Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is president of The Dalton Group, a full-service public relations and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Nashville. We asked Jeff how business owners can protect their businesses from The Great Resignation. Here's what he shared:

In the early weeks of the Great Pandemic, I noticed a unique phenomenon: CEOs were writing open letters to their employees. And not just a few, but hundreds of CEOs (or their PR firms) were penning heartfelt missives to "their team members," assuring them that "we're all in this together."

I read and analyzed about 50 of these letters from CEOs of companies ranging in size from multinational corporations to small family businesses. I found that there were four key messages from the best letters:

  1. The company is committed to keeping people safe.
  2. The CEO empathizes with what employees are going through.
  3. The CEO and company are thankful for and proud of employees for how they are conducting themselves during the pandemic.
  4. The company will survive.

Companies that actually lived the first three of these messages were likely to live the fourth. In fact, they were likely to thrive, not just survive the pandemic. Those that didn't are likely to be suffering from The Great Resignation.

That, at least, is the prognosis from the Gallup organization, which published in July the results of a nationwide survey about "The Great Resignation," in which it disclosed that an astounding 48 percent of American workers are actively looking for a new job or are open to new opportunities. And they are doing more than looking--they are finding new positions (or at least quitting their current one) at a rapid rate. According to the US Department of Labor, four million Americans quit their job in April, and an additional 3.6 million quit in May.

Why is this happening? Well, it appears that the rigors of the pandemic revealed many employers (perhaps 48 percent of them) for who they really are. Employees found (or felt) that their employers did not do all they could to keep them safe, did not genuinely empathize with employees, and were not particularly thankful for them. In effect, the pandemic made evident what many employees already suspected: The lofty mission and value statements printed in annual reports and proudly proclaimed on websites and in office lobbies are words meant to impress, but certainly not to live by.

For many years, an army of business consultants has preached that a business is more than a machine for making money--that it is instead an organization for building people, for discovering your passion--for getting to "why," as one particularly breathless speaker and author of business books puts it. This exercise in selling books and making CEOs feel like saviors of humanity has always felt a little false, of course. After all, businesses do exist to make money. But business owners didn't want to say that out loud. Certainly not in front of employees

Eventually, employees started believing what business consultants and HR departments have proclaimed for many years. They came to expect the deference given to "stakeholders." They thought that their employer was concerned about helping them maintain a work-life balance. They came to believe that an employer's first obligation is to help them find and fulfill their grand destiny as a member of the human race.

Then the pandemic hit. And the blinders came off. Employees found out that their company was focused first on making a profit. They saw co-workers being thrown overboard to keep the ship afloat. And they watched in disbelief as employers began demanding that they return to the office--even if they did not feel safe.

They became disillusioned and then disengaged. In fact, today, during these (hopefully) waning days of the pandemic, Gallup found that 74 percent of American workers are "actively disengaged."

What is an employer to do? The only thing you can do: Give employees what you promised:

  • Prove that you truly care about work-life balance by being more generous with paid time off.
  • Show that you empathize with the difficult life of working parents by allowing employees to continue working from home.
  • Demonstrate how thankful you are for their contributions by paying them a higher wage.

This kind of care and consideration does not come cheap, of course. Your bottom line will suffer. Your customers will have to pay more. You'll have to take less--not just less money, but less autonomy in how you run your business. But you don't have a choice. The workforce has changed, and it is not going back to the old ways.

In the end, your employees are only acting on what you have been promising for years--a kinder, gentler, more giving workplace. Enjoy the brave new world where mission statements are marching orders, not just decoration.