!
  • You know the reasons – many (mostly women) have left the workforce in droves due to child and elder care needs, immigration is greatly reduced due to government policy and Covid restrictions, and huge numbers of older folks have retired due to both Covid fears and a beneficent stock market (they may have some regrets now).
  • And so the “Great Resignation” ensued – 47.4M people voluntarily quit in 2021, a record 33% of our workforce.

So what do we do? Laura Patterson recently wrote on Purposeful Leadership and Brian McDonald on solutions to Losing Talent – I recommend both to you.  Let’s expand on their thoughts.
Erin Cech of the University of Michigan led a 2021 study of 1,628 well distributed college-educated workers who were terminated during the pandemic, people whom we would think might place a very high value on financial security and stability – surprisingly, not so. 46% of the respondents rated “passion” as their top priority, while 20% rated salary as their top concern, and only 13% noted job security as their top concern – passion counts! Cech goes on to note that “the Great Resignation may be perpetuated in part by workers seeking a different relationship to paid work – one that provides greater meaning and fulfilment to their lives.”
One of my favorite authors on the issue of “why do we really work” is Daniel Pink of Harvard. In his book, “Drive”, he writes about three issues that lead us to “working productively and in a satisfying fashion”; they are, in my order:

  • Mastery – the ability to develop and refine a skill, one meaningful in the world of work, and in the organization to which you belong;
  • Autonomy – the freedom to employ that skill in ways that we view as valuable to our goals and our organization;
  • Purpose – the ability to work in an organization in service to goals that are far larger than service to self, goals that hopefully bring a benefit to society at large. Higher Education does just that!

So, what do you do to further these highly motivating parameters in your team or teams:

  • For Mastery, can you do joint planning with your employees for the development of the skills that you and they see as most desirable? That planning might include inside or outside training and planned experiences to support, utilize and hone those skills – it’s important you two jointly commit to this development in fields in which you both wish to see growth.
  • For Autonomy, ask yourself and your employee if you are providing the freedom to use skills in ways the employee sees fit. Are you micro-managing? Are you giving excessive direction? Are you providing real freedom to do, and to lead?
  • For Purpose, consider your communications – have you tied the essence of your team’s jobs to the support of your university’s mission, whether it be research, learning, or community outreach and development? Have you ensured that your teams and the individuals within them all see the tie between their work and the critical mission-centric outputs of your larger organization?

You also need to ensure that the basics of equity, pay and benefits, are in place, and you need to help lead the charge for such equity. Tracy Schroeder, VP, IS&T and CDO at Boston University, writing in Inside Higher Ed said: “We are actively doing equity and market adjustments – I’ve done one round already aimed at retention……And we are looking at doing more this spring to try to keep our high performers, especially, and our early-career talent”. We all need to be champions for our people!
And you know I could not leave this article without mentioning the value of STRATEGY – one can never make up in tactics that which they lack in strategy. The most common plea I hear in coaching is this: “Far too many projects, far too few resources (mostly people)”. How does one deal with that? One deals with it strategically!
When workloads exceed capacity, one needs to make strategic choices about which projects to do and which not to do. If there is a clear set of strategic priorities present, it will tell you that the projects supporting e.g., “Data Science” are the most critical, and therefore those go in the top bucket to get done, and ditto for the next priority, until capacity is exhausted. Thus, a clear strategy tells you what to say Yes to, and, even more important, what to say No to.
To summarize, the nature of today’s labor market gives “power (and choice) to the people” – if we are going to keep our teams intact, we need to help them fulfill their passions through developing the mastery they seek, providing the autonomy they need, and connecting them to the bigger and broader purpose of all we do, all while ensuring we treat them equitably. And, as we choose the work we do as a team, we need to do so strategically, focusing on our top STRATEGIC priorities first, those most impacting our purpose. Best of success!



This Week’s Survey

How widespread is the Great Resignation among our readers? What percentage of your team has left in the past year?  
(click below to provide your anonymous response)
0%       1-5%          6-10%       11-24%       25%


From Last Week

Last week, we asked: Thinking back to an organization you worked at and have since left, how many people do you stay in touch with regularly? 568 of you responded:

  • 70% stay in touch with 0-3 people
  • 20% stay in touch with 4-8
  • 10% stay in touch with 9 or more

The punchline? We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy with people at work doing what we often think of as the most important thing in our lives. Yet, when we step back out of the soup and get a look at the pot, we often see a different picture. Developing deep relationships and friendships is the foundation of happiness and well being. That takes time, energy and focus. Consider “deal friends” vs. “real friends” in this 2-minute video.