• Mike Poledna

The Great Resignation - Real or Imagined?

Updated: Jan 13

Texas A&M's Anthony Klotz coined 'The Great Resignation' in 2019, a term for a mass exodus from the workforce.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in April, May, and June of 2021, a total of 11 million workers quit their jobs. Recent studies indicate this high turnover trend will continue; one survey found that 41% of people are considering quitting their job within the next 12 months, and 54% when you consider only Gen Z as respondents. A survey conducted by Gallup found that 48% of employees are currently looking for new job opportunities. This is alarming news to current employers, who risk losing most of their workforce in the next six months because 38% (according to Persio) plan on making changes soon. The costs and consequences of turnover are high, regardless of company size or industry, causing even one-third to leave.

The Great Resignation has seen multiple changes, but a recurring theme is a stress and burnout felt by those surveyed. According to LinkedIn’s survey, 74% of polled members indicated that more time at home during a shutdown or working remotely caused them to reconsider their current employment situation. In other polls, over half cited this stress as a cause for looking elsewhere. Others blame dissatisfaction caused by the knee-jerk cost-cutting of their current employer in response to COVID-19 related business slowdowns. Many find it unfair that even poor performers and great employees are hurt equally due to indiscriminate layoffs, as executive leadership refuses to participate in the cuts.

Some employees have provided evaluations with their hearts and minds, recognizing that no benefits of a two-income household outweighing the costs. Others leaped and started a dream business. Many people had it with being undervalued and ignored by toxic, narcissistic managers. Finally, fully one-third stated they had concerns about returning to an on-site position while the pandemic still rages. So what are the smaller employers going to do? After all, small businesses deal with an increasing number of more well-funded competitors vying for the same workforce.

Employers were taken aback. The Great Resignation went against everything traditional management thought they knew about labor markets. Ever since, the conventional wisdom has been that in downturns, the employer could get away with almost anything; employees needed work and so would be grateful merely to have a job - frills and niceties were 100% unnecessary. People flee seemingly good jobs due to several factors, like personal safety concerns, lack of fair treatment, horrible bosses, or an inequitable work-life balance. Employers who act first and create an environment where employees feel safe, valued, and more empowered are more likely to keep these employees. This doesn't mean the employers must provide bean bags and ping-pong tables.

Employees recognize that toys and mini-fridges full of energy drinks aren't substitutes for leaders who actually care about them. Workers want their employers to give them transparency, trust, and respect. They want bosses who believe that remote work is not an invitation for micromanagement. Workers want organizations that recognize that hybrid work requires communication and management of employees. They also want their boards, which oversee executive performance, to acknowledge the dangers of narcissism in a manager and stop promoting bullies into management positions. To better attract and retain employees, businesses should incorporate strategies like becoming socially responsible, cutting costs discriminately, balancing investment between work and life during slow business periods, and involving employees in the decision-making process.

The best business leaders today take time to ask their employees about what is going well and what needs improvement without using engagement measurements. These employers are identifying pain points for employees and removing them.

The most reasonable of employees understand that their leaders might not have all the answers during a pandemic. They want honest communication, and they want to offer their input as well. Companies that take these actions, in addition to those listed above, stand a greater chance of keeping valued associates as this mess drags on. There's one more silver lining here too:

The recent mass exodus from many companies has resulted in a flood of talented individuals looking for work opportunities. As long as smaller companies demonstrate that they are concerned with their employees and truly care about them, there is now an entirely new market of skilled workers ready to take their place.

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