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What HR can do as burnout drives workers to 'The Great Resignation'

By Samuel Njogu | December 5th 2021
By Samuel Njogu | December 5th 2021

Some workers are voting with their feet, based on purpose and mission-alignment in career choices. [Courtesy]

Covid-19 has challenged the traditional idea of the workplace. Numerous lockdowns and variant outbreaks have transformed physical workspaces – we have seen them become mobile, flexible and even shift between locations.

The dramatic shift in the ways that we work have shown that remote working does not come at the cost of increased productivity. However, these changes call for greater investment by organisations in their employees to support them in navigating the new normal.

The need to continuously adapt throughout the pandemic has pushed us to our limits. Companies are seeing talent leaving in droves, as burnout and pandemic fatigue rise, in what is being referred to as “The Great Resignation”.

The lines between work and life have become blurred, with nearly 90 per cent of professional workers reporting burnout.

Research shows that the underlying cause of burnout is not individual, it is systemic, living in the culture and the workplace. Beyond their workplaces, organisations are also called upon to adapt their operations and strategies to tackle and report on the environmental, social and governance impact of their organisational policies.

These are the dynamics that are changing world of work and leaders are being called upon to address them.

While leading an organisation has never been easy, the context now, after two years of uncertainty with only more uncertainty in sight, demands greater agility, humanity, and clarity than ever before.

To answer a shared need to effectively shift work practices and behaviours for this post-pandemic era, we look to our community of Young Global Leaders. These dynamic, compassionate, and forward-looking leaders highlight their approaches to work, suggesting certain practices to support more inclusive and sustainable work environments in the months and years ahead.

View employees as stakeholders

Nili Gilbert, chair of the investment committee, David Rockefeller Fund

In the post-Covid world, the opportunity gap among workers from different regions and walks of life has only expanded – a continuing injustice which requires all of our attention. For employees who can enjoy the luxury of it, professional selectivity has risen, with an increased focus turned on labour rights, improved wages, and quality of life. Some workers are also voting with their feet, based on purpose and mission-alignment in career choices. To adapt to this, leaders must see employees not merely as a means, but as partners and stakeholders in the future of our institutions and of our society at large.

Flexible working policies

Imani Duncan, founder, Imani, Grace & Love Foundation

While both women and men were significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the world of work, the impact was particularly disruptive for women. As many societies in the developing and developed world still see women as primary caregivers, when schools closed and began to pivot to online learning delivery, the world of working women went crazy. Balancing the oversight of children in school at home, supporting children through the emotional trauma with all the uncertainty and being cooped up at home, plus having to work from home to keep incomes going was extraordinarily stressful.
As Covid-19 is still with us to varying extents, and more pandemics will come, leaders today must create a work environment that nurtures human beings living in this reality to maintain and grow productivity.

Flexible work policies need to be a mainstay as they benefit women and men, no matter who is the primary caregiver; enabling managers to manage to outcomes and not hours clocked; mental health and well-being support are a must. A higher level of empathy, for team members and themselves as leaders, as well as creativity in crafting responses and proactively planning for the future is needed more than ever today.

Clear and open communication

Alejandro Brenes, co-founder and chief executive, Enertiva

One of the key aspects to adapt in this post-Covid-19 world is to have effective and constant communication and feedback with all stakeholders. We are in uncharted territory where you need to make complex decisions with less information in a shorter time frame. In this environment, mistakes are going to be more common, so the only way to succeed and adapt is through iteration. You need to invest and innovate in proper and efficient communication channels with employees, clients, shareholders, government and other stakeholders.

Valuing the process not just the outcome

Rodrigo Tavares, founder and president, Granito Group

Work is a set of activities involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result. With time, the final result gained substantially more importance than the efforts themselves. Most workers work to achieve a financial compensation, positive societal or environmental impact, or an emotional sense of personal fulfilment or social realisation. Work then became output-driven, achievement-based, product-oriented. And when work became a means and not an end in itself or when we stopped truly valuing our daily professional activities, disengagement and fragmentation started. In the future, being a leader perhaps will not be so much about targets and accomplishments but about having the courage to reconnect ourselves with our inner strengths, values and rhythms.

Embracing change in order to thrive

Farzana Yaqoob, chief executive, MANTAQ Centre for Research

Covid-19 led to a rapid change in lifestyles which was very challenging for everyone. But this challenge became an opportunity for changing habits and learning new skills to survive. The relationship between employer and employee has also evolved. The future is welcoming leaders who are capitalising on empathy and trust to transform workplaces. Leaders must not be left behind in recognising the transformation we are currently undergoing - those who can adapt rapidly will thrive.

Inspiring remote teams

Juliana Chan, chief executive, Wildtype Media Group

The transition to remote work during Covid-19 was dramatic and sudden. Zoom entered our daily lexicon, and it was a brave new world for business managers. Eighteen months later, the need for flexibility in both time and space will remain. Remote work will support talent retention, and hiring regionally will bolster growth plans. New priorities such as cultural fit and mental health support will appear, and leaders will need to transition from operational to inspirational – motivating their teams on mission and purpose, beyond financial rewards and promotions.

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