Great Resignation Underscores Importance of Employee Engagement and Well-being



Bessie Kokalis Pescio, Vice President, Global Internal Communications at Philip Morris International

Two years after the outbreak of the global pandemic, some organizational leaders are looking forward to going ‘back to the way things used to be’ before COVID-19, while others are realizing that it is essential to dive a little deeper into its learnings to continue to build a culture of inclusion, well-being, and care. The reason we should all be in the latter group is burnout—and our ability to reduce or prevent it within our organizations by continuing to connect with employees actively and authentically.

Burnout is a serious workplace issue that affects all generations, genders, races, ethnicities, jobs, and geographies. Traditional causes include lack of opportunities, impeding responsibilities, unclear expectations, and unfair treatment. The pandemic has put the spotlight on burnout—and with it, The Great Resignation—and these days the number of people quitting their jobs is still a double-digit percentage above pre-pandemic levels. Here is why.

Employees today place more value on feeling heard, engaged, and inspired to reach their full potential. They also focus more on balance, equity, and well-being—and they are ready to ‘walk’ if they don’t feel like they belong or are treated properly. Therefore, today’s leaders need to demonstrate more warmth, empathy, and compassion to everyone at work, along with fairness, self-awareness, and trust.

Philip Morris International (PMI) has a bold vision of delivering a smoke-free future. In support of this vision, my team has significantly transformed our routine communications, events, and channels over the past two years to be more employee-focused, inclusive, and collaborative.

First, our global town halls and webcasts became driven by employee submissions for topics and questions—from our business strategy to performance, leadership, wellbeing, and our COVID response—and expanded to feature a host of senior leaders, in addition to the CEO. Then we shifted to fireside chats with senior leaders and organized topic-specific online office hours for them. We launched a virtual listening tour and regular e-coffee chats for our CEO. We also introduced a formal flexible work initiative, and put more emphasis on prioritization, goal setting, ongoing feedback, and microbreaks.

Simultaneously, we launched fresh, new programming to foster more informal, conversational, and continual connections with and between employees. Inspired by The New York Times Daily Health Challenge, we began a series of e-challenges to help colleagues tackle important topics such as well-being, resilience, or communicating with impact via Yammer. We also created three experiential programs—PMI Music Experience, Open Stage, and Your Story on a Plate—to educate and entertain, showcasing our colleagues’ diverse talents and traditions, and fostering a sense of belonging and community. Employee participation was remarkably high and their feedback overwhelmingly positive, praising our creative and continued efforts to engage and support them in unique ways during these unprecedented times. 

The fact that burnout is continuing to gather steam underscores the need for a continued focus on employee engagement and well-being. As we return to the physical office—particularly in a hybrid model—we cannot expect it to feel like the old days, and we cannot go back to our old ways. We must promote an environment where everyone feels safe to be their authentic selves, where everyone has the flexibility and support to prioritize their wellness, and where everyone is heard and knows that their unique ideas, questions, and concerns are both welcomed and appreciated. Such an environment allows us to take ownership of our experiences, work to our full potential, and achieve a shared vision. 

About the Author: Bessie heads up PMI’s global internal communications team at Philip Morris International (PMI) based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her focus is to engage the 77,000 employees across the organization as PMI transitions its business toward better alternatives for adult smokers on the road to delivering a smoke-free future. In her 15-year career with the company, she’s worked in multiple functions including research & development, sales, commercial planning, and communications. Before joining PMI, she worked as a healthcare consultant and as a linguist. She studied French literature and political science and holds an MBA. She’s an avid runner, practices yoga regularly, and is currently reading about Renaissance art and working on her Italian.