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The 'Great Resignation': Can respect prevent employees' mass exodus?

Dara Barlin has been researching corporation culture. She writes about what companies can do to keep their employees happy and working.
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Office exodus

PORTLAND, Maine — It's been deemed "The Great Resignation," as people retire early or just walk away from their jobs. While there are many reasons, including health and safety, there seems to be something larger at the core. 

A Harvard study surveyed full-time employees in eight different countries, including the U.S., and found that 58% of employees would trust a total stranger over their boss

"People are talking about the labor shortages a lot right now. They’re even calling it 'the great resignation,' right?" Dara Barlin has been working with government agencies for about five years, gathering research on work cultures: what works and what doesn't.

She's collected that research in a book called "A New Kind of Power," helping leaders understand what they can do to create a more inclusive work environment so employees won't want to leave. 

"It’s interesting because if you look at the research, what you’ll see in a lot of it is it’s because of low salary, it’s because people don’t have access to childcare, it’s because of higher retirement rates, and all of that is a part of the story of course, but what we’re seeing is respect is actually at the core, it’s the missing ingredient," Barlin said. 

"When people go to work and they feel unappreciated and they feel undervalued and they feel disrespected, then low salary becomes an issue, and nightmare logistics to find childcare become an issue, they want to retire early, so all of these things have manifested in the pandemic in a much higher level," Barlin said. "The logistics are getting harder so those lower-level salaries don’t see more of the trade-off anymore."

So how can companies help to solve the labor shortage? It starts by creating an environment that makes employees feel safe and heard, she said. "When you have structures for deep listening for employees, when you have structures that actually honor that they have a voice in decisions that affect them, then there’s a lot of goodwill and morale and support and excitement that employees bring to the organization."

"I’ll give you one example of what that looks like [when] having a meeting about a policy that an organization wants to put in place," Barlin said. "A lot of times those conversations happen among senior-level leaders. So you would bring in the voices of Frontline workers or middle managers into the policies that affect them."

What happens instead, often, is that senior leaders meet with other senior leaders, and then policy change is passed down to the employees. "When those meetings are happening there’s a lot of resentment that happens, there’s a lack of transparency, low trust, people don’t understand what’s going on so rumors start, and gossip starts, and conflict starts," Barlin said.

She recommends that employers look into better ways of harvesting "psychological safety." What does that mean? "The term psychological safety came from a Harvard professor from Harvard Business School, a wonderful researcher named Amy Edmondson, and she coined the term because she kept saying it over and over again in organizations because it wasn’t happening," Barlin said. "Psychological safety means people feel safe to admit when they make mistakes and to speak their truth when they see things happening that aren’t great."

Acknowledge when mistakes are made, but instead of focusing on the mistake itself, work out a plan to ensure it doesn't happen again.  

To learn more about Dara Barlin and "A New Kind Of Power," click here