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How leaders can foster engagement during the ‘Big Stay’



As workers delay moving jobs, it is becoming far more important for leaders to keep employees engaged and energised.

The post-Covid-19-pandemic brain drain of the ‘Great Resignation’ posed challenges for companies of all sizes.

Now, many employees are seemingly delaying potential job moves, responding to economic and political uncertainties by remaining in jobs they might otherwise have left. Some have called this new phenomenon the ‘Big Stay’.

With employees sticking around for longer, leaders must keep employees fully energised and engaged, vital factors for creativity and sustainable performance.

Read more: Five ways to recharge your retention strategy

In many respects, while being completely different trends, the leadership behaviours needed to navigate this emergent employee behaviour are remarkably like those that were needed during the Great Resignation, when leaders needed to foreground behaviours and conditions that would make people want to stay. Then, as now, there was a need for employees to connect on a personal as well as practical level with what they do, and to find excitement and fulfilment in the work.

If people are to continue to perform at the highest level in a familiar role and to overcome the natural impact of habituation on creativity and challenge, there must be scope for inbuilt growth and development as well as a dial-up on feeling seen, valued, and positively challenged. Without this, there is a risk that people choosing to delay a move will slowly become emotionally disengaged and bring only part of themselves to work every day.

Leaders should support openness and encourage input and challenge from all levels of staff. Of course, a request for openness needs to be paired with behaviours that build trust and psychological safety, to give people confidence to speak up, share ideas, challenge the status quo, and stay excited about implementing initiatives or meeting goals that they feel they have had a hand in shaping. Employees who feel safe will be more willing to try new approaches, offer potentially dissonant insight and forge new connections at work.

Read more: Retaining talent with leadership that cares

When leaders behave in a way that supports this type of involvement, a ‘Big Stay’ does not lead to potential ‘lights are on… nobody is home’ scenarios and a decline in innovation or creative energy. Instead, the organisation gets to ‘mine’ and leverage the lived experience of longer-standing employees, and in so doing boost personal and organisational learning.

Showing vulnerability as a leader, recognising you may not have all the answers and asking for unique insight from more junior team members provide platform opportunities that help them feel that their experience is appreciated, valuable to the company and wanted, which nurtures that all-important sense of belonging.

Read more: ‘Perfect storm’ responsible for Great Resignation

It pays to get curious and practice ‘humble enquiry’ around people who have been in post a while, asking questions to which the leader has not already formulated an answer. Humility is in recognising that people further down the chain of command have a valuable perspective precisely because they are more junior; they have a completely different set of filters and see things differently. Giving people a voice like this goes a long way to fuelling connection.

Creating staff mentoring opportunities is another effective way of creating learning opportunities inside a static role and one that benefits both the mentor and the mentee, building as it does on a sense of value and appreciation for lived experience as well as the all-important sense of belonging that fuels the discretionary effort.

By Lesley Cooper, management consultant at WorkingWell

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