What’s going on with the ‘Great Resignation’?

The Great Resignation, a term coined just last year, describes the large number of employees who have been leaving their jobs since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

After long periods of working from home and all the benefits that came with it during the pandemic, it’s now the case that many employees have decided to prioritize their work-life balance more than they did before. This led to something of an exodus of employees from firms that have stubbornly demanded that they return to the office on the employer’s terms.

This employee revolution appears to be continuing in 2022, with the recent Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey by ‘Big Four’ consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimating that one in five workers globally are planning to quit their jobs this year.

A challenge that isn’t going away

Indeed, when Professor Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice in Organizational Behavior at the London School of Economics, asked 150 business executives from Asia, Europe, and the U.S. what their biggest challenge right now was, their answers echoed PwC’s findings: retaining and recruiting employees.

As the global labor market continues to recover from the pandemic, resignations are rolling in at a rapid pace. According to data released by the UK’s Labor Force Survey last November, of the 1.02 million people who switched employers between July and September 2021, 391,000 of them had resigned—setting a new record for the LFS. In the United States, the picture is bleaker still: 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 alone, up from 4.4 million and 4.2 million in September and October 2021 respectively.

Figures like this confirm beyond doubt that the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ isn’t something that is going to disappear overnight. But what’s causing it? And what can leaders do to retain and attract new talent in what is quickly becoming a hyper-competitive and unprecedentedly volatile market?

What’s causing it?

The same report published by PwC cites money as a major driving factor behind ongoing resignation activity. This reflects long-standing problems in wealth inequality, highlighting the need to advance the gender-equity agenda, including pay transparency and higher female participation in the labor force.

However, money isn’t the only factor, and paying workers more isn’t necessarily enough to overcome ongoing retention challenges. Many intangible factors that can’t simply be paid away were cited in the report, including a lack of fulfilment, employees feeling as if they cannot be themselves at work, and having the option to choose when and where to work.

How can business leaders fight back?

In short, by being more flexible and willing to adapt to change.

Turning back to the PwC report, 26% of employees said they would prefer full-time remote working, but only 18% said their employer is likely to adopt that model. Another 18% said their employer is likely to require full-time in-person work, something that only 11% of employees prefer over more flexible options.

Of course, not everyone can work remotely or flexibly. That’s why providing specialized training to employees in more practical or niche roles is also important for supporting retention. It’s no secret that workers with specialized training and skills are in demand, and they are fully aware of this. Providing training can also help to empower employees, meaning greater job satisfaction, which is good news for leaders, as satisfied employees are 45% more likely to recommend their place of work compared to 29% of workers with no specialist training.

The survey also states that employers need to shift their focus and that they “must tailor their workforce strategy to the unique needs of their workers” if they are to remain competitive and succeed in increasingly challenging environments. Ways to do this might include:


  • Embrace hybrid working: Trust your employees and change your mindset to hybrid and flexible working. Avoid forcing employees back to the office and put them in more control of their working week.


  • Look at benefits: Benefits go beyond remuneration. Consider giving your employees extra time to spend with their families (e.g., parental leave days), their health and wellbeing (e.g., by subscribing to certain programs), and bringing back opportunities for employees to interact and bond.


  • Build better relationships: Your organization should be more than just a place to work and a means to an end. Many factors feed into how employees feel about the workplace, including how managers approach mistakes, how you communicate major changes, and how you help employees in times of personal crisis.


Curious to hear more about the Great Resignation? Listen to the episode of HR Vision podcast with Max Schiffelers. 

What happened to the great resignation?

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