the great resignation

Millions of workers are quitting their jobs to either drop out of the workforce or pursue new careers. Does company culture have to change to stop the exodus?

It’s been called “the great resignation.” In the wake of the pandemic, millions of people have chosen to quit their jobs and this worldwide phenomenon has become a headache for some employers and an existential crisis for others.

The global recovery is gathering pace. As demand picks up, companies have an opportunity to bounce back after the long, fallow months of lockdowns and restrictions. The problem is that in many cases, staff are voting with their feet. Some have failed to return after being on furlough. Others – after working all through the pandemic – have decided to seek opportunities elsewhere. A few have dropped out of the workplace altogether – perhaps to focus on childcare on a full-time basis or take a belated gap year.

Meanwhile, employers are wrestling with staff shortages. From medics and coders to lorry drivers and hospitality workers, organisations simply can’t find the people they need. That problem has not been wholly caused by the great resignation phenomenon, but it has certainly been exacerbated by the exodus of workers.

Who is to Blame?

Needless to say, businesses have been adversely impacted; but there is an important question to be asked. What is causing valued employees to leave their places of work? And could employers be partly to blame?

Now it has to be said that staff churn is a fact of life and some industries – notably retail, hospitality and the care sector – are particularly badly affected due, in part, to relatively low pay and irregular hours.

But the problem is not confined to these sectors. In the US, it was reported that four million people quit their jobs in July 2021 alone, an abnormally high number – with technology being one of the sectors with the biggest staff retention problems.

Burn Out

That should make us pause for breath. Technology is a sector that tends to enjoy higher than average pay and perhaps also generous benefits packages. There is stiff competition for workers and that perhaps explains why individuals hop from job to job in search of a better deal. But that doesn’t quite explain why so many people are quitting at this point in time.

So what’s the problem? Logging a 4.6 percent increase in tech resignations, the biggest levels of churn were in sectors that had experienced the greatest demand during the pandemic – tech being a case in point. This demand meant more pressure on staff and ultimately burnout.

Now, a high-pressure working environment doesn’t necessarily result in members of staff abandoning ship, as long as managers provide support. However, pressure can throw a spotlight on poor working practices, increasing employee discontent.

The New Workplace

But it’s not simply a question of employees being worked too hard. The nature of the workplace has been changed by the pandemic. Perhaps the biggest shift has been the accelerated move to home and hybrid working and also (more strategically) the creation of distributed workforces, which can be spread out over a country, a continent or the entire world, with team members linked by collaboration tools. This type of change requires careful management and perhaps new company cultures.

Many people love home working and are reluctant to return to the office. Indeed, the resumption of the morning commute can be a key reason for quitting – two thirds of workers believe that the option to work from home is more important than salary.

But the same people may also feel isolated and perhaps overlooked. Homeworkers may fear they will be passed over for promotion or training opportunities.

At the same time, they are “always on” – the lines between home and office have become blurred. There is no leaving your work behind you at the end of the day. Emails arrive at all hours of the day and night and video meetings take place in personal space. In this respect, home working has not been very well planned.

So, there is a circle to be squared. Team members may enjoy working from home, but they also want opportunities to take their careers forward and to have their humanity acknowledged.

A New Culture

There are opportunities for businesses to create a human-centric culture. Homeworking and hybrid working can – at their very best – allow employees much more freedom to decide when they work, rest and play. For instance, a parent may choose to do the school run in the afternoon – and then work later into the evening.

This flexibility is very much in keeping with the expectations of millennials and Generation Z – cohorts that will, before long make up the bulk of the working population. But it is vital that the working experience remains positive. Indeed, organisations that prioritise engagement typically have far higher rates of retention.

But what does engagement actually mean? Well, if employers embrace hybrid and home working – and in many sectors, this will be essential – they must focus on creating a good experience for their teams. That means ensuring they have appropriate collaboration and communications tools and that they are well supported by managers. For instance, no one should feel that working from home all the time – or for three or four days a week – consigns them to a kind of career backwater.

Employees should stay connected through laptops and mobile devices, but it is equally important to have policies in place that ensure there is properly demarcated downtime.

Ultimately – as the fallout from the pandemic accelerates changes to the way everyone works – organisations must ensure that staff feel valued and part of a team. A positive culture reduces churn and creates a more motivated workforce.


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