Insight HR strategy

The Great Resignation: The next big thing facing employers

Written by Kristin Bower on 06 Sep 2021

Have you had an increase in staff turnover? You might be a part of The Great Resignation…

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a lot of things, some bad and some good. Who knew that one of those things, after so much initial worry about job insecurity, would be mass resignations?

A year and a half of uncertainty about what the future would hold caused many of us to consider what is important in our lives and in the workplace. From that time of reflection seems to have come one certainty: your employees aren’t willing to sacrifice what is important to them.

The Great Resignation

The next big challenge facing employers, recruiters and Human Resources professionals is already here: staffing insecurity. It’s significant enough that Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz has named it “The Great Resignation” or “The Great Quit”. We can thank the COVID-19 crisis for this trend that’s spreading across employers in many industries and countries.

The Atlantic recently reported, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, that in April 2021, 4 million Americans quit their jobs, more than at any time since the beginning of the century. And Microsoft’s report The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready, states that 41% of the world’s global workforce is considering leaving their current employer.

There is both a push and pull happening. Employees who aren’t happy with their current employer and workplace are feeling the push to quit. Here’s why:

  • Some employers are requiring that employees return to the office full time, whether their employees like it or not. At intelliHR, this is one of the main reasons for unexpected turnover we’ve seen in banking and tech. It’s also a reason why candidates are turning down job offers.
  • Some employees have found that the wage subsidies provided by governments during the pandemic are more than what they were earning in the workplace. This is particularly true for those in minimum wage jobs who don’t receive a living wage.

And some are being pulled in the direction of their dreams – they see this as an opportunity to finally take that leap. If their current manager or employer isn’t accommodating their changing needs, why stay when they can create something better, on their own terms?

Adapt or pay the price

Employees have used this time to reconsider what they want from an employer – what works for them in their daily work life and, importantly, what doesn’t. So maybe another name for “The Great Resignation” is “The Great Reflection”.

But have employers thought about how the pandemic experience has changed the needs of their employees? Are they willing to adapt?

That same Microsoft report also found that leaders are out of touch with employees. I am not surprised to read this. I hear the same thing from employees when I speak to them in focus groups that I facilitate for equity, diversity, and inclusion audits. There is often a big disconnect between the experience of employees and what managers and leaders believe to be true about organizational culture.

While responding to the immediate needs of the pandemic, many managers and executives either forgot (or haven’t had time) to plan for the future. In some situations, organizations have made some decisions affecting employees that aren’t the best and – I have a hunch – weren’t thought through with employees in mind.

And there is a steep price to pay for that. You will lose talent and your employer brand will suffer.

Case in point: Google.

Google announced plans to cut the salaries of remote workers by up to 25%. Yes, many organizations have often calculated salary for their employees by work location. But times are changing and what worked pre-pandemic isn’t going to work today and into the future. Google has been all over the news because of this, and not in a good way.

If you are considering slashing salaries, know this: it is a huge risk. First, you have an employment contract to consider – breaching it will get you into some serious legal hot water. Second, consider what you could lose – skilled, dedicated employees.

At a time when retaining talent is so important, undervaluing your employees is a costly mistake that you can’t afford to make.

RELATED: How to recognize and incentivize staff (without pay rises)

The changing workplace

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

One of the things that employees who worked in an office setting pre-pandemic seem to now value the most is flexibility and the idea of hybrid work options. Working entirely remotely while balancing your laptop on your lap on the couch or trying to work in between the breakfast dishes on the kitchen table hasn’t been ideal, but there have been some benefits to it:

  • It has allowed for quiet time to work on those projects that require a more peaceful environment than a cubicle or desk in the middle of an open-office concept.
  • It has reduced commute times and that is huge for those with long commutes (and reduced the negative environmental impact, too!).
  • It has given many remote workers the opportunity to work flexible hours that allow them to meet family and caregiving obligations.
  • It has accommodated people with disabilities for whom working in an office environment or commuting to work provides barriers to employment.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Managing hybrid and remote teams toolkit

Old ways won’t open new doors

Almost since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020 we have been talking about getting “back to normal”. I think we can all agree that we won’t be getting “back” to the way things were. We’ll be moving forward into a new normal. But what does that mean?

  • Flexible work is here to stay.
  • Talent is everywhere and anywhere when workplaces provide flexible, hybrid work options.
  • Balance and mental health matter – employees are exhausted and burning out.
  • Employers that are adaptable and agile will thrive.
  • Employers that are not adaptable and who don’t listen to their employees will lose them.

RELATED: 4 Simple ways to address stress and support your team’s mental health

What to do now

The most common mistake that managers and employers make when making decisions about their employees is that they fail to engage the employees. Maybe you have done this. You tried to do the right thing, the best thing for your employees so you made assumptions about what they want and need. You had the best of intentions, but the impact was less than great.

Here’s how to avoid that: ask your employees. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Add questions to your engagement survey about workplace culture.
  • Talk to your employees in team meetings and in one-to-one conversations about how to improve the workplace culture and benefits offerings.
  • Provide pulse surveys through your HR software to check in regularly with employees.
  • Collect and analyze data – insights intelligence and predictive analytics can help to identify trends before they become an issue (read about it here).
  • Conduct a workplace culture or equity, diversity, and inclusion audit.

As that old saying goes, the only constant is change. And boy, has that proven to be true in 2020 and 2021! But one thing that should never change is the value that we place on employees. Taking time now to ask employees what matters to them, really listening to their responses, and then accommodating their needs will set you and your organization up for success in the longer term. Let’s look at this as a time for opportunity, to create a better “new normal”!


intelliHR is a people management platform helping HR, leaders and managers enhance performance, culture, engagement and retention. With built-in HRIS and powerful real-time analytics, see how the platform works today.

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