• Oct 20 2021

As Great Resignation Draws On, Smaller Teams and Larger Workloads, Concerns Over Retention Top of Mind for Leaders

ExecOnline Leadership Survey Finds Leaders Struggling With Post-Remote, Hybrid Work Environments

View survey results 

New York, Oct. 20, 2021 –  On the heels of the latest labor turnover survey from the U.S. government, ExecOnline, the pioneer of online leadership development for enterprises, released new survey findings that highlight the top challenges leaders say affect them most today. Results from the survey, which polled thousands of senior level executives participating in ExecOnline leadership development programs, reveal that in addition to issues related to a burned out and depleted workforce, managers are also struggling with today’s post-remote, hybrid work environment.  

As the Great Resignation draws on with record numbers of workers quitting their jobs, the company’s latest survey found that 52 percent of leaders said managing workloads with smaller teams is now their top challenge, up from 38 percent who said so one year ago. 

The results also revealed fewer leaders now feel that supporting their teams’ well-being is a top challenge, a trend likely tied to the installment of new HR programs and benefits for employees working from home and dealing with changes in their personal and professional lives. Specifically, 61 percent of leaders in Q2 2020 –  the beginning of the pandemic – said that supporting their teams’ well-being was their top challenge, but in Q3 2021 that number dropped to 41 percent. 

Even with this decrease, retention and burnout still rank high when thinking about their organization’s post-pandemic plans. Specifically, 56 percent of respondents said they are “moderately concerned,” or “extremely concerned,” about burnout – a figure that has remained relatively unchanged over the past year – and 43 percent are concerned about retention. 

“Burnout and fatigue are not issues that are going away, and in part are fueling what’s behind the Great Resignation,” said ExecOnline Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Bailey. “Now is not the time for leaders to simply ‘check the box’ when it comes to offering wellness support. As we return to the workplace and continue to embrace flexible work, organizations must prioritize developing leaders who can effectively and empathetically manage their teams’ well-being and the challenges that are preventing them from performing at their very best.” 

Leadership Capabilities Decrease as Return to Work Plans Accelerate

Marrying with the downward trend of leaders who say supporting their teams’ well-being is a top challenge, many leadership capabilities are seemingly on the downswing according to their employees. On average, critical capabilities, such as change leadership, strategic leadership and team leadership, were at an all-time high (67%) in Q1 2021; however, by Q3, confidence in those capabilities decreased to 61 percent – the lowest reported in a year. Interestingly, leadership capabilities were on the rise through Q1 2021 as the workforce acclimated to remote work, but declined as part of the global workforce began returning to the office and as leaders began navigating new challenges related to a post-remote work environment.  

“Today’s leaders have the added responsibility of ensuring their teams are adequately prepared for and able to thrive in a post-remote work environment, a role that also now requires skills and capabilities that foster a deep knowledge of communication, empathy, and connectivity,” continued Bailey. “This is a critical moment for companies to invest in developing senior leaders with these capabilities or risk an even greater fallout from the impact of the pandemic and the Great Resignation.” 

Post-Pandemic Work Environments Will Require Clear Communication, Empathy, Inclusive Leadership Abilities 

The pandemic and ensuing shift to a work-from-home model changed the basic structure and needs of workforces. Similarly as more employees are returning to the workplace, they are looking for different capabilities and skills from their managers that will help them better navigate a future hybrid work environment.  

For future hybrid work success, 51 percent said their leaders will need to be able to demonstrate empathy to support workers’ needs; 44 percent want leaders to have skills that foster the concept of inclusivity; and 32 percent feel leaders will need skills that show an understanding of diversity and equity issues. 

ExecOnline’s survey did uncover good news on the diversity, equity and inclusion front: 69 percent of survey respondents said their senior leadership exhibits capabilities that match “diversity leadership,” up from the 65 percent who said this one year ago and the only leadership capability to see an increase. 

“The future of work is less about where we work and more about how we work. Now more than ever, it’s important for teams to see their managers and senior leaders addressing topics and issues related to the challenges of today’s business environment,” added Bailey. 

ExecOnline polls thousands of its program participants five times a year to gauge top trends in leadership development, culture, and barriers to effective work. 


About ExecOnline

As the pioneer of online leadership development for enterprises, ExecOnline has delivered transformational learning experiences to corporate leaders at over 500 global organizations since 2012. Through partnerships with elite business schools such as Berkeley Haas, Chicago Booth, Columbia, UVA Darden School of Business, Tuck at Dartmouth, Duke CE, IMD, Ivey, MIT Sloan, Stanford GSB, Wharton and Yale, ExecOnline consistently provides top-tier leadership courses. As a Forbes “Technology Company to Watch,” our proprietary online ecosystem combines the engagement of on-campus study with the convenience of online education, through dynamic, high-impact experiences tailored to the unique strategic, innovation and operational concerns of corporate executives. Follow ExecOnline on LinkedIn and Twitter. Visit execonline.com to learn more.