The Great Resignation – with David Cohen

On this episode of REALtalk, David S. Cohen joins Carolyn Lane, COO and VP Member Engagement and Jennifer Lambe, Office Manager at REALPAC to discuss the Great Resignation.

The episode covers:

  • Impetus behind the “Great Resignation”
  • Trends in Canada
  • Solutions for employers to retain people
  • How will the Great Resignation impact corporate culture?
  • How remote work will impact corporate culture
  • The medium-term impacts of the Great Resignation
  • Impacts of the Great Resignation on CRE, HR
  • Advise for corporate decision makers

About David S. Cohen:

David works with leaders helping them understand what is and what is not necessary to build an active and positive organization. He helps leaders’ step into life’s challenges, inspiring them to create a sustained approach through a values-based focus, resulting in better business results. David has had the privilege of partnering with firms across five continents and all business sectors. He has worked with governments, from the local to the federal levels, and not-for-profits.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Hello, my name is Carolyn Lane. I’m Chief Operating Officer and VP Member Engagement at REALPAC, and I’ll be hosting today’s podcast along with Jennifer Lambe, REALPAC’s Office Manager. Jennifer leads our People & Culture committee. And I’m pleased to say that she’s making her podcast debut today.

Jennifer Lambe (REALPAC): Hi, Carolyn, thank you for having me. It’s great to be joining you today.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Excellent. Our guest is David Cohen. With over 30 years of consulting experience working across all industries on five continents. Dave, it’s recognized as a global thought leader in the field of talent management. He is known for his ability to help organizations by providing perspective coupled with practical insight, to align talent and business execution successfully. David’s gained a reputation of being a contrarian consultant, not always following what’s popular. He’s a frequent corporate keynote speaker and conference presenter and teaches the executive education programs at the Schulich School of Business at York University and at the Human Resource Department of Durham College. David is the author of two books The Best Selling the Talent Edge and Inside the Box, leading with corporate values to drive sustained business success. David, we’re so pleased that you’ve agreed to join us today. Thank you and welcome.

David Cohen: Thank you. And I’m honored to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Ok, so we’ll get started. David, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the great resignation employees jumping ship in record numbers in the U.S., switching careers and re-evaluating work and what’s important to them like spending more time with family, all because of the pandemic. David, is that same trend happening in Canada? Is it? Is it really that bad in this country? Are people resigning en masse and is it really the great resignation or is it something else? Like, are there other factors at play?

David Cohen: It’s a great question, because if you listen to the popular press, you would think that what’s happening in the United States is happening all over the world and it’s not. For instance, in the United States in the past three months, they claim that there’s been approximately one percent to three percent of the population has quit their jobs. That is about four million people a month. The equivalent, according to Stats Canada, for the last three months, is less than one percent. So that’s kind of it was very clear in their last publication last week that they do not believe that the great resignation is happening in Canada. I believe that it’s happened. I believe that there are Canadians that are thinking of it. They have not executed on it in most jobs. But I also think that there’s another side to the coin and that it’s the great realignment of the Great Migration, that it’s not necessarily just the fact people are resigning because they still have to pay their mortgage. So they’re looking for new jobs now. There are those who are resigning early and retiring early to pursue their dreams because I do believe that the pandemic has caused many, many people to have an experience to re-evaluate their lives priorities.

Jennifer Lambe (REALPAC): Great. That’s some interesting facts, David. So what are the causes of this great resignation or the great realignment, as you just mentioned? And what are the solutions? Is there anything we can be doing to retain people?

David Cohen: It’s an interesting question because obviously there’s a reason people are leaving now up to the pandemic. The general rule of thumb was people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. So up to the start of the pandemic and perhaps even into the beginning of the pandemic, if somebody left, it was because of the manager. However, other things started to take place. And I’ve talked to their employees are just in United Arab Emirates two weeks ago, and while they’re not experienced the great resignation either, they are saying that their employees feel overworked and under a lot of pressure, and that there’s a lot of anxiety and talking with people inside of corporations with inside Canada. You also feel that a lot of organizations have put a lot of pressure and focus on the bottom line. So people are feeling stress. They are feeling anxiety. Some of the reasons that people have given for leaving are new priorities in their life. They don’t understand work life balance the way they used to because working from home has become work and there is no balance. A coupled with that will be those people who are thinking that they have. They’re worrying about parents or grandparents who are not living with them. So they got parental responsibilities as well as children responsibilities that has taken an impact. What they thought was the culture of the organization and what they anticipated were ways that they would be treated based on previous in-person experience. They’re realizing their managers are not treating them that way.

David Cohen: And perhaps the culture has shifted, not shifted. But the true culture is now emerging. So people don’t want to work within that culture, so they are leaving for their jobs. One of the interesting things that I was reading on a CTV report was one of the major Canadian consulting firms actually said that the majority of those considering leaving their work or between 40 and 50 five that the millennials are not the people that are even considering leaving work. It’s those that have all of these pressures. So then the other side of the coin is there’s a myriad of things that are causing people to think about leaving. What do you do to get in there? I’d say as one of my clients in the financial services industry has done, they have taken the time to train every manager from the CEO down to the front line on. A psychological safety. They’ve actually spent time with managers on online courses on how do I ask the right questions and identify is an employee stressed out? Do they need some time off? What kind of support do they need? Where can you direct them? That is the anecdotally, they said. That’s been a great help. And it would be because right now, psychological safety for many is more important than the physical safety. Since people are not at work. The second thing that you need to do is there’s a lot of anxiety among employees on the return to work. So many organizations are now considering returning to the physical office after January 3rd but haven’t announced what that’s going to be.

David Cohen: One of the things that will get many employees in some surveys say up to 30 percent of your employee base is not going to return if there’s not flexibility if it’s not a hybrid workplace. Now, in order to do that successfully, the hybrid workplace has to be co-designed with employees. It shouldn’t come from the HR department and shouldn’t come from the C-suite. It should be a process of an integrated process that engages the front line staff, those people that are most impacted, those are having the anxiety with those that are in leadership positions. So there’s a mutual understanding of what’s going on. Those are some of the things that another thing which I think two things that organizations have to spend a lot more time on is what I call the stay interview. All they need to be. And this cannot be done by the manager, because if the person has a problem with the manager, the manager will get the answers that the employee thinks the manager wants, but the stay interview is really focused on how are they feeling? What are they thinking about? What do they see as the next steps? And the other part is that you have to ramp up your you have to ramp up your recruitment process. Recruiting needs to start to be an ongoing process. Even if you’re not currently looking for people, figure out where are the people you should be looking for.

Jennifer Lambe (REALPAC): Really good points, and I’m glad you brought up psychological safety because it is so important. You also touch on a little bit about culture. Do you think that culture needs an office in order to thrive? And further, can a company’s culture survive and thrive if people are working remotely and coming into the office two or three days a week?

David Cohen: A culture is an interesting thing because culture is based on, in my opinion, the foundation cultures, the belief system that has become the norm of the organization. There are organizations in this world that have been very successful that have been remote workplaces from their inception. So it’s really about how that those people interact with each other and are they the behaviors they’re demonstrating towards each other, the words they’re using? Are they reflective of the values that have always been there? So yes, I think that while it’s more intense, the need to make sure that people understand this. Too many organizations have never taken the time to identify the behaviors that defined their values, so employees don’t really know what it means. So you can put out the word respect and you can find some really hallmark definition to go with it, and it means anything to anybody. And therefore, there’s no unanimous consensus on its meaning in the organization. In any manager, any employee will argue that they’ve been respectful. Organizations need to define what this means in terms of behavior so it can be identified and measured. Are you living the values or not? That’s whether it’s a fully remote work from anywhere or if it’s on site physical only without having that common understanding, without having making sure that all decisions, whether there are external impact or internal impact, are consistent with the values because as soon as they know. People see that as a red flag and start to wonder, how is it going to be interpreted by their boss? And if their boss doesn’t interpret it right, there are no consequences. So I do believe that culture can be sustained, developed and nurtured and deepened in a hybrid workplace. It takes more effort, but I think it can be done.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Ok, so beyond the immediate and thinking three to five years out. What would the medium term impacts of the great resignation be positive or negative on Canadian commercial real estate companies, HR departments, et cetera? And what would be your number one piece of advice for decision makers listening today?

David Cohen: My first concern, especially in. The commercial real estate market, and in talking to one client who was in that domain is the mom and pop shop. The big boxes, they’ve got deep pockets or deeper pockets. Home Depot has had profits like it’s never had before. Lowe’s is doing. Profits. Walmart has gone through the roof, so those anchor stores are not going to be a problem. But the mom and pop shop? Is a problem, and many of them have closed. I mean, they say that over just in the Toronto area, they claim six thousand restaurants have closed their business for good. Well, some of those places exist in commercial real estate locations. But I was just reading an article this morning by the internet, by the International Association of Franchisees, who said that 2022 is going to be the biggest explosion of franchises we’ve ever seen. And part of that is people have left these. Unfaithful jobs where they’re miserable. And they’re thinking of independence, of thinking of entrepreneurship, and they are going to pursue that. So one of the things that I think that the real commercial real estate leadership has to think about is are our values. That run the culture that we nurtured. Are we dealing with the mom and pop shop that’s struggling according to our values? Are we more concerned about the bottom line and profitability? Where are we willing to share the pain? What are we willing to do? Is it because of it’s not consistent with your values? Your employees will see that right away.

David Cohen: And there are no question that they might not express it publicly, but they’ll express it at home and to friends and relatives, which then it’s kind of a ripple effect that it’s bad employer brand for you as it goes out there. So I think that it’s really important to evaluate who’s been impacted by this in the commercial real estate realm. And are we acting consistent with our values? This second thing would be is to work with these franchise organizations. To help them realize that you do have space and that you are supportive because if this report is correct that there’s going to be an explosion of franchisees, it’s a great it sounds like at least a great source to get new, you know, new renters into the place. So I think that the real estate market has the commercial real estate because the big box stores are doing really well. I mean, if you look at Loblaws, Loblaws has hit a record in and it’s profitability that it’s never seen before in the first, just in the first six months of the pandemic.

David Cohen: So they’re security. They’re. The security, however, is not going to be across the board. And one other point, which I found that you’re seeing this morning in reviewing some of the websites by some of the commercial real estate companies. One of them noted that and actually they had a picture of eight people. These were eight people who have recently left small business or corporate jobs as part of their exploration, exploration of finding new employment something more meaningful, and they’ve actually become joined commercial real estate companies. So one of the sources for future employees is those people are leaving. Most people are unhappy with the job that they have. Those people who are seeking a certain lifestyle because this article said the these eight people didn’t know each other beforehand. They all came to this company about the same time for a variety of reasons for leaving the previous company, but for similar reasons for joining them. So I think that commercial real estate, because of its market, because of its position in the marketplace, because of who they are, how the reputation is in the workplace, I think that they might have a good opportunity to benefit from whatever resignation or great migration or great realignment is happening within Canada.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): That’s all the time we have for today. So many. Thanks to David Cohen for sharing your insights on the great realignment, culture and shared values.

David Cohen: Thank you for inviting me. It’s been a pleasure.

Carolyn Lane (REALPAC): Appreciate it. And thanks also to my co-host Jennifer Lambe.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, this is Michael Brooks and that’s it for this week’s episode of REALtalk. Be sure to visit us at and subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcasts. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest, please send me an email at And if you like what you hear, give us a 5-star rating. Thank you for listening and tune in next time.