BW 33 The Great Resignation | BrainWorks

The Great Resignation in Healthcare and Tech

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July, 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months. A record-breaking 10.9 million jobs were open at the end of July.

Much if not most of what has been written about this “Great Resignation” has focused on organizations’ need to change in order to stem the rush for the exits. This approach is unlikely to be very successful. First of all, departures are a lagging indicator. Resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees, so it is reasonable to assume that many that quit are the result of long-standing unhappiness that has come to the surface as the Covid-19 pandemic eases and people are confronting the transition from working from home (WFH) to going back to the office.

Resignations are highest in the tech and healthcare industries, while in the manufacturing and finance world, resignations decreased slightly.  In 2021, 3.6% more healthcare employees quit their jobs, and 4.5% is the comparable figure for tech. Given the level of employees resigning and given the fact that younger employees have been entering the job market with the experience of WFH and greater freedom, it seems unlikely that what was “normal” in 2018 will return in 2022 or 2023.

In tech and healthcare, there will be no return to normal. During the pandemic, both of these industries experienced urgent, unprecedented demand, and in healthcare the stress of meeting the demands of the pandemic were stressful to the point of being traumatic.

Given all this, the emphasis on retention may be a mistake. First of all, the true causes of attrition are structural within organizations – as noted in an earlier blog on this site, the writer Daniel Pink has identified three critical factors in employee engagement when money is not a factor:

  • Purpose
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery

As Pink notes in his book, most industries have lagged severely (some have not even begun) in the transition from what he calls “Motivation 2.0 (extrinsic motivation – people work to avoid punishment or gain reward) to  what he calls “Type I” (intrinsic motivation – self-determination).

If many or most of the people who are resigning are doing so not from lack of carrots or sticks, but rather out of having had a taste of self-determination while working from home, then retention is not going to work. The shift from Motivation 2 to Type I motivation is not a process change, it’s a cultural change and cultural change comes slow to organizations.

What if the key is recruitment, not retention? At the same time the organization is attempting to come to grips with the “new normal” of employees looking for purpose, autonomy, and mastery, organizations, particularly in healthcare, recruit for new employees, particularly at middle and senior management, who understand Type I motivation and can speed the transition along, providing an organizational atmosphere that is built around those three factors.

The fact is, this may be easier in healthcare and in tech than in other areas. Many if not most healthcare workers entered the field out of a sense of purpose. While the work during Covid was brutal for them and many burned out or came close, what kept them coming back was purpose – they were more committed to saving lives than anything else. If in recruiting, healthcare organizations offered the possibility of greater autonomy and opportunities for training and education that increased mastery, they might be more successful in their hiring (and perhaps re-attracting those who have left or are considering leaving).

Technology is less obvious but similar – tech management may have paid their dues in coding and product design, but they are there to create products and systems that make a difference for people. The same reasoning applies.

Engagement with a recruiting firm that understands Type I motivation and the need to adapt to the mindset of a post-covid world will be essential for those companies that recognize that they need to focus on the leading indicators of what employees from the C-suite to the shop floor are looking for. Those that emphasize retention or recruiting to old paradigms (Motivation 2.0) will be left behind.



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