The Great Resignation is no longer only a buzzword, a rare phenomenon, or a problem limited to the United States. Instead, it’s an issue impacting the world, including the European Union and the United Kingdom. For instance, U.K. workers are quitting their jobs at a rate not seen in over a decade, and the number of resignations in France reached a record peak in the third quarter of 2021.
Even though the United States is still the leader of the Great Resignation, with 4.5 million people quitting in November 2021, nearly every employer worldwide struggles to retain their workers. That has made this problem the principal labor market concern, and most companies perceive it as inherently harmful.
Indeed, the Great Resignation has exacerbated turnover, causing a strain on business revenues and team dynamics. But many experts claim it was meant to happen and may even be a good thing. It might be challenging to understand how an alarming number of employee resignations could be positive from an employer’s perspective. That’s why it’s necessary to dive deeper into this issue and how it could be empowering for both the employee and employers.
A More Complex Take on the Great Resignation
The Great Resignation represents the trend of voluntary job resignations that started in early 2021. Psychologist and business administration professor, Anthony Klotz, coined the term and warned employees could continue quitting for years to come. According to Klotz, people are still sorting out their lives and analyzing what it means to have a healthy work-life balance more than two years into the pandemic. He also added that workers delayed resignations initially because they needed stability.
However, most people are burnt-out after struggling with increased stress in the past 27 months, forcing them to reframe their values and identify what they consider genuinely meaningful in times of illness, uncertainty, and death. But although employers blame the COVID-19 crisis for the start of the Great Resignation, that likely only accelerated the problem. That also means that this isn’t short-term turbulence that will fade once the world declares the end of the pandemic. Instead, it’s a continuation of a trend of rising quit rates that began more than a decade ago. A Harvard Business Review article by Joseph B. Fuller and William R. Kerr explains that five main factors triggered the Great Resignation, but these are always at play.
People quit due to retirement, relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance. Fuller and Kerr also add that employees who resigned in 2021 would do so in 2020 had there been no pandemic and financial uncertainty. However, Fuller and Kerr agree that people began reconsidering their work-life balance and care roles more. The perspective shift is indisputable, motivating employees to prioritize their well-being, mental health, and loved ones. After all, many were burnt out, underpaid, and unable to address their responsibilities at home. Thus, most resignations occurred in lower-wage industries, such as food services and leisure and hospitality.
That means that the pandemic brought many people to the edge with the number of work and family-related obligations, forcing them to choose. Some had to pick between their health and stable employment, others between caring for an ill family member or an underpaid job. Although these employees might continue working for the same employer if COVID-19 didn’t impose a challenging choice, they would likely be unhappy and disengaged. That explains why some people aren’t leaving the labor market but moving among different jobs in the same sector.
Job seekers can finally be more selective, as there are now a record five million more job openings than unemployed persons in the U.S. That gives people the privilege to choose their jobs and quit underpaid positions. But it’s impossible to give a final answer to what started the Great Resignation. It has likely been a combination of factors, accelerating an existing issue and encouraging people to seek better-paid jobs.
Before moving to why the Great Resignation might be favorable for both employers and employees, it’s necessary to delve into the most common reasons employees resigned last year.
Top Reasons Why Employees Quit Their Jobs in 2021
Most employees left their jobs because their salaries couldn’t keep up with the increasing living costs. However, some were underpaid from the beginning, having to complete more responsibilities than their compensation encompassed.
No Career Advancement Opportunities
Professional progress is just as significant as fair and competitive salaries. People want access to well-rounded learning & development opportunities, allowing them to reach their objectives and higher positions.
Lack of Respect at Work
Employees needed understanding from their companies more than ever during the pandemic. However, many felt disrespected and had no support, forcing them to seek more empathetic employers elsewhere.
Females had to resign their jobs in the past two years more than their male counterparts due to the traditional perception of women as caretakers. They often couldn’t balance their work hours and childcare, leaving them no choice but to choose their priorities.
Lack of Flexibility
Flexibility became increasingly significant during the pandemic, as people often had to adjust to unexpected changes and circumstances. However, not every employer allowed their staff to choose their work hours or work from home, resulting in more resignations.
Poor Perks and Benefits
Many companies provide perks that don’t match their employees’ needs, expectations, and life stages. But people had more available job opportunities in the past months, enabling them to find the one with more compatible and personalized benefits.
Long Working Hours
The COVID-19 crisis caused working hours to spike by 40 percent in some countries, and remote employees were putting in significantly longer hours than before the pandemic. Many started experiencing burnout or struggling with health issues, forcing them to demand a change and quit their jobs.
Even though this isn’t strictly pandemic-related, many people resigned last year due to having to relocate. Some returned to their home countries due to the lockdowns and visa issues. Others decided to move abroad.
How the Great Resignation Empowers Both Employees and Employers
1. Employees are Regaining Control Over Their Lives, Forcing Employers to Become More Empathetic
Workers have taken back their power in the past few months. Many had enough, having to juggle an increased number of responsibilities, struggle with burnout, and employers who had no understanding for them. These employees might keep their jobs in other circumstances, but the pandemic has reminded them how short and fragile life is. But the most significant factor in their decision to resign was they had more opportunities.
People could finally have more freedom to choose their future employer and consider whether the job conditions meet their expectations. Employers also witnessed what happens when employees can choose and how that ability empowers them. Many business leaders were forced to think about what caused these resignations and the part they played in their workers’ decision-making. As a result, employers had to see things from their employees’ perspectives and become more empathetic.
That empathy could also encourage many leaders to re-evaluate their viewpoints and whether they treat others with understanding and compassion.
2. Employees are Becoming More Confident, While Employers Can Become Better Leaders
People know they can be more selective about their future jobs and switch their current companies if they receive poor treatment or low salaries. That knowledge makes them more confident that they can find another job if they’re unhappy or mistreated.
Most employers are also aware of their employees’ renewed confidence and ability to leave them more easily than before the pandemic. If they embrace that as a positive change, it could help them become better and more well-rounded leaders who can attract and retain top talents.
3. Employees Can Pursue Their Passions and Objectives, Employers Can Reinvent Their Way to Workplace Management
The decision to stay with a company should never depend solely on a contract or lack of other available opportunities. Instead, employees should find joy in their jobs and use them to explore their affinities and develop new skills.
Otherwise, they could struggle with productivity and performance. That may provide a stimulus for employers to reinvent their approach to managing workplaces and establish more inclusive, equitable, and fair work environments.
4. Both Parties Learn That Burnout Isn’t a Necessity for Success
People often assume that success in a corporate world is synonymous with burnout. If they don’t work hard, they might not reach their goals or impress their superiors.
But unreasonable workload and stress shouldn’t be normalized nor the prerequisite for success. The Great Resignation might remind employers and employees that they can work smart, not hard, and still achieve their goals.
5. Both Parties Get to Work with Those Who Share Their Values and Visions
Employees leave for various reasons, but that implies they weren’t compatible with their employers. Yet, this relationship should be healthy and fulfilling for both parties.
Even though turnover may affect the business negatively, it allows companies to find employees sharing the same values, visions, and objectives. The most significant part is to learn from every resignation and use these lessons to improve and do better in the future.
The Great Resignation may sound scary, but employers can benefit from it if they shift their perspectives. The goal is to perceive it as a learning opportunity instead of a business disaster.
Employers can use the Great Resignation as an opportunity to understand why their employees love working with them and what made them leave. These insights can help them enhance their strategies and learn to be more empathetic and understanding business leaders who know to attract and retain the best talents.