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Anthony Klotz: The Great Resignation is an opportunity for HR

By Michelle Gouldsberry
September 12, 2022
4 minute read

The Great Resignation is more than a buzzword; it’s a phenomenon upending workforce planning processes across the globe. Employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers, causing headaches for HR professionals working to fill the gaps.

The Great Resignation is something Dr. Anthony Klotz, associate professor of organizational behavior at University College London’s UCL School of Management, knows a lot about.

Klotz first coined the phrase, and he has studied employment trends extensively. Now, Klotz wants employers to recognize the phenomenon as an opportunity to reassess what it takes to retain employees.

“There’s an opportunity here because employees and CEOs both seem more open to trying new things right now, to embracing change,” he says. “It’s just a matter of a little bit more hard work to experiment with the changes that work for your business, to use data to understand how to take that next step.”

That perspective is why we invited Klotz to be the first speaker in our People Fundamentals webinar series. In advance of this talk, we asked him to share his thoughts on how HR leaders can make work better by redesigning organizations in ways that are more sustainable for the well-being and performance of workers, leaders, and the business.

Understand the root cause of ‘quiet quitting’

Trends like the Great Resignation emerge for a reason, and leaders should be curious as to why they develop. Consider the recent buzz about “quiet quitting,” for example, which Klotz believes to be motivated by the same factors contributing to the Great Resignation.

“Workers are looking for sources of empowerment, and quiet quitting is a way for people who feel stuck to have some agency over their work situation,” he says.

The reaction to the term has been polarizing, with some defending it as healthy enforcement of boundaries, while others decry it as an excuse to be lazy. However, dismissing the trend as nothing more than younger workers who don’t want to hustle ignores an opportunity to address its root cause. “Sometimes you get signals from employees from places where you’d rather not get them,” Klotz says, “but they’re still useful, and they show that there’s a problem.”

The inverse of this is “citizenship behaviors,” which refer to actions freely performed outside the scope of an employee’s contractual obligations, like working extra hours or agreeing to help a colleague complete a project.

Managers can use the conversation around quiet quitting to broach the topic of citizenship behaviors and whether employees are willing to engage. “The citizenship behavior that really isn’t a big deal for me to engage in may be a big deal for you,” Klotz says. “I would encourage managers to open the conversation about the extra work.”

Help managers prioritize connection

To have empowering conversations, managers need time to connect with employees. However, many managers are also individual contributors with too much on their plate to adequately develop their teams.

“When we’re in those individual contributor roles, and we have an overflowing plate, we tend to dedicate time to what gives us a quick payback,” Klotz says. “Having a one-on-one with an employee, you don’t get immediate payback. Many companies’ prioritization and internal reward systems push managers away from sitting down and spending time listening and connecting with people.”

So what can you do? Some employers are beginning to outsource coaching and development, but Klotz proposes a different approach. “If you were going to outsource an aspect of management, I would probably lean a little bit more on the task or operation side,” he says.

Supplement human connection with technology

The right technology can help managers embrace their role as people leaders, as long as the tech doesn’t take over.

When managers are overloaded with reports and responsibility, “they end up relying too heavily on the support tools and not enough on a one-on-one connection with people,” Klotz says. “When the software takes over for human connection, that’s problematic.”

When managing performance and developing employees, human connection must come first. “The technology, software, and analytics are really useful for managers, as long as they have the bandwidth to also engage in the listening and connecting piece with their employees,” he continues.

When properly prioritized, performance management software can provide a wealth of information that helps managers lead and develop their teams. “Ideally, you’re getting decision support metrics and data to help you steer clear of your own biases,” Klotz says.

Focus on the quality of conversations

The final ingredient in empowering managers to inspire better performance and engagement is defining what good conversations look like. “I think it involves far more listening by the manager than talking,” Klotz says.

We’re just starting to learn what active listening entails from the management perspective, according to Klotz. It’s up to managers to get a sense of the other person’s experience and apply what they learn from those conversations. One example is when managers represent an employee’s perspective — especially if they aren’t present — before making decisions for the group.

Empowering human connection can fundamentally change how we work and have a positive effect on retention. The Great Resignation has shaken up the status quo, but your business can use this disruption to create an environment that employees want to stay and grow in.

“This is a moment for optimism — and a moment of opportunity along with it,” Klotz says. “Forward-thinking companies and leaders are seizing this opportunity to create a better world of work going forward.”

Register for the webinar to gain insights into the talent management strategies you can develop to counteract the Great Resignation and position your organization to thrive.