In this this month’s Podcast episode, we have special guest Sheryl Unger join us to discuss the Great Resignation, retention-related struggles faced by employers, and provide you with practical tips you can implement.

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Welcome to the Change and Thrive Podcast with your host, Dr. Wendy Heckelman of WLH Consulting and Learning Solutions. Rooted in the principles of organizational effectiveness, change agility, and exclusive leadership development. Dr. Wendy L Heckelman and the WLH team present practical tips, tools, and case studies to help any organization thrive through change in the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Industry. Now, let us hear from our host.

(Wendy)Thanks for tuning in. I’m super excited that we are kicking off season four of Change and Thrive. We are changing the format a bit, and we are going to produce a podcast every month on issues of critical importance to our pharmaceutical and life sciences clients. And today we are going to be talking about the Great Resignation.
I am so pleased to have Sheryl Unger, a trusted member of the WLH team for over 20 years here with us today. Hello Sheryl, and welcome!

(Sheryl)Thanks, Wendy, for having me. And this is going to be very exciting to do these podcasts with you. Yes, we are excited about this really starting to talk about these issues that are so critical to our clients.

So, you mentioned that we are going to focus today on the Great Resignation, and it is definitely a term that is in the news quite a bit. What is The Great Resignation and why is it so important to our clients?

(Wendy) The Great Resignation is a term that was coined by Anthony Klotz. And what he said was that employees would be leaving in great numbers because of the pandemic. And boy, was he right!

(Sheryl) Why is this so critical?

(Wendy) Because 73% of CEOs are saying that the impact of the Great Resignation is causing their organizations to not have enough employees to do critical work. In in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry, not having enough employees to do critical work can be devastating to organizations and their ability to make sure drugs are delivered to market, that people are working with most important organized customers.

(Sheryl) Some of the things I know we have been hearing on the phone when we are talking to clients, in regard to the Great Resignation is it’s not only are there not enough people, but also taking longer to fill the roles and it is creating more stress on people
But you know, this this term, the great resignation, and the idea of retaining talent has been around for a while.

(Wendy) So, the reality is when McKinsey and Company in 1997, coined the term “War for Talent”, the, the real issue for that was to say that employees needed to be thought of as a strategic business priority. Around that same time, we were working with a global pharmaceutical company that was really interested in why high performers were voluntarily leaving the organization. With this company, we talked to their exceptional performers and were able to build a retention predictor model. What we found was that there are critical elements at both the organizational, at the manager/employee, as well as the individual level, that impact employee retention.

What is interesting is that the same issues that were leading people to leave over 25 years ago are still the reasons people leave today. They are just more highly emphasized and publicized.

(Sheryl) That is funny, Wendy. When you mentioned that project, it brought me back to my very first project with you. So, it, it resonated with me, but what I really liked about that project was the idea that organizations and leaders could be proactive. We could train managers to think about their role in retaining talent and with their employees. But before we go to the manager level, you said something about the organizational level.
Could you elaborate on that for me?

(Wendy) Sure. When we talk about the organizational level, we are talking about critical elements that impact how employees experience the organization. One of those is organizational culture.

Organizational culture has a lot to do with people feeling connected to the organization, that the organization is one of inclusivity, where people’s voices are heard. That is an element that is absolutely important.

We knew culture was important 25 years ago, and as a result we did some retention research right before the pandemic. We found that culture is still a critical factor, especially when looking at women and people of color. The other elements at the organizational level include policies and practices around talent management, total rewards concerning and work/life integration issues. What we learned is those policies are really important; however, it is the parity, criteria, and transparency that matter!

(Sheryl) So, it is not just enough to have the policy, those policies need to be interpreted equitably? And that is where we go back to your manager level, right?

(Wendy) The manager employee relationship is the number one reason people leave. Employees do not typically leave the organization. They often leave their manager. So, at the manager level we believe it is important for managers to understand the factors of retention, be able to identify warning signs, and how to have a re-recruitment conversation.

(Sheryl) I think you like to call it, “making a save?”

(Wendy) We re-recruit your talent or make a save. What we are sharing with our audience is that the manager-employee relationship is critical and needs to be one characterized by trust where people feel that their manager is creating a culture where people feel that they can be heard, their points of view are important, and that their manager really has their back and wants to help to develop them.

(Sheryl) I think one of the biggest surprises was the myth buster that it is not always about money.

(Wendy) Compensation needs to be sufficient. But people do not leave because of the money, they leave if the money is not sufficient. Beyond organizational and manager-employee related retention factors, you have to look at the individual factors of why people leave.

(Sheryl) What are those individual factors?

(Wendy) People must feel like their work has meaning. They must feel that the organization cares about having good work-life integration, and that their input and opinions really matter.

(Sheryl) Working with organizations where people feel that they can grow and develop is important. You talked about creating a culture of development as an important area as well. Can you speak to that a little bit?

(Wendy) Sure. It used to be thought of that culture was something that started at the top and needed to be cascading. Culture is how somebody experiences an organization, what people say, what they do, what they value, what they prioritize.

Some of the work that we have done over the last couple of years with startup biotech’s has been encouraging. These companies are really leaning in and investing into their talent architecture. They are starting to focus on whether their people have the right competencies, have career development opportunities, and then prioritize their people’s development.

You know, the other thing that we have been working with organizations on is how to create that culture of development, where people have that line of sight toward understanding the organization’s investment in its people. And we spend a lot of time talking about how leaders can work with their employees and lead in a way that is empathetic, flexible, and agile, as well as how they work with their employees.

(Sheryl) I know for me, some of these more recent clients where we are doing that leaning in has been very rewarding because we are not going in to fix problems. We are actually there to help build commitment and alignment around leadership and how important employees are.

(Wendy) The other thing that people in our industry are navigating is the working environment; at home versus going back to the workplace.

(Sheryl) Absolutely.

(Wendy) Some organizations are now asking employees to come back to work.

(Sheryl) Well, flexibility became something that people had to do over the last few years. Right?

(Wendy) Right. Sometimes kids were home. We saw cats going across zoom screens. We heard dogs barking, lawn mowers. And there has been a sense that we learned people could do their work and do it well.

So, organizations that allow for flexibility where people have the ability to be in the office when they really need to collaborate with someone, they are okay with. But if they are going to be on a phone all day or in front of their computer, they want to have some flexibility.

That is why hybrid really helps with some of these issues related to the Great Resignation as well. So those are all terrific insights. And I would like to quickly pivot and talk about a few current clients and some work that we have done recently.

(Sheryl) I know we are working on development planning, and we have done work on thinking forward about their career pathing. Can you tie that into the Great Resignation, how are those related?

(Wendy) Sure. What you are talking about is some of the work we have done in creating a culture of development and working with clients who are taking a serious look at their talent architecture, have they defined people’s roles and responsibilities? Do they have the right competencies? How can they continue to develop? Well, why does that matter? And how does that tie in?
People want meaningful work, and they want the opportunity to develop. We have hosted countless zoom sessions where we have helped to define their culture and give people the experience of an organization whose culture is inclusive, where people are valued, where they are listened to and included.

(Sheryl) And that is something that is really important because the great resignation (in part) is a discussion that people no longer just want the status quo, right?

(Wendy) They want to have affinity to an organization and people who care about not only their work but beyond. And I think that is really how all of these factors come to play.

(Sheryl) So, as you can see, Wendy is very passionate about this and we could talk about this a lot longer. One thing for our listeners and our clients to know, is that this is a great opportunity to join us in some upcoming webinars on the Great Resignation where we will walk you through again, in more detail, some of the factors, tips, and techniques you can use in your own organization. We look forward to you joining us on one of our webinars.

Any last-minute thoughts, Wendy?

(Wendy) What I would say is everybody has a role at all levels of the organization to play in the Great Resignation. Organizational leaders, HR, and learning and development really need to make sure that they think about talent management and talent retention from a holistic perspective.

As we end today’s podcast, what I would say is think about what role you have and how you can contribute to ensuring that your employees feel heard, that they have meaningful work, that they have good relationships with their boss, and that they come to a work environment that feels inclusive where they have meaning.

We will be doing a LinkedIn webinar in the upcoming month. You can look for us on LinkedIn. Let us say, thank you in advance for tuning in. Next month, we will be talking about strategic change and the role of leaders. In closing, I want to thank you Sheryl for joining and being a part of today’s podcast. You are such a great member of the team and you are absolutely my trusted partner here! I wish everybody a wonderful rest of your day.


Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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