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The 'Great Resignation:' The Perils of Misaligned Employee/Employer Values

At my firm, Integral, we wanted to look at the impact of social and political issues on employee perceptions, behavior, and workplace experience—and how well employees perceived that their organizations represented those values. We worked with The Harris Poll to conduct a survey of more than 2,000 employed individuals across the United States from June-July 2021. 

What we found surprised us.

First of all, with all this talk of a ‘great resignation,’ look no further than your values and your employer’s values. We found that your organization’s performance on societal and political issues impacts employee turnover and performance on the job. Organizations likely have employees on opposite sides of very polarizing issues. Feeling that their organization makes a positive difference on their top values activates employees to support business goals and outcomes. Meanwhile, employees who do not believe their employer’s values align with their own are 2.5 times more likely to take negative actions against their employer’s interests.

In the past, employers have asked employees to live the organization’s values. What we learned is that if employees feel their organization reflects their values, it significantly impacts how an employee shows up to work. In a nutshell, it’s time to listen to your employees’ values -- and use that understanding to bring your company’s values to life—rather than solely dictate them.

So what societal and political issues topped the list?

The overwhelming majority (40%) of participants selected employees’ good health and well-being as their top issue. From what I can see, many of our organizations have really met the moment with an improved focus on the importance of mental health and physical health.

Job creation ranked second at 26%, which indicates the split between job loss during the pandemic and the Great Resignation. Economic security is definitely on the mind of employees. 

Racial inequity/discrimination/hate crimes/prejudice/ bias landed right in the middle. Many Americans are confronting systemic racial injustice for the first time. Consciousness has been raised again on this. In the demographic breakdown of our Index, African-American respondents rank this issue more highly. Yet, clearly, this is on everybody's mind.

At Integral, our hypothesis is that we are in a moment in time where many institutions are failing people. We believe these top-ranked issues imply that employees want employers to take a stand on health and well-being and economic security.

Our insight is that organizations have to look at your culture issue by issue to understand the varying points of view. Organizations need to find acceptable ways to address these issues appropriate to the workplace given the inextricable tie between personal values, organizational values, daily mindset, and employee behaviors. 

With personal values aligned to the organization’s values, employees are more likely to:

      have a positive mindset about their job

      feel better about their company culture

      more likely to come to work ready to take positive actions on behalf of their organization

      feel that their colleagues have a more positive work culture

While these effects reflect mindsets, perceptions, and feelings, the real opportunity is in the actions that employees in alignment with company values are ready to take -- for and against their employer.

However, our Index also found that nearly one-fifth of respondents believed that their teammates and colleagues would take negative action against their organization--in double-digits!

Our survey findings make it very clear: Employees are not a monolithic, homogeneous “internal only” group. And employees are giving employers a performance review.

Especially in a world of digital platforms and portability, internal communications are no longer — and probably never were—strictly internal. In a world where Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX) rule, employees expect organizations to provide a personalized, data-driven experience. And this customization impacts employee likelihood to engage on social media channels or write positive online reviews.

We’d even go as far as to say that employees are consumers of work. In the same way that an Airbnb host or an Amazon retailer needs to provide a delightful and frictionless experience in order to earn a positive review, so too must employers create authentic, positive, and compelling experiences to earn the endorsement from an increasingly discriminating talent pool.

About the author

Ethan McCarty is a lecturer of Executive Education and Strategic Communication at the School
of Professional Studies. He is the founder and CEO of Integral, an employee activation agency, recently named 2021 Best Agency by the Institute of Internal Communications.