What is Driving the ‘Great Resignation’ and what Changes it will Bring?

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 by Graham Quinn

The Great Resignation has been a hot topic in HR throughout 2021. Some argue the increase in resignations has been more significant in the USA and that, at 3% of the US workforce, this is only a small minority of workers. However, what is notable is that this is the highest number of resignations on record. This abnormality in resignations has also been seen in the UK; according to ONS research, the number of open jobs surpassed one million for the first time ever in August 2021. 

There are several reasons why UK companies and especially HR departments shouldn’t discount the Great Resignation trend. First, while those who resigned in 2021 represent only a small proportion of the workforce, the unusual amounts of those resigning signal a pronounced change in employee attitudes. Resignations being at an all-time-high despite the climate of financial uncertainty, (as a result of COVID) shows that employees are more willing to take a stand over the quality of their working lives.

Although only a small portion of the workforce have actually resigned, according to research, we are still smack bang in the middle of this trend. This becomes apparent by looking at intent; a Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year. A study from HR company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year. This suggests resignations will continue to rise.


Why is this Happening?

Some put the phenomenon of the ‘The “Great Resignation” down to an employee revolt against companies that refuse to pay well and take advantage of their staff. Whilst it’s clear from statistics that the willingness to walk out of a job without having another position lined up is becoming more common, the reasons for doing so are complex and varied.  

The experience of Covid has undoubtedly been a catalyst to reflect and re-assess work and work related issues.

For some, being made more aware of the fragility of life during the pandemic has brought about a shift in their priorities. Some people have realised they want to spend more time with their children. For others, having time to reflect has motivated them to return to study or pursue a ‘dream job’ in the search for greater purpose in their working lives. 

However, for a significant number the decision to leave resulted from the way they were treated during the pandemic. The pandemic made many employees acutely aware of how valued they felt by their employer. Being dealt with unsympathetically during COVID (e.g., around layoffs, sick pay, working from home expectations) pushed workers who already felt they weren’t appreciated to submit their resignations.

The ability to continue flexible work arrangements has since become a driving factor in workers considering switching their jobs. A survey by The Conference Board in August 2021 which found 80% of respondents citing flexible hours and work location  as “very important” or “important” in their decision to leave their current job. Survey respondents also prioritised “a flexible work location” over higher pay and career advancement.


What Changes it will Bring?

To lessen the impact of the Great Resignation trend companies need to be prepared to adapt to the needs of their people.

A good starting point is to listen and find out exactly what employee needs are. Explorance, a leader in experience management solutions, commissioned a survey  to discover hidden drivers behind the sudden employee exodus. The survey found the majority of employees eager to share feedback with employers in order to create positive change in the workplace.

Asking questions about what employees felt worked well during the pandemic, which aspects they would like to change or where they feel unsupported can help companies shape themselves towards offering the working environments employees are looking for. 

Responding to employee feedback by making meaningful changes can improve both employee inclusion and retention. It also means vacancies are more likely to offer what today’s applicants are looking for. Taking concrete steps to respond to employee needs and improve employee experience is one of the best ways to decrease voluntary turnover and attract the best talent in the market.

Inviting any employees you might lose in the meantime to share their reasons for leaving will also help you understand what needs to change to make others want to stay.


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