Recognition vs Engagement During the Great Resignation

It’s been called “The Great Resignation” and “Resignationgate.” The simple gist is that, according to a Microsoft global survey, 41% of employees plan to switch jobs this year, and 46% of those plan a major career change. Needless to say, this has many HR professionals concerned about retention, especially when it comes to remote or hybrid workers who can literally work for any company anywhere.

Which begs the question: What do employees, especially remote workers, expect in exchange for their loyalty?

Recently, Promoleaf partnered with Censuswide to survey over 1,000 remote workers in the United States to find out. Here is what the findings revealed:

The Consequence of Employees Who Feel Unappreciated

It all begins with appreciation. More specifically, there are clear consequences when employees feel unappreciated. In our survey, 36% of those who felt unappreciated also suffered declines in mental health, 

But this is about more than just wellbeing — 33% of unappreciated workers looked for employment elsewhere, and 29% of unappreciated workers felt their productivity suffered. (Keep in mind that includes only those who actually realized that their productivity suffered.) Indeed, studies by the American Psychiatric Association show that workers with unresolved depression see a drop of 35% in productivity — and may not even realize it is happening. 

Meanwhile, 68% of our survey respondents rated well-being at good to very good. Among those who felt very engaged in their current workplace, that number rose to 85%. 

All of which is to say that if you can keep your workers engaged, that will keep them from leaving for greener pastures, right? 

The answer may surprise you.

Engagement vs. Appreciation

Our survey showed that employees make a clear distinction between engagement and appreciation. For example, 79% of our respondents felt that they were somewhat or very engaged with their current employer. But before anyone pats themselves on the back for a job well-done, when we asked if they felt employers should be doing more to show appreciation for remote workers, 56% responded “definitely,” and 26% said, “yes, probably.” 

Furthermore, when we asked if there was any time during the pandemic when they felt unappreciated, only 41% said never. A full 59% felt unappreciated at least one point. 

What made them feel that way?

That depends. When allowed to choose more than one answer, our results looked like this: 

  • Lack of support: 46%
  • Overworked: 45%
  • Lack of recognition: 44%
  • Contact is too infrequent: 30%
  • Micromanagement: 30%

There are a couple of important takeaways from these statistics. In fact, one of our “other” responses summed it up nicely: “There are little to no barriers between work and home when working remotely.” 

In the Microsoft global survey, one in five employees stated that their “employer does not care about their work/life balance.” Also, an equal number of respondents felt that contact with management was too infrequent or that they were being micromanaged. 

And employees won’t put up with it for long. When we asked how long people would tolerate feeling underappreciated before they looked for employment elsewhere, the mean was just over 8 months, though 44% said six months or fewer.

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In other words, appreciation plays a greater role than engagement when it comes to retention. People may feel engaged — and many do — but if you aren’t appreciating them, there’s a good chance they’ll head for the exit.

What Does Appreciation Look Like?

There are two parts to this answer. First, employees need to feel that they have what they need to do their jobs. Second, small perks make a difference to their sense of appreciation. 

The Microsoft survey also reveals that 42% don’t have everything they need to work from home, 10% lack adequate internet service to do their jobs, and 46% say employers don’t help with remote-work expenses. All this despite the fact that things like dual monitors and a more comfortable chair are proven to boost productivity. Indeed, our survey revealed the following things topping respondents’ wish lists: 

  • Paid internet service
  • A laptop
  • Paid cell service
  • A comfortable chair
  • A printer

“I waited three weeks for my company laptop and another three days for IT to set it up,” one remote worker who wished to remain anonymous told us. “They paid me the whole time, but still, it was very frustrating.”

Besides the tools to do their jobs, employees also want to feel appreciation in other ways. It’s not just about providing what you would for any worker in the office, but thinking beyond that. One example is company lunches, sometimes a staple for workers in the office but an expense and inconvenience that is often ignored when it comes to remote workers. In fact, that topped our list of things that workers feel employers can do to show appreciation: 

  • Gift Vouchers for lunches: 50%
  • Small gift items, like apparel and household items: 41%
  • Online learning and development: 26%
  • Virtual happy hours: 21%
  • One-on-one recognition (notably not just performance check-in) meetings: 20%

Remote workers, like their non-remote counterparts, want to feel like their employers care about them. 

Showing Appreciation

There are a few simple takeaways from all this. First, some employees are eager to leave and have been biding their time when jobs were scarce in 2020. The reality is that you will not be able to retain them no matter what you do — and you can argue that such turnover would actually benefit your company, anyway.

However, for those who are feeling burnt out or underappreciated now and would otherwise want to stay, you can take action to help them feel appreciated.

  • Give employees a break if they need one. Time off can help reset and keep burnout from getting out of control. 
  • Ask people what they need. You don’t want them to get frustrated and find a company that is willing to provide basic resources.
  • Ask them what they want. Survey your people. Find out what they want and how they are feeling about work in general. 
  • Feed them. One of the top requests from survey respondents is the desire for employer-provided meals. If you provide food for onsite people, do the same for your remote workers. 
  • Offer mental health assistance, even if your normal benefits package does not cover it. 

Finally, put yourself in the shoes of your employees who are working remotely, even if you are not. What would you need? What would make you feel appreciated? Make a plan of action, and follow-through 

Resignationgate does not have to be a disaster. You can take appropriate steps to make sure your employees are an exception to the coming norm. In the long run, your company will be better for it, and your job will be less stressful too. 

Jason Miller is an entrepreneur and CEO of Promoleaf. He has founded several companies in the advertising specialty industry. He enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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