great resignation employee turnover

Is the “great resignation” a real thing?

Are We Headed for a Post-pandemic Resignation Upswing?

Have you been hearing rumblings about the “great resignation”? First of all, what the heck is it?

The phrase was coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. He noticed that the number of resignations in 2020 was down compared to 2019. He suspected people were reluctant to leave their jobs during the uncertainty of the pandemic and, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, he predicted they were getting ready to quit their jobs as pandemic restrictions ease and companies call employees back to the office.

The number of people resigning, he said, would be in addition to

  • people quitting in response to extra pressures they’ve been facing because of the pandemic,
  • people experiencing “pandemic-related epiphanies” (reconsidering their work and home lives, life passions, etc.), and
  • people who would normally be quitting their jobs for a host of other reasons.

Klotz’s predictions quickly gained traffic and now it seems like everyone is talking about this “great resignation.” If predictions are right, we could see more workers quitting their jobs now than at any other time in the last 20 years.

It’s a perfect storm.

According to a recent Microsoft work trends report, over 40% of the global workforce is thinking about quitting this year and 46% are planning to make a major career transition.

With so much change upending people during the pandemic, employees are re-evaluating their priorities. Many have lost their sense of connection to the workplace—they feel disconnected, overworked, and underappreciated.

Having worked from home for over a year, many employees have reassessed what they want from their personal and work lives. They’ve realized they can skip the commute and spend more time with their families.

With so much change upending people over the past year, employees are re-evaluating priorities, home bases, and their entire lives. So, whether it’s due to fewer networking or career advancement opportunities, a new calling, pent-up demand, or a host of pandemic-related struggles, more people are considering their next move. The way companies approach the next phase of work—embracing the positives and learning from the challenges of this last year—will impact who stays, who goes, and who ultimately seeks to join your company.

The Work Trend Index

What does that mean for you as an employer?

Get ready—you are at risk. The pandemic has been a wake-up call for many of your top employees, so if you want to keep them, you’re going to have to give them reasons to stay. You’re going to have to try harder and be better than your competitors.

Show empathy

As we begin to transition back to a more “normal” work situation—if we even know what that looks like—employees are bound to feel a little unsettled. When that happens, job performance can suffer, and employees start to wonder if the grass might be greener somewhere else. 

Even if you thought you had a firm grip on the needs of your team before the pandemic, those needs have probably changed, so you need to ask questions, listen, and respond. If you want to meet your team’s expectations, first you need to understand what those expectations are.

Have conversations about their productivity:

  • Do they have what they need to do their job?
  • What hours in the day are they most productive?
  • Do they need help or further training?
  • Have they had successes you should be celebrating?

Second, ask them about their well-being:

  • Are they taking breaks and managing their energy levels?
  • What are they doing outside of work to manage their mental health and do they need support with that?

Last, ask your employees how they feel about the team dynamic:

  • Do they feel connected, as part of the team?
  • What has a colleague done recently that made a positive impact?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how safe do they feel sharing new ideas?

Asking these questions will allow for an open two-way conversation that builds genuine, trust-based relationships.

Be flexible

Whether or not employees enjoyed working remotely, almost everyone will be expecting greater flexibility going forward. The same Microsoft report I cited earlier, reported that, while many people are looking forward to getting back to in-person work with colleagues, over 70% of employees want remote work options to continue.

If possible, employees should be offered flexibility to work when and where they want. This might also mean providing the tools they need to contribute equally and remain connected to the rest of your team from wherever they happen to be.

One of the benefits of offering remote work opportunities is that it widens your potential talent marketplace. People no longer have to relocate to expand their careers—they don’t even have to leave their homes—which means you now have access to a much broader talent pool than you might have before the pandemic.

Focus on culture

All the changes brought on by the pandemic, especially if it meant a sudden shift to remote work, forced many employers into triage mode. The focus was on figuring out how to get things done, and many workplace cultures were neglected.

Now that things are settling down a bit, it’s time to make culture a priority. We talk a lot about culture because it’s what makes organizations successful. When we’re recruiting, we look for people who have the required skills and experience, but we also look for people who will add to your culture. (Read Culture Fit vs Culture Add.)

So, what is corporate culture? It’s the shared values, attitudes, and beliefs of the members of your organization. It defines who you are as a company.

To help your employees feel more connected, to each other and to your company, you need to remind them of your shared culture. Things will look different in the post-pandemic workplace, so you need to actively seek out and highlight examples of the organizational culture you want to promote.

Pay attention to your brand

Closely aligned with culture is your employer brand. When employees are feeling disconnected from their workplace and their coworkers, it’s easy for them to lose sight of their shared objectives. It’s more important now than ever for leaders to rally their teams around their company’s mission, vision, and values.

As a leader in your organization, ask some important questions:

  • What’s happening in your organization?
  • What are employees saying about you?
  • Why would someone want to work for you?

If you want your organization to be successful, each of your employees should understand what your organization stands for, what you are trying to achieve, and how they fit into the bigger picture.

Plan for the future

Along with all the talk about people getting ready to quit their jobs, there’s been no shortage of discussion around the need for succession planning. As a leader in your organization, do you know who your next leaders are and how you’re going to set them up for success?

One of the most effective, and often overlooked, retention strategies is having a documented succession plan. Begin by identifying future leaders, then encourage them by providing ongoing training and professional development. Let them know they have a future with your organization.

I have always said investing in your people will increase your bottom line. It’s been proven over and over again. If you haven’t adapted to have an employee-centric culture, now is the time. It should be your number one priority.

Are you ready?

As a leader in your organization, are you ready for the next phase of work? Maybe not?

We would be happy to have a conversation and share our insight about meeting employee expectations in your post-Covid workplace. Feel free to reach out.

Published: August 25, 2021
Updated: April 30, 2022