What Works UK

The Antidote to the Great Resignation

Hiring and Retaining Talent

Expectation vs Reality

Do you remember your very first day on the job? For me, it was a mix of feelings I would describe as excitement, anticipation, a sprinkling of fear, and butterflies - lots of butterflies.

Regardless of what your exact emotional cocktail contained; you also brought a set of expectations into this relationship with your new employer. Some were informed by past experiences in previous jobs, some were created during the recruiting process, and yet others were likely based on your unique desires and preferences.

Chances are that none of this was in writing—perhaps it was even subconscious—but it was floating around in your head nonetheless.

These pre-set expectations create an emotional framework that employees employ on their first day, their 30th day, and throughout their careers to weigh whether the input and the output - what they give vs. what they receive in return - is fair and meets their expectations.

In the field of psychology, this unwritten contract between employees and employers is called the Psychological Contract. It serves as a constant gauge to measure the health of the employer-employee relationship. If the gap between expectations and experiences is significant, it erodes trust and drives employees towards lower engagement levels. If the gap is too large it typically leads to unwanted attrition. If it is combined with a pandemic it can provide the recipe for the mass exodus of talent or as we call it the Great Resignation.

Bridging the Gap for a Strong Foundation

So how exactly do you close the gap between expectations and experiences to build a foundation for employee commitment, engagement, productivity and - most importantly - trust to avoid that draining of talent from your organisation?

The first and most crucial step is for companies to keep a pulse of the dynamic environment of employee expectations. The younger generations at work (Gen Z and Gen Y) have been very vocal about their expectations, such as increased flexibility and serving a greater purpose at work. Even within the same organisation, you can expect differences in employee expectations across a wide variety of demographics, such as geography.

Companies must have visibility into the full range of expectations among their people and recognise that these expectations can change quickly based on internal and external triggers. The pandemic has certainly demonstrated how quickly the scale of these priorities can change—employees who took a safe workplace for granted quickly elevated physiological needs to the top of their concerns but that was just the beginning.

The process of identifying what your employees expect and determining ways to close the gap between expectations and experiences is foundational to honouring the Psychological Contract. This needs to be an ongoing exercise due to the dynamic nature of employee expectations.

Honouring the Psychological Contract is not a silver bullet for instant employee engagement and higher levels of productivity, but it is vital to the foundation of building a highly engaged workplace with an employee experience that matches expectations. It also presents your very best protection against the Great Resignation.

Taking Action

Many of these expectations are realised during the recruitment process. If your company’s approach to talent communication is anything but brutally transparent in terms of the role and expectations, you are setting yourself - and the candidate - up for failure.

Be open about the hiring manager’s tendencies. Be honest about the current state of culture. Being transparent is challenging. It may even scare off talented candidates who are expecting an idyllic utopia. But by being honest about where you are today - and more importantly, where you hope to go tomorrow - you’ll be more likely to attract talent that wants to usher in that change with you.

So, how can you protect your business against the great resignation?

Step 1: Gain full visibility into the expectations your employees bring to work. Evaluate which value currencies your employees are most attracted to (and understand that these can and will change). While employee surveys collect some of this information, there are quicker and less complex approaches to get you started quickly. Complete a self-assessment gap analysis across 30 value currencies to identify areas of focus that need to be addresses quickly - scan the QR code to access the Gap Analysis Tool.

UKG Gap Analysis Tool

Step 2: Find opportunities to close the gaps between what employees expect and the employee experience you offer. For example, across the board, employees are demanding more flexibility. Review policies, leverage technology, and tweak your culture to promote higher levels of flexibility in your organisation. Many of these steps can be implemented at low or even no cost.

Step 3: Conduct a gap analysis between expectations and experiences every 90 to 180 days to recognise trends early. This enables you to continue closing the gap and improving the health of your Psychological Contract and employee relationships. While this may seem overly frequent, remember: finance does not check the budget once a year. It’s a constant exercise so that concerns can be addressed before the hole is too deep to climb out of.

You will have a tough time finding a high-performing organisation that has not invested in creating at a bare minimum a fair exchange with their employees. They made a promise. They set an expectation. Then, they delivered. The highest-performing organisations - those that provide exceptional employee experiences by honouring, and in many cases even exceeding, their employee’s expectations - have demonstrated repeatedly that they can run circles around their peers when it comes to operational and financial key performance indicators.

I encourage you to put balancing Psychological Contract on your list of strategic objectives; few things will have such a transformative impact on long-term business success and if you make it a business priority and pursue it with vigour you have a better than fighting chance against the Great Resignation - but you have to act now!

For more information watch the webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfmkH3n0IdQ