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https://www.bbc.com/-By Sophia Epstein
As resignations in many countries gather pace, depleted companies will want to retain workers. Now might be the time to negotiate a better role.
More than four million Americans quit their jobs in September 2021. That’s 3% of the US working population – a record-breaking proportion. And it’s not just the US; the Great Resignation is happening across the world, as workers clean out their desks to head for new roles elsewhere. But, at the risk of sounding like your mother, just because everybody else is quitting doesn’t mean you should, too.
While there are plenty of legitimate reasons to quit a job, a general sense of dissatisfaction and a desire for new opportunities aren’t necessarily strong enough justifications to hand in your office pass. Instead, if you’re unhappy with your job, experts say there are powerful reasons right now to work with your existing organisation to build a better role. “People assume you have to go somewhere new to make your job wonderful, and that’s actually not true at all,” says Rebecca Fraser-Thill, a career coach and consultant in New York.
Before the pandemic, having a blunt conversation with your boss about the parts of your job you’d like to change might have seemed unrealistic. But now, as companies focus on retention, the dynamics have shifted. “It’s a conversation that maybe you would have been intimidated to have before, or didn’t feel powerful enough to have,” says California-based executive coach Amii Barnard-Bahn. “But now you should.”
An honest conversation with a company that’s keen to keep you could potentially lead to a broader role, more flexible working conditions or even the kind of career development that propels you up the ladder, experts suggest. So, before you start scouring job adverts, it’s worth exploring the benefits of staying where you are – and how you can change your role for the better.
Right now, sectors from retail and hospitality to knowledge work and healthcare are seeing an exodus of workers. Not only that, research shows more than 40% of employed people are thinking about quitting, too. Whether they go through with it or not, all the resignation chatter can be infectious.
People assume you have to go somewhere new to make your job wonderful, and that’s actually not true at all – Rebecca Fraser-Thill
“There is definitely a contagion effect,” says Christiane Spitzmueller, an organisational psychologist at the University of Houston. When you see someone you’ve worked with for years get a new job with better pay or in a more interesting field, it’s easy to imagine yourself doing the same. “Most people think, ‘That could be me’,” says Spitzmueller. Instead of remembering the adjustment period that comes with any new job, people get excited by the idea of something new.
But poorly planned moves rarely pan out as career boosters; instead, some experts recommend people should take time to weigh their options. That’s particularly important in the current employment climate; recruitment costs companies time and money, which means they might be more willing to invest in existing workers rather than lose them to other firms.
“Right now, things are a little flipped on their head and you have some real power – and it’s power you should wield,” says Fraser-Thill. That doesn’t mean marching into your boss’s office and demanding a 25% pay rise, but you can negotiate your responsibilities. “So many people make choices to leave before ever having conversations about what they’re unhappy about,” she says. But having those conversations can be the first step towards honing your job so that it works better for you.
Employers are open to this approach amid the current wave of resignations, says Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in Virginia, US. “Employers still don’t want to find themselves in a talent war,” he says. “So, at the end of the day, they’re still going to need to make sure that they do something to engage their staff.”
Before you go into a negotiation with your boss, however, London-based career coach Mark Anderson says it’s important to have a firm idea of what you want. “Communication, that’s the key thing,” he says. “But go to your boss with suggestions about what you want to be doing, rather than just saying, ‘I’m not happy, I want to quit’.” That means taking stock of what you like about your current role and what you’d like to change. For example, a negotiation could include talking about specific skills you want to develop or new projects you could take on that could potentially move you up the career ladder.
One of Rebecca Fraser-Thill’s clients, who works for a large US non-profit organisation, decided to speak to their manager after a colleague resigned. They explained that they wanted to take on part of the role their former colleague had overseen, alongside a portion of their current position. “So, they created a new role,” says Fraser-Thill.
Not every boss will be amenable to this kind of job-crafting suggestion, but you’re much more likely to get a positive response from someone who knows you and trusts you, rather than a new boss you just met. “You literally have capital that you can trade in for what you really want,” says Fraser-Thill.
[Staying put] can shorten the time to promotion, because like it or not, loyalty is valued – Amii Barnard-Bahn
If organisations are seeing a lot of departures, it’s also possible that there will be more flexibility to move internally. So, if the reason you want to quit is down to an individual, rather than your job content, a lateral move could still make a difference. “You don’t always get on with your line manager, but an internal opportunity might mean that you can stay at an organisation you really value and leave behind that personality,” says Carolyn Parry, a career coach in Wales and president-elect of The Career Development Institute.
Choosing to remain at an organisation in flux can also help with upwards mobility. “I’ve seen many people get promoted pretty quickly,” says Barnard-Bahn, referring to past big-quit events. “It can shorten the time to promotion, because like it or not, loyalty is valued.” Equally, if you like your job but wish it came with more flexibility, like regular work-from-home days or slightly different hours, it may be that companies will be more willing to accommodate workers than in the pre-pandemic era.
The requests still need to fit into your employer’s budget and company strategy, however, so as well as coming with their own utopian plans, employees should also look for gaps to fill. Employers respond well to people who build their own opportunities, says Alonso. In fact, he says, “If you build a business case for it, they’ll invest.” Some employers he’s spoken to have built a schedule around an employee’s idea, set goals for the project and upped their salary for the duration. “They’re going to use that opportunity as a way to boost that person’s pay during that period, to help keep them there.”
Alonso has also seen managers counter-offer with development plans that work for both the employer and employee. One example he gives is training workers in mental health allyship skills; these are hard to find, but highly desirable interpersonal skills – especially for leadership roles. “The advantage is, now the company has somebody in their workforce who is trained in those skills, while the individual gains a skill set that they never would have imagined but is pliable anywhere they go,” says Alonso.
Pick your slice of pie
Sticking around isn’t going to be the best option for everyone, however. The Great Resignation could open up new avenues for internal progression, but it could also bury employees under all their ex-colleagues’ work.
Barnard-Bahn describes work as a big pie. “It’s the same pie as there’s always been, but less people around the table,” she says. “So, which slice do you want?” The problem comes when you don’t have a choice about which slice to take, and instead you’re expected to eat all of them – a route that can lead to burnout.
“In those circumstances, you really have to renegotiate your job scope in order for staying with your current employer to be sufficiently attractive,” says organisational psychologist Spitzmueller.
Ultimately, the companies most able to give their employees at least some of what they want are better placed to ride out this current wave of resignations, so being creative on retention will be a high priority for many workplaces. Thaser-Hill is already running corporate workshops on job crafting. “Organisations have reached out to me because they recognise the best way to retain people is to give them flexibility to build their own career development internally, which is so powerful,” she says.
It’s likely many bosses have come to the same realisation, so unsatisfied workers may find it’s worth stopping to check for internal opportunities – rather than rushing straight for the exit.