Internal Eval TIG Week: Evaluation in the Era of the “Great Resignation” by Rachel Sier and Morgan Buras-Finlay

Hello! We are Rachel Sier and Morgan Buras-Finlay. In the Jobs Report released in August 2021, the US Department of Labor reported that over 4.3 million people quit their jobs or 2.9% of the American workforce, the highest number on record since December 2000. While much of this upheaval is occurring in customer service facing positions that are deeply impacted by COVID-19, workers in all industries have taken the reckoning of the pandemic to re-evaluate their relationship to their job. Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates were highest among mid-career employees, and highest in the industries that saw increased pressures and burnout due to the pandemic.  Evaluators often work in or adjacent to service-delivery and health care contexts, so the Internal Evaluation TIG Business Meeting at AEA 2021 featured a discussion session to uncover the impacts of the Great Resignation being felt by our community of Internal Evaluators.

What We Did

Attendees convened in Zoom break-out rooms to share their perceptions of the Great Resignation in their organizations and their work, and took collaborative notes using Jamboard followed by a discussion in the large group.

What we Learned

Unsurprisingly, most of the attendees’ organizations are seeing unprecedented turnover of staff, as well as major organizational leadership changes. This is causing uncertainty and contributing to burnout among staff generally, which creates a trickle-down effect into evaluation work. Staff losses make it harder to collect data and recruit participants into programs and studies. Evaluators are taking on additional roles and responsibilities to fill-in vacancies and keep the organization afloat, as well as becoming the keepers of institutional knowledge during a period of rapid turnover.  At the same, some organizations are paring back evaluation and learning efforts, and returning to a Quality Assurance focus. 

Strategies for Resilience
  • Recognition & Appreciation – Now more than ever, it is critical to take the time to appreciate people’s contributions, and not take their health or their presence for granted. 
  • Leverage evaluator tools & skills to navigate uncertainty – The use of traditional evaluation tools (e.g., theory of change) can also function as a method to capture and communicate institutional knowledge. 
  • Creating continuity in institutional knowledge – Organizations are becoming more purposeful around transitions and documentation, and using information technology to build institutional knowledge.
Opportunities : “Never let a good crisis go to waste”

Going virtual has certainly changed the paradigm for how we work, and has opened up access to opportunities across the country and world, but opportunities aren’t just about our new virtual work-from-anywhere world. The group identified a few bright spots and opportunities specifically for evaluators and their organizations. For some organizations, the Great Resignation may be a chance to start fresh with new staff and new processes, to take a critical look at the organization’s mission, services and evaluation, and even shake things up. Limited resources can breed greater creativity and efficiency.  With the departure of many mid-level managers, the C-Suite can get closer to the work. And fewer people can mean more opportunities for growth and demonstrating new cross-disciplinary skills, for both evaluators and other staff.  

From hard skills (e.g., critical inquiry) to soft skills (such as building rapport and cultivating relationships), Evaluators are uniquely positioned to expand their role and scope in their organizations. Whether it’s taking on new leadership roles, or helping their organization transform to emerge successful in a new era, the Internal Evaluation TIG is both hopeful about and confident in the future.  

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Internal Evaluation (IE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our IE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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