The Great Resignation is a mass, voluntary exous from the workforce. It is here, and it is quite real. Turnover is nothing new. But the Great Resignation and extreme turnover of American workers – white-collar workers and low-wage workers alike – currently happening across industries is a unique phenomenon. The Great Resignation has caught many business leaders flat-footed, and both hiring and retention strategies require greater understanding as well as a fresh approach.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a total of 11.5 million workers quit their jobs at record rates in the second quarter of ’21 (April, May & June) alone, with some regions of the country experiencing higher quits than others. In the West, Oregon, Montana, Utah, and Hawaii had the highest resignation rate in September, and records were tied or broken by eighteen other states. Since the start of ’22 Northeast states has been seeing the highest increase, particularly by those leaving work in the education sector. And if that weren’t bad enough, a survey of over 30,000 workers conducted by Microsoft found that 41% are considering quitting; for Gen Z, the number jumps to 54%.
Clearly, the demand for workers will continue to grow and these stats scare the hell out of leaders from every organization. For turnover rates, in any job market, the cost is high. Not only the hard cost of the time spent recruiting, screening, and retraining new employees, but in employee morale, lack of consistency in customer service experience, compromised hiring and customer service training, existing yet disengaged workers questioning their decision to stay, and high performers’ frustration due to working with average- and below-average coworkers.
What is fueling the Great Resignation?
There are numerous factors, most originating from the pandemic that started in early ’20. According to a LinkedIn survey, 74% of respondents said the time spent at home had caused them to rethink their current work situation. Employee priorities shifted. More than 50% cited stress and burnout in their job as reasons for looking elsewhere. Others did not like how their employer treated them over the last eighteen months, from a lack of genuine concern to employees being forced to make concessions, while senior executives didn’t. Healthcare workers and those in hospitality, retail, food service, and other service industries were especially hard-hit. In an interview with TIME magazine, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich shared that “Workers are burned out. They’re fed up. They’re fried. In the wake of so much hardship and illness and death during the past year, they’re not going to take it anymore.”
The Work from Home (WFH) dilemma has opened Pandora’s box for many employees and has become a contentious issue for many organizations, especially since, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest resignation rates are for employees in the 30-45-year-old range. Rather than taking a chance on less experienced candidates who, especially if training remotely, might experience a shakier start in their new position, employers may find themselves negotiating more vigorously to bring seasoned mid-career candidates on, or back on, board. This particular group has strong demands regarding fully remote and hybrid WFH options, partly due to the ever-increasing costs of childcare.
And, yes, the increase in unemployment benefits has caused a lack of urgency for many to return to the workforce.
Pandemic Epiphanies: Women leaving employment at an alarming rate
An article in TIME magazine talks about a disturbing trend that occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic: 885,000 women left the workforce, while only 216,000 men exited during that same period. And that’s not all. In addition to these higher resignation rates, one in four women is cutting back on hours or changing their role to one that is less demanding. When fewer women are in the workforce there’s an increase in gender pay gaps and a lack of diversity in senior executive roles, and the lower number of women could potentially lead to some level of employee attrition. For the women who have remained in the workforce, however, this tight labor market can offer a great time for development opportunities.
Reinventing company culture, or: An employee satisfaction crisis is a terrible thing to waste
We saw a booming economy during the last decade, which always leads to the same result: complacency. Most businesses eventually start to lose focus on both the customer experience and the employee experience. Businesses need to stop thinking that “ping pong tables and Friday happy hours” will create connectivity among employees and strong company culture.
Businesses need to worry less about hiring to replace the employees they lost and focus more on keeping their top talent via a reinvention of their company’s internal culture. Yes, I said it, worry less about hiring just anyone with a pulse and work on keeping your top performers. At the outset, businesses need a plan for measuring employee engagement regularly (i.e., quarterly). One of the best out there is Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. These 12 questions cover the key areas that are most impactful on employee morale, engagement, and overall employee satisfaction.
The businesses with superior employee retention strategies and the highest level of engaged employees enjoy:• 81% less absenteeism
• 33% less turnover
• 10% increase in customer loyalty/engagement
• 23% more profitability
“Stop trying to find great employees, focus on becoming the business great employees find.”
Stop policing and start leading!
Businesses need to stop treating their employees like children. Leadership needs to be about helping people reach their potential in performance, not managing them away from breaking policy or screwing up. Employee experience is an important factor for current employees and job seekers alike. High performers need innovation; innovators need autonomy. Don’t let one poor employee ruin your organization’s freedom and flexibility. Employee freedom means they can take a lot of risks and sometimes fail. Risk-taking breeds innovation.
*Related – FAIL FAST, FAIL OFTEN