Strategies to Overcome Disengagement and Attrition in the Great Resignation

It's vital for companies to understand the drivers of employee disengagement and attrition to not only attract and retain top talent, but to keep a business running profitably.

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Based on research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were a record 11.3 million job openings at the end of May 2022. This is a decrease from the 11.85 million high in March of 2022, but that doesn’t mean the crisis is over.

We’re still in the heart of the ongoing Great Resignations. Workers are leaving their jobs in search of better opportunities, better work-life balance, and more job satisfaction, leaving companies with unfilled positions impacting time and resources spent hiring new employees.

In the meantime, managers are working with skeleton staff and increased workloads, putting themselves and their teams at risk of burnout – or worse, driving current talent to leave as well.

It's vital for companies to understand the drivers of employee disengagement and attrition to not only attract and retain top talent, but to keep a business running profitably.

What Is the Great Resignation?


The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit and the Big Reshuffle, is an ongoing economic trend that involves employees voluntarily resigning from jobs en masse. This began early in 2021, fresh off of the disruptions and setbacks of the pandemic.

There are many possible reasons for the Great Resignation, including wage stagnation with a rising cost of living, the safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare challenges, the desire for remote work, and a long-standing job dissatisfaction.

While the popular opinion may be that workers quit with the availability of unemployment benefits with added stimulus or government stimulus checks, the likely cause is more a result of the perspective gained during the pandemic. Workers had an opportunity to rethink their work conditions, careers, and long-term goals. They embraced remote work and better work-life balance, especially with families.

In addition, millions of people recovering from COVID have long COVID, or a long-lasting complication that makes it difficult to work. This may include fatigue that interferes with daily life and symptoms that worsen after physical or mental effort. Others may have symptoms like ongoing sleep issues, headaches, and depression or anxiety.

Rising inflation appears to be slowing the Great Resignation, but there’s still movement. Some workers are still seeking new opportunities if their jobs are unsatisfying, though companies have also realised that their talent isn’t as easy to come by as it once was. They’re committed to providing better work conditions, because if any employee leaves, they may not be able to fill that gap easily.

The Role of Managers in Engagement and Retention

Managers account for around 70% of the variance in employee engagement, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders. This is a significant factor that may explain why many employees have low engagement on a global scale.

An effective manager can inspire and engage their team, foster an environment of accountability, and boost productivity. In turn, companies with motivated and engaged employees see more profitability. And yet, if a manager lacks these crucial skills, in either management or communication, they may not be able to inspire employees, boost performance, or build and sustain team engagement. Without that, retention is affected.

In addition, poor project or task management and ineffective communication doesn’t foster a culture of accountability, nor does it set clear expectations for employees to know their role and how they fit into the company’s big picture. This is important for employees to reach their career goals and the company’s goals alike.

Clearly, management plays an essential role in an employee’s future career path and growth. A poor manager could invariably affect an employee negatively, and poor managers are everywhere. This is a clear and justified reason for employees to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Without this managerial guidance, employees don’t have the feedback, mentoring, and career opportunities necessary to excel in their positions – or their careers – and they realise they may be nurtured and guided in an environment more conducive to success.

Strategies for Managers to Overcome Disengagement and Attrition

Want to prevent the Great Resignation from affecting your company? Here’s how you can overcome disengagement and attrition in employees:

Get Creative With Connection Between Managers and Team Members

Employees are at risk to feel disconnected in an office environment, especially in a large business with different departments and teams. This divide is much larger in remote and hybrid teams, however. These employees work mostly on their own without a manager’s oversight or the benefit of collaborating with team members, which has a significant impact on team camaraderie.

In remote positions, employees also lack a greater understanding of how the work they do fits into the business’s big picture goals and outcomes.

Managers can alleviate some of this disconnection, however, by getting creative with how they work to boost their team connection. Regular positive conversations, check-ins, virtual leadership training, and one-on-one meetings should be standard. Adding in themed zoom meetings, team happy hours, or an out-of-the-blue celebration can also help to add variety and energy into the group.

If you’re concerned that there’s already not enough time in the day, remember that all it takes is a message or text to boost enthusiasm. Managers can take these small opportunities – a few minutes of small talk in a virtual meeting, check-ins through a group chat, or texting a note of appreciation are all it takes. These small gestures have a big impact.

Deliver Effective and Timely Communication

Just because a manager does communicate doesn’t mean they’re communicating well. These skills are important for everyone in every workplace, but even more essential for managers. In fact, communication is one of the most sought soft skills for job candidates.

Without the ability to deliver timely, clear, and effective instructions and feedback, employees may become unproductive, disengaged, and disinterested. Because managers work so closely with their teams, it makes sense that poor communication can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Along with the ability to communicate effectively, managers need to show transparency and honesty in their communication. These are important skills for developing trust between managers and their team members.

What does honesty look like in practice? Managers who are authentic and consistent in their words and actions and managers who share the truth (as appropriate) to improve their communication and teams.

Naturally, this is more difficult with remote or hybrid teams. In the hustle and bustle of the day, communication can be shifted to the backburner. But managers need to prioritise communication and ensure that they’re building a relationship with guidance and feedback.

Include Variety and Challenges

One of the factors in job dissatisfaction and disengagement is employees getting bored in their roles. This is more likely in jobs that are somewhat rote and routine. These employees are also at a risk of burnout, which is a risk factor in seeking other opportunities.

It’s important for managers to include variety and challenges in a routine workday to keep the work interesting and engaging for employees. These don’t need to happen all day, every day, but they should be fairly regular to add interest to a monotonous day.

For example, managers can surprise teams with different fun gestures, such as scheduling team meetings for shorter sessions or hosting meetings with themes like a football party, allowing employees to support their team with (work appropriate) jerseys and hats. Another example is to coordinate themed meetings with major or minor holidays, such as Halloween or “talk like a pirate day.”

Including some fun experiences like this in the workday help employees get out of mundane routine and “autopilot” to take a new interest in their role at the company.

Use Training and Development Strategically

According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace report, a key driver behind resignations is a lack of opportunity for career growth and development. These results are corroborated by LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, which estimates that 94% of employees would be loyal to an organisation that prioritised and valued career learning and development.

For many companies, the busy workload, reduced staff, limited resources, and time shortages make it seem impossible to include growth and development opportunities. Though it may be challenging, investing in your employees is key to nurturing loyal, committed employees.

In addition, connecting employees to their impact on the organisation has a positive effect on engagement. An employee who feels valued and like a company is invested in them is more likely to be invested in the company’s success overall.

Keep in mind that training doesn’t need to be expensive, time-consuming, or boring. Every employee has something to learn from education and training opportunities, but they don’t have to be formal solutions. Low-cost alternatives like mentorship programs are just as effective.

Managers Are a Key Component of Employee Retention

No company can succeed without motivated employees, especially as we navigate the ongoing challenges of the Great Resignation. Managers are a key driver of employee engagement and satisfaction, or the lack thereof, and the change needs to start there.

Author Bio

Wildly addicted to all things leadership, Cecilia Gorman is a veteran of the advertising industry and the owner of Creative Talent Partners, a training consultancy that specialises in the development of rising managers and their teams. Whether it’s a team offsite, a manager workshop or through her online Manager Training Program, Cecilia’s sole pursuit is adding value to growth-focused employees.

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