The rapid spread of the coronavirus dramatically changed the world of work. Certain industries, like the travel sector, saw practically unprecedented job losses. In others, companies had to move from physical offices to fully remote work. And then there were some lucky ones that saw business booming more than ever, like the virtual meeting app Zoom.
If all that involuntary movement wasn’t enough to shake things up, all of a sudden workers decided en masse to quit their jobs. This wave of voluntary quitting is now known as the Great Resignation. In the United States alone, where this was reportedly felt the most, a record-breaking 3.98 million workers quit their jobs every month in 2021.
Although this workforce reshuffling (most likely) peaked in 2021, as of 2022 employers across the globe are still witnessing its ongoing effect. So how can you as an employer stop the Big Quit from happening at your workplace? What is driving the Great Resignation, and what steps can you take to stop it from negatively impacting your organisation?
As of 2022, we now have access to studies and data that show exactly why your employees might decide to quit (or not). In this article, you’ll not only learn what causes this employee exodus, but how you can better retain great talent throughout 2022 and beyond. Find out how below!
What is the Great Resignation?
The Great Resignation refers to the exceptionally large number of employees that quit their jobs following the COVID-19 pandemic. Other names that are often used interchangeably—although not all meaning the same—include the Big Quit, the Great Reshuffle, and the Great Attrition.
Is it a Great Resignation, Attrition, or Reshuffle?
It’s important to note here that the Great Resignation deals with the many employees who chose to resign from their jobs. Meaning, workers who decided to follow a different career path or switch to a new employer. The reasons for resignation may vary (more on this topic in a bit), but ultimately it was their own choice to leave.
The Great Reshuffle and Great Attrition (for a definition of attrition, see our glossary article on employee attrition) are technically broader terms. For example, they can also refer to the involuntary movement of employees, like when an employee is let go because a company is forced to downsize or close down entirely.
When talking about the Great Resignation in this article, we specifically refer to employees deciding to resign from a company.
But before we explain how you might prevent your employees from resigning, let’s quickly zoom in on the state of the Great Resignation today. Just how great is this wave of resignations, actually? And is it still happening, or has it started to settle?
Why is the Great Resignation happening?
Although the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately triggered the Great Resignation, the specific causes driving employees to the decision to resign are more varied and complex.
Back in 2020, the pandemic had a tremendous impact on the labour market:
- Companies had to close their doors
- Employees were laid off or placed on furlough
- Global unemployment rates soared
- Organisations needed to conduct their business virtually
- Workers had to work from home
- Employees and employers alike were forced to quit (temporarily or permanently) due to health issues
- Certain jobs became redundant, while new jobs and sectors emerged
Although fluctuations in the labour market are normal, and demand for specific job roles changes over time, it rarely happens overnight as it did during the pandemic. And aside from the market changing, so did its workers.
Fear and uncertainty severely impacted people’s mental health, and many took this time to reflect on their life and career path. For example, many parents wanted to spend more time with their children and either work less or be able to arrange their work more flexibly.
In many cases, however, what these changes did was bring pre-existing reasons for resignation to the surface. These were complaints that employees had before the pandemic, but never acted on. For example, they might have been dissatisfied with their salary, or the lack of attractive employee benefits.
And so, within this whirlwind of changes and factors, a growing group of disgruntled employees decided now was the time to hand in their resignations. In these cases, the pandemic actually had an empowering effect.
Throughout 2020 voluntary resignations stayed relatively low, as fear and uncertainty in the early stage of the pandemic caused people to cling to secure jobs rather than switch employers. By the end of 2020, however, an increasing number of employees were ready to take the plunge.
As such, by the beginning of 2021, as the initial shock of the pandemic had somewhat subsided, the Great Resignation was on its way.
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The who and where of the Big Quit
Let’s begin by answering the where: Is the Great Resignation a global problem?
The short answer is yes. But there are clear geographical differences. The United States is generally considered the main driver. And with 4.4 million employees voluntarily quitting their jobs in February 2022, the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down just yet.
As Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post explains, the Big Quit in the US was “preceded by a far greater — decades-long, arguably — stagnation in worker wages and benefits”.
And these wage stagnations appear to have been worse (and more prolonged) in the US compared to other Western countries. That said, most countries have seen similar, albeit smaller, trends in their labour markets.
For example, one large-scale survey in multiple European countries found that Germany had some of the highest resignation rates (6.0%) followed by the United Kingdom (4.7%), the Netherlands (2.9%), France (2.3%), and Belgium (1.9%). Similar reports have found growing resignation rates in labour markets across the globe, from South Africa to India.
Do note here that although the Great Resignation is happening on a global scale, it is predominantly affecting Western and first-world economies. In these countries, employees are fortunate enough to have the option to reassess their careers and switch employers.
So we’ve answered the where. Time for the who. Who is driving the Great Resignation?
Based on several studies, including a global study of 5,500 employees and employers, conducted by Adobe, resignations are highest in younger generations. In particular, the study found that members of Generation Z (ages 18-24) and Millennials (ages 25-39) were the main drivers of the trend. Why them?
Because the younger generations demand more from employers than older generations. In particular, they tend to have different priorities when it comes to what their career should look like.
The main reasons for resignations cited by younger employees include better work-life balance, more flexibility and remote work options, and overall a better employee experience. And that’s where the key lies in how to stop the Great Resignation.
A note on the tight labour market
Before we dive into the ways in which you might avoid resignations at your firm, it’s important to touch upon the related topic of current labour shortages.
The current movement of employees isn’t just a matter of workers quitting one job and taking on another. Aside from these job switchers, many employees have decided to not return to work at all (temporarily or permanently). Others are forced to exit the labour market (for example due to health issues related to long COVID).
Another contributing factor is that the pandemic has halted the international movement of workers.
Before, companies in Western countries could normally compensate for labour shortages in their own country by recruiting international workers. But due to global travel restrictions, foreign workers either weren’t able to relocate or they would be more reluctant to do so.
The combination of both labour shortages and more demanding employees who are ready to join the Great Resignation has resulted in an unusually difficult time to attract and retain talent.
As Dennis Wegener, Head of HR at JOIN, explains: “It’s a completely new game compared to before and there’s so much more competition. Companies now have to adapt to this new situation.”
On a positive note, though, recent research suggests that the global labour shortage has now started to ease, as countries drop travel restrictions and employees slowly return to work.
9 tips on how to stop the Great Resignation
As an employer, there are several steps you can take to try to combat the Big Quit and prevent an exodus of employees.
These steps are mostly the same as the traditional employee retention strategies that you are (hopefully) already implementing in your business. But some are more specifically tailored to counter the wave of resignations that’s happening right now.
1. Talk to your employees
Open communication, transparency, and a strong internal feedback culture are all important contributors to a company’s success. Now more than ever, it’s essential that you listen to what your employees have to say and respond with clear action.
You could, for example, start sending out weekly pulse surveys to identify any pain points employees might have. Perhaps they are dissatisfied with a lack of employee benefits, or perhaps they want to be better coached or mentored.
Furthermore, try to tailor your questions more specifically to the current working climate. Some example questions to ask and topics to touch on:
- How can I (as your employer) support you better during these challenging times?
- What are your long term career goals and what do you need from me to help you achieve them?
- What do you think of the way your career is currently headed?
- How would you rate your current work-life balance?
2. Flexibility is everything
The pandemic pushed people out of the office and into working from home. Although this abrupt shift posed its challenges, employees have now got used to the benefits of working from home as well.
No hour-long commute twice a day. Less rigid 9-to-5 office hours. Spending more time at home with their family. A better work-life balance.
And although many employees are returning to their offices, they don’t want to give up on this flexible way of working. No wonder companies not following suit is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons why people are currently considering resignation.
3. Remote and hybrid are here to stay
In line with this need for flexibility is having the option to either work fully remotely or in a hybrid work setting. Of course, this option doesn’t apply to all types of jobs. If you work as a chef in a restaurant, working from home is simply not an option!
But if the job can be done (part) remotely, your employees will likely demand the possibility to work from home at least one or two days a week. For example, here at JOIN, we’ve introduced a hybrid model where employees can work remotely two days a week, in the office three days a week.
4. Support your employees
We are living in uncertain times with a global pandemic, an environmental crisis, and heightened political tensions. The fear of what lies ahead can impact employees in all sorts of ways, both physically and emotionally.
That’s why now more than ever you should support your employees. Don’t be afraid to openly discuss topics like fear, anxiety, and mental health. Provide support and offer help where possible, and show your employees that you care.
For example, consider encouraging mindfulness in the workplace or simply express how much you appreciate them.
5. Don’t demand too much
Addressing mental health also means addressing (and actively countering) two important topics that have repeatedly been cited as the main drivers of the Great Resignation:
Employees expect that companies take these issues seriously and actively show support to prevent this from happening. If you put too much pressure on your employees and demand too much from them, they will quickly start to consider other employment options…
6. Adapt your leadership style
Employees don’t like to be bossed around. They increasingly demand flatter hierarchies, more autonomy, and less micromanagement. That’s why you might want to consider more lateral rather than hierarchical leadership. And considering how employees want you to support their mental health, as seen above, it is more important than ever to show empathy as a leader.
Curious to figure out what type of manager you are? Then take our management style quiz!
7. Culture is still key
Company culture may sometimes sound like a buzzword in HR, but it is still a fundamental aspect of any employee retention strategy. Don’t fall into the trap of just thinking about the “fun” parts, like beer fridges and company parties.
Employees want you to invest in their personal development and growth. So instead of just giving fresh fruit in the office (also nice!) why not provide hard skills training or soft skills training programs to help your employees achieve their career goals?
Of course, team-building events and other ways to strengthen interpersonal relationships between colleagues should still be included as well.
8. Boost your employer branding
Ensure you invest time in promoting your employer branding. Your employees have employers for the picking, so show them why they should choose your business over others. What makes you exceptional? Why is your company a great place to work?
By boosting your own image, your employees will feel proud to be part of your company’s journey. As a result, they’ll feel more inclined to stick around to see where that journey will take them.
9. Be open to change
Lastly, you should always try to keep an open mind and don’t be too rigidly set in your ways. By openly discussing matters both on a personal level and a company-wide level, and actually listening to what is being said, you are much more likely to retain your talent.
Perhaps an employee loves your company culture and really wants to stay in your business, but they want to switch teams and follow a different career path? Instead of only allowing growth within their current field, consider setting up cross-functional teams or allowing the employee to pursue a different path within your company. This way, the employee can technically make a career switch while still staying in your company.
The future of work
By following the retention tips above you are setting your business up for success. At its core, the single way to stop the Great Resignation is by offering employees a great place to work.
If you focus on both their professional and personal needs you are much more likely to create a workplace where employees want to work for years to come.
Do you need more help or inspiration on how to do this? Then have a look at these articles as well:
- 6 signs of overworking employees (and how you can combat this)
- Helping your team avoid workplace stress and its symptoms
- Planning enjoyable team building activities for introverts
Also, don’t forget to provide a great employee experience from day one with a well-structured and enjoyable onboarding process!