The “Great Resignation” is a phenomenon that describes a higher-than-normal quit rate of workers. Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine programs in April 2021, the increase in the number of shots administered directly correlates with the number of workers who quit in a single month. And it has surpassed the all-time US record. Quitters continued to establish records in the months that followed. Great Resignation? It will only get greater!
1. How does COVID-19 lead to the so-called “Great Resignation”?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics1, quits levels are on the rise in almost all industries, particularly in Accommodations, Food Service, Leisure and Hospitality. However, even industries like technology, healthcare, and education also expect to see surging layoffs and turnovers.
Employees have ample time during the pandemic to think about their work environment and career paths if their present positions do not support their well-being. Young employees, particularly students with modest earnings, have more freedom to leave a job they despise and pursue other opportunities.
Find out why the Great Resignation Requires a Great Reflection.
In a Microsoft's study2, more than 40% of the worldwide workforce is considering quitting their current employers this year. Hundreds of millions of individuals ranging from frontline employees to top executives have willingly quit their employment. By June 2021, just 1.3 million employees were laid off while over 4 million resigned3. Worse, more than 15 million American workers have "voluntarily" quit their jobs since April.
According to a McKinsey study4 across four countries (Australia, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States), 40% of workers will quit within the next three to six months without new jobs lining up; 18% of them said that their intention to resign is "absolutely certain".
Notably, 48% of workers are considering the type of employment they desire5. Employers tend to choose companies that match their requirements and favour those that offer a more flexible working environment or remote working.
This "quitting" has been likened to a mass exodus, with company leaders bracing for a seismic shift in force - and possibly a trend.
2. What led to the volatility of the "Great Resignation" phenomenon post-pandemic?
Although a sizable portion of the global workforce has been vaccinated, it appears that businesses will not be operating “as usual.” As the pandemic gives employees a "death" obsession, they are greatly concerned about their health when returning to the office inside a busy building.
Washington Post6 stated many workers leave because employers do not take the COVID-19 threat and their concerns seriously. And instead of taking the time to investigate the cause of this attrition, companies are turning to quick fixes, but ultimately yield unsuccessfully. For instance, raising wages, offering financial perks or bonuses, redesigning beautiful offices and additional benefits, etc., but not investing in strengthening the relationships between employees, colleagues, and employers.
Here, the worker's view of this measure is a perception of a transaction rather than a psychological contract. This relationship is a testament to a company's inability to meet its employees’ needs.
The whole workforce is re-evaluating how they feel about their jobs
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that employees are eager to invest in the human side of the job. As workers are working remotely, they are also working longer hours. This makes it challenging to balance work life and productivity, leading to physically and mentally stressed employees. Employees become fatigued, stressed out in their work and increasingly concerned about their safety and health.
Workers have plenty of time and space to rethink their priorities and motivations. They want:
- A renewed and modified sense of purpose at work
- Meaningful interactions and relationships with colleagues, managers
- A shared identity, and
- Employers who understand and put an effort into enriching their life experiences.
Autonomy and flexibility are an important part of the equation, along with how employers make them feel. Unfortunately, employers are putting their own businesses at risk by not perfecting the employee experience and meeting the requirements for autonomy and flexibility at work. When businesses neglect to invest in their employees' perks and values, they lose out.
Workers strive to reshape their priorities in life
The Great Resignation is also driven by the notion of workers “downsizing their careers”, meaning they are re-evaluating the priorities in their lives. Workers are too focused on their work and unconsciously trade their health for what is considered cash, luxury clothes, and real estate.
"Downsizing the career" leads to employees moving away from ambition to focus on other aspects of life. Workers will be looking for opportunities with less work density or ones that do not require a heavy burden, responsibility, or stress. Hence, they become increasingly accepting of ambiguities, have confidence in themselves, and make career choices around their self-worth, health, and family.
However, questions about them wanting to reassess their work and life do not mean they are ready to give up work. It all boils down to taking the time to go over everything and eliminate certain elements.
Read more: Why is Collaborative Leadership Important?
3. In this tidal wave, how can businesses retain their employees?
Advice for employers
The raging pandemic creates a "perfect storm" for burnout; with workers focusing too much on virtual meetings, hundreds of chores, and a big to-do list, it certainly takes a toll on us all.
Organisations can evaluate supervisors who can excite and inspire their teams and implement an annual "one week off" for all employees, allowing them to relax without worrying about mounds of emails as well as providing resilience courses or activities for all staff.
Additionally, businesses should also focus on:
- Creating manageable workloads
- Allowing employees to control their work to the extent possible
- Rewarding and recognising good work either financially or with sweet compliments
- Fostering the community
- Promoting fair and equal treatment
- Helping employees find value in their work
Advice for employees
If you are considering taking part in the “Great Resignation,” one piece of advice is to move in small steps rather than suddenly leaping in a new direction.
Instead of focusing on mountains of profiles and self-imposed productivity gains, tailor the existing work and duties to meet to fit the life you want.
Ultimately, when thinking of quitting, learn as much as you can and meet people with industry experience and up-to-date skills.