Technology is to blame for the ‘Great Resignation’

Have you heard about the September exodus? More than four million Americans quit their jobs that month, shattering the record for resignations previously set the month before. And some 40{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9} of remaining employees are thinking of quitting, too, according to a Microsoft report.

The crisis is even worse in technology. TalentLMS and Workable reported recently that 72{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9} of US-based tech employees are thinking of quitting their job in the next 12 months.

It’s not just the US. The Great Resignation is a global phenomenon.

Pundits point to many causes for the trend, from government stimulus checks to the rise of remote work to entitled millennials and even pandemic-driven stress.

In general, it’s clear that there’s a growing incompatibility between the reality and the expectation of the employee experience.

Making matters worse: The more people quit, the harder life gets for those who remain on the job. This is especially true of tech workers. IT departments have been notoriously understaffed, and as the Great Resignation increasingly hits tech workers, all employees suffer more downtime, cyberattacks, and tech implementation slowdowns.

This is an emergency. You need to know why people are resigning in such high numbers.

The many reasons people quit

After extensively reviewing the interviews, surveys, and reports, I’ve compiled a list of the major reasons people give for quitting during the Great Resignation. These are:

  • Frustration with laptops, desktops, networks, and systems that don’t work well, a trend exacerbated during the pandemic when many remote employees were literally left to their own devices. There’s also widespread confusion about how to proceed when technology doesn’t work.
  • Lack of control over workspaces and processes. Many employees feel they have much to contribute to how work gets done, but are blocked from having their say.
  • A “toxic mix” of low pay, high workloads, and a broader lack of recognition. This observation comes from the Trades Union Congress about employees in the public sector.
  • Lack of work-life balance. Covid-driven remote work gave millions of employees a taste of commuting less and spending more time with family, and they realize that they might retain that with another employer.
  • General inflexibility about how things work, how work is done, and when.
  • Lack of training opportunities. Tech workers, especially, want more training opportunities — 91{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9} said so in the TalentLMS and Workable survey report.
  • Many are quitting because they’re physically and emotionally exhausted. And the departure of so many makes it that much worse for those who remain.

While these reasons aren’t surprising, it’s important to realize what all these have in common.

This is all about technology… and culture

While businesses of all sizes are scratching their heads and trying to figure this out, the truth is that our technology products and how they’re used, plus our culture around management and employee interaction, is exactly what’s driving people out the door.

Technology is frustrating workers, creating friction and inertia, blocking employee progress and empowerment, creating needless work and engendering a feeling of isolation and impotence.

The good news is that better technology is a big part of the solution. Here’s what you need to do to start retaining and attracting employees.

  • Transform training. Artificial Intelligence(AI)-based adaptive learning technology can make employee training far more relevant by enabling employee-driven learning based on what the person already knows — ending the frustration with classroom-like or generic training systems. In general, ramp up training and career development. Promote from within whenever possible. Guide employees on their career path, wherever it leads, within the company. Just as products need a roadmap, so does each employee.
  • Enable natural connections between employees. User-friendly collaboration tools foster connection and culture. Focus not just on getting the work done, but on team building and the psychology of each employee being part of a team.
  • Use advanced technology for HR, but over-communicate with a human touch. Automated HR is contributing to the burnout issue. When it comes to changes in employee status, pay, benefits, supervisors and other personnel events that have an emotional impact on the employee, the communication around this should always be human-to-human, not emails or automated notifications.
  • Avoid employee surveillance. Many companies reacted to the rush to remote work with employee surveillance software. Monitoring screen activity, mouse movements, time online and other metrics are the surest way to drive employees away. Nobody wants Big Brother to always be watching — especially in one’s own home. Develop alternative means to measure and gauge employee performance. Be results-driven and don’t rank employees based on how often their mouse moves. This is true of remote workers, office workers, and everyone in the new hybrid workforce.
  • Embrace transparency, authenticity and empathy. Most business culture  change happens because each year a new group of young people enter the workforce and an older group retires. The youngest employees — those who have joined the workforce in the past 10 years — have very different expectations about how their employer behaves. They want to know what’s going on, and to work with human beings who care. If younger employees feel like a cog in a machine, they’re more likely to pack up and go.
  • Embrace agility and flexibility. Technology that drives flexibility in hybrid work, remote work, shifting teams, and flexible hours will go a long way in improving the employee experience and sense of wellbeing.
  • Develop a holistic approach to employee satisfaction. With remote and hybrid workforces, companies need to help employees cope psychologically and emotionally to the realities of disparate and shifting work locations and environments. In the past, it was enough to hold occasional team-building exercises and offsite events. Now, managers, supervisors and leaders should be helping employees not only feel like they’re part of the team, but also helping employees maintain physical and mental health. Part of this process is technological. The feelings of connection, involvement, the sense of mission, and a work-life balance can all be helped — or harmed — by technology choices, as well as work policies and management approaches.
  • Make burnout avoidance top of the list when choosing technology. With each passing month, AI gains ground in tech, for example. But it can have opposite effects, either contributing to burnout or alleviating it. AI that replaces human interaction — for example, overly automated HR — can leave employees feeling frustrated and abandoned. AI that augments human performance can boost employees, making them feel empowered and supported. It’s also true that automating repetitive tasks can free up employees to do the things that only humans can do. Automation should be applied to helping and empowering humans, not replacing them.

The reasons for the Great Resignation are many. But it’s time we acknowledge the role technology has played in driving away employees in droves — and the role it can play in bringing people back by creating a flexible, humane, and empowering workplace that will make employees happy, productive and invested in the mission of the company.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

Eleanore Beatty

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