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The Great Resignation is in progress. The 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index survey of 31 countries reveals that 41% of workers are considering leaving their employer this year. Other studies are finding similar results. Why is this happening? What insights can we gain from those who have signaled their intent to leave that will help stem the tide of resignations?

In July 2021, we asked over 3,200 Gen Y/Gen Z individual contributors in the US to rate their workplace experiences over the prior 18 months. Of those, 32% indicated they intend to leave their current employer in the next year. Those who planned to leave and had continuous employment with the same organization felt a significant deterioration in key aspects of their employment experience. At the organizational level, their assessment of culture and trust in leadership deteriorated over the pandemic period.

And while their individual productivity remained relatively strong, their feelings of belonging — which started low — continued to drop, driving a significant deterioration in their level of passion for the work itself; wellbeing; willingness to put in extra effort; and willingness to stay. The following figure illustrates.

So what can employers do to retain their employees? Quite simply, they need to restart the belonging engine.

In our previous global study, 92% of respondents said it was important to “feel like you are appreciated for who you are and what you can contribute,” and 62% said belonging was more important than salary. Workplace belonging is not a fuzzy concept; it’s concrete. It’s a feeling, nurtured deep inside the work team, that drives individual and organizational performance. Gen Y and Gen Z respondents in our recent survey identified four crucial sets of behaviors that contribute to a sense of belonging:

  • Feeling connected. For Gen Ys and Gen Zs, managers play a crucial role as the connection point in the relationship between the organization and its employeesManagers need to signal that building relationships is important to them. It’s about forming a human bond that signals that workers are part of a team — a place where they feel welcome, included and valued.
  • Feeling welcome. The need for social acceptance influences almost everything younger workers do, including their willingness to be connected to an employer. For Gen Y and Gen Z, diversity is defined broadly — including a mix of experiences, identities, customs, social structures, linguistics, ideas and opinions in addition to traditional demographic attributes. Being welcomed into an inclusive organization signals that they are wanted.
  • Feeling included. For younger-generation employees, self-confidence and motivation are heavily influenced by whether they’re included in the processes and decision-making that affect their work. Through the pandemic, Gen Ys and Gen Zs report feeling concerned about their long-term career prospects. For them, feeling included is about having the training and skills they need to do their work now and in the future, as well as having their ideas and opinions actively solicited and acted upon.
  • Feeling valued. Gen Ys and Gen Zs know they’re valued when they have trust-based, caring relationships with their managers and co-workers. If they can bring their differences to work and those differences are valued, that’s when they believe they can contribute their personal best.

Gen Ys and Gen Zs have sent a clear message. They are making the decision to leave based on how their managers treat them — or aren’t treating them — during the pandemic. If one workforce strategic action should be prioritized going forward, it is equipping managers with the skills and support they need to create a culture of belonging at the team level.

Building a workplace that is inclusive takes conscious planning, effective execution and constant maintenance — especially in difficult times. Now is the time to restart the belonging engine in a place where it really matters.

To learn more, read our research report, “What It Means to Belong @ Work,” visit our Diversity & Inclusion page, or contact us.