Everyone loves talking about The Great Resignation.
It’s a threat. It’s an opportunity. It’s a cautionary tale when discussing employee retention, or a wake-up call to focus on crafting a healthier company culture, making a firmer commitment to DEI, and investing in employees’ well-being.
And while all these approaches certainly have merit, there’s one problem: The Great Resignation… doesn’t seem to exist.
At least not as the COVID-related, rapid onset phenomenon we understand it to be. When we look at the data closely, it seems like a more accurate description for this phenomenon would be, “The Proportionally Increasing Resignation, Retirement, or Reshuffle.”
Which, understandably, is less catchy.
That being said, even if what we call The Great Resignation (a term coined by Dr. Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University) is in reality a cluster of contributing factors, it still has a real impact on companies and employees alike.
Here’s what you need to know about it—and how to ensure your company can navigate it.
The Great Resignation: Myths vs numbers
People always quit their jobs—some to find new ones, some to start their own business, some to retire. So what changed? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record number of workers quit their jobs in 2021: 4.5 million in November 2021, to be exact.
Because this coincided with the second year of COVID-19, and with many employees —particularly women— having to stay home to take care of sick family members or help with homeschooling their kids, it was thought that the Great Resignation was caused by the pandemic. But new research shows it’s more of a correlation than causation.
When Harvard Business Review collated the data on total employment from 2009 to 2019, a steady upward curve in resignation numbers immediately became apparent. Every year, there’s been an increase that amounts to 0.10% on average each month. But in 2020, precisely because of the uncertainty the pandemic brought, that number dropped: people were less inclined to make career-changing decisions with so much at stake.
As such, when the resignation numbers picked back up in 2021, continuing to follow the more than a decade-long upward curve, the contrast seemed jarring.
How The Great Resignation has changed the landscape of work
It’s not just that people are quitting their jobs—it’s also what they’re doing afterward that seems to be changing.
A Pew Research Center analysis found that US adults aged 55 and older are retiring in increased numbers than they did before the pandemic. And the U.S. Census Bureau saw a huge spike in new business applications from 2020 onwards as more and more people opt to stop being employees and start their own business, instead.
According to the Labor Department’s JOLTS report, companies are struggling to attract and retain employees. Job openings hit a record-high at 11.5 million in March.
The increased rates in retiring, reshuffling, and reconsidering are affecting some industries more than others. A TalentLMS and Workable survey shows that 72% of employees working in tech/IT are thinking of quitting their job in the next 12 months.
Interestingly enough, all this results in employees having more options—and being able to negotiate their needs better. And with so many people on the verge of burnout or experiencing stress due to the pandemic, company culture and work environment become major driving forces behind people’s decisions to leave their jobs. A recent study found that toxic work culture, job insecurity, and a lack of recognition from employers are the top reasons people consider quitting.
As for those currently looking for work, their priorities have also shifted. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report, for 63% of job seekers, a work-life balance is now a top priority.
A sneak peek into the future of work
So how does this complex phenomenon that may or may not be accurately summarized as The Great Resignation is going to change things moving forward?
Here are some changes that are already taking place:
Career breaks will be normalized
Hiring managers and recruiters are slowly beginning to realize that career breaks in a candidate’s profile should not be a reason for disqualifying them. With so many people taking time off work for various reasons (voluntarily or not) within these past two years, resume gaps will no longer be the red flags they once used to be.
In fact, LinkedIn recently presented Career Breaks, a new feature that allows users to be more frank about their work history in their profiles, by adding windows of time during which they weren’t working. This will further normalize having resume gaps.
Mental health and wellbeing training will become more common
With everyone still in emotional (if not in physical) recovery mode from the pandemic, conversations about mental health at work are increasingly becoming less taboo.
A recent study by Oracle found that the pandemic negatively affected the mental health of 78% of the global workforce, with 85% of people saying their mental health issues at work negatively affect their home life. On top of that, 76% of people believe companies should be doing more to support the mental health of their workforce.
And the companies seem to be listening — at least to an extent. According to TalentLMS and SHRM research on the state of L&D for 2022, 71% of HR managers would invest in mental health and well-being training if they had a higher budget, while 77% of them are likely to focus on life skills training this year.
Remote/hybrid working will be preferable
When wondering how to retain employees in the future, you should consider offering remote or hybrid options. People are not keen to return to the office, with many preferring to work from home or in a hybrid capacity.
Gallup sees 37% of desks remaining empty in 2022, while a survey on tech employees found that, for 1 in 3 respondents, a lack of remote work options is a reason to quit their job.
Flexible work schedules may become the norm
Apart from changing the norms of what constitutes a workplace, our notions about what constitutes a workweek are also shifting. A large majority (83%) of American workers are in favor of a four-day work week and many companies are experimenting with flexible work schedules. A four-day work week? It’s becoming more and more possible.
How to attract employees in this climate—and retain them
No matter what caused this phenomenon, one thing is for sure: if you want your company to survive and thrive, you can’t just wait for this wave to pass. Instead, you need to take action and come up with solutions.
Here are some hiring and retention strategies you can follow:
Returnship programs can help reorient employees who’ve been out of the job market for a while into the world of work. This is important both for practical reasons (their skills may not be up to date after an extended career break) and for emotional ones (finding confidence in their work anew).
Provide upskilling/reskilling training
According to the TalentLMS and SHRM survey, 59% of HR leaders will provide their employees with upskilling and 55% with reskilling training in 2022. Upskilling and reskilling training are crucial in order to bridge the skills gap 1 in 2 surveyed HR managers agree their company is facing.
When looking at how to retain employees, very few things are more helpful than ensuring people have upward mobility within your company. Promoting from within when a new position opens instead of constantly seeking new talent shows you’re committed to helping your employees grow as professionals.
Show your appreciation
Something many managers tend to forget is that people thrive when presented with enough praise and recognition. A McKinsey survey on companies’ performances during the pandemic saw that 49% of the companies that performed better and even witnessed an increase in employees’ job satisfaction, were prioritizing recognition.
Offering praise and recognition in a frequent and structured manner is a great employee retention strategy because it creates a workplace where everyone feels valued and thus inspired to keep doing good work.
Changes are happening everywhere around us
Whether due to the pandemic, the global economy, the digital revolution, or a number of other factors, the world of work has changed a lot—and it will keep changing. Pessimism and fear are not the answer.
Instead, companies need to be agile and proactive in order to succeed in the long run, no matter what the future holds.
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