Oscar from the television program The Office saying "I don't think I can work here any longer."
Friday, July 9, 2021
Tom Snee

The American economy is opening back up as more American workers get vaccinated, and millions of them are responding with a giant shrug.

Stephen Courtright, Henry B. Tippie Research Professor of Management & Education, says COVID-19 forced Americans to think about their mortality and gave them plenty of time to assess their jobs, their careers, and their lives. The conclusion many have reached is that life is too short for a job they don’t like and they want to do something else. Maybe they want to keep working from home but their employer wants them back in the office. Maybe they’re worried about catching COVID-19 from contaminated co-workers or customers. Maybe they see themselves as just a cog and they want to see themselves as more than just a cog, they want their job to matter. 

The result is what analysts are calling “the great resignation,” as workers quit to find something new and jobs sit empty.

“People do search for meaning and for purpose in their jobs and the pandemic has allowed us to some extent, or forced us to really rethink what are our priorities? How do we find meaning? What is it that we really want to do?” Courtright told Radio Iowa in June. “So as we get out of the post-pandemic, people may be seeking opportunities that align a little bit more with how they find meaning and purpose.”

And there’s a good chance the trend will only accelerate. Courtright says volumes of research have shown us what factors prompt workers to quit, and many of them—burnout, lack of flexibility, a desire to work from home, poor mental health, general unhappiness—are present in abundance today.

Unfortunately, this quest for meaning is having real impacts on the economy. As millions of jobs go unfilled, businesses have to reduce hours or temporarily close, and supply chain backups have caused delays in the delivery of everything from caulk to computer chips to living room furniture. Businesses are looking for ways to keep their employees onboard and many have turned to the Tippie College for help, which is one factor that led to the creation of the Tippie Leadership Collaborative, the college’s new consulting firm of sorts that connects faculty experts to organizations that need advice to solve business problems.

What can businesses do to ensure their employees return to their job? Chad H. Van Iddekinge, Henry B. Tippie Research Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, says there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. But he offers some tips to help keep unwanted turnover to a minimum.

Assess and increase employee job satisfaction. Low job satisfaction is one of the strongest predictors of voluntary turnover. Organizations should regularly assess employee satisfaction and take steps to increase it. Examples include giving employees say in how they perform their work and providing competitive pay and benefits. Effective and supportive supervision also is a key factor, so selecting and developing high-quality leaders is critical.

Increase commitment to the organization. Employees who are more committed to an organization are more likely to stay. Organizations can increase commitment by providing opportunities for training and development, promoting from within, and fostering connections among employees.

Help employees maintain work-life balance. Work-life conflict is one of the main drivers of turnover. Employers can help by ensuring employee workloads are reasonable, offering flexible work schedules, and implementing rules that minimize correspondence outside of normal work hours.

Monitor “pre-quitting” behaviors. When employees start to think about leaving, these thoughts often turn into action. Research has identified “pre-quitting” behaviors employees who are thinking about leaving display, such as being hesitant to commit to long-term timelines. Managers can be on the lookout for these behaviors and intervene when an employee may be thinking about leaving.