The Great Resignation

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The world of work has been heavily disrupted, and the past 18 months have been filled with career uncertainty for many. Companies have had to put countless employees on furlough and, worse still, make certain roles redundant because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, there has been a renewed sense of optimism across all industries, and as a collective, people are taking back control of their careers. This has led to what has been dubbed as “The Great Resignation,” a colloquial term coined by Professor Anthony Klotz from Texas A&M University. The phrase refers to the wave of workers quitting their jobs as the economy continues to bounce back post-covid. The US Department of Labor reported that 4 million people quit their jobs in July, and almost 16 million have left their jobs since April. It is the highest quit rate recorded in the 22 years that the US government has been monitoring this.

The resignation period is not country-specific. Workers around the world are quitting their jobs in record numbers, and the departures are not showing any signs of slowing down. A study conducted by Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce is considering leaving their current employer this year. Similarly, The Harvard Business Review ran an in-depth analysis of more than 9 million employee records from over 4,000 companies. The dataset included employees from a wide range of industries, functions, and experience levels. They found that resignation rates were highest among mid-career employees, with workers between 30-45 years old showing the highest increase in resignation rates.

Operating models

Experts suggest that the reason behind the mass worker exodus is that many have had time to reflect throughout lockdown, and as a result, are re-evaluating their work-life balance and what they want out of their professional lives. The way that companies approach the coming months will contribute to their ability to retain and attract staff. The ability to work remotely is a principal factor contributing to the movement of jobseekers. However, the increase in resignations comes down to much more than just flexible working policies. To retain top talent, organisations may have to reconsider their operating models, embrace hybrid working policies, and proactively investigate all of the reasons why their employees are leaving.

Robust candidate pools

Since more people are open to the prospect of a career change, candidate pools are more robust. The fundamental difference between this period and previous downturn and recovery cycles is that workers are quitting their jobs without even having their next role lined up. The boost in confidence may be a result of the recent influx of job openings – workers are cognisant of the fact that there are more opportunities available to them.

People are paying more attention to vacancies – whether actively or passively – which is generating an improved candidate flow. From May to July 2021, vacancies reached a record high in the UK; the Office for National Statistics reported a 43.8% increase compared to the previous quarter. The increase in vacancies applies to businesses of all sizes, as all size bands have seen higher vacancy numbers on the quarter.

Employee retention and attraction

In light of the abnormally high resignation rates, employers have one question in mind – how can they attract and retain top-notch talent amidst the wave of resignations?

If employers want their staff to stick around, they may need to consider:

  1. Putting processes in place to ensure employee success
  2. Adopting a hybrid working model and offering a flexible working approach
  3. Focusing on employee mental health and wellbeing
  4. Putting together a compelling EVP
  5. Placing a significant focus on corporate responsibility

Company leaders need to take an objective look at their culture and policies to increase employee satisfaction and workplace positivity. Understanding the root causes of high employee turnover is vital, and a tailored approach will be critical to conquering the Great Resignation.

Employers offering a hybrid work environment will ultimately have the upper hand when it comes to attracting hard-to-source talent. The pandemic has decisively changed what people expect from work, and the landscape will continue to change as companies trial flexible work environments for the long haul. The Great Resignation period has taught us that it’s not all about money – people are looking for greater flexibility, better opportunities, and corporate responsibility.


Director, Human Resources and Reward

Cameron Leather