How should we respond to the ‘Great Resignation’?

How should we respond to the ‘Great Resignation’?

By on Oct 21, 2021 in Best Practices, Blog, Communication, HR Consulting, Human Resources consulting, Leadership |

How should we respond to the ‘Great Resignation’?

By Ryan Sheehan

Like many of you, I have recently read a number of articles about the mass-exodus of workers from the US labor market [i.e., the ‘Great Resignation’] since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been reflecting upon its consequences, causes, and how we leaders should respond. Here is some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • A record 42.1 million Americans quit a job in 2019.
  • Every month from April to August 2021, at least 2.5% of the American workforce quit their jobs.
  • In August alone, more than 4.3 million people handed in their two weeks’ notice, according to federal statistics.
  • So far, 2021 quit levels are about 10% to 15% higher than they were in record-setting 2019.

This trend is a clearly a significant and steep one. In our daily lives, we are seeing the firsthand consequences of staffing shortages that hamstring many businesses’ operations and the slowing down supply chains.

The driving factors beyond this phenomenon are numerous and varied [and in some cases debatable…e.g., the impact of federal supplemental unemployment insurance] but the most common and credible reasons given for the ‘Great Resignation’ appear to be:

  • Low wages and stagnant wage growth outpacing increased cost of goods/living.
  • Increasing childcare costs [that simply making work unaffordable for some parents].
  • Declining working conditions, exacerbated by COVID-19 [i.e., healthcare, service, and retail industry jobs particularly, but also any employees who have been saddled with additional work responsibilities and hours due to increased pandemic-related staffing shortages].
  • Jobs lacking opportunities for career growth.
  • Jobs lacking in providing personal fulfillment, meaning, or purpose.
  • Long term pandemic fatigue.
  • Garden variety job burnout.

On the surface, this challenge seems new, overwhelming, and with no end in sight – but is this actually the case? A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hanging in the air that is creating societal-wide uncertainty is a novel dynamic, but all these other casual factors are workplace problems we have faced before in one form or another. As always, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but several areas [beyond wage increases and other financial incentives] which businesses can focus on improvement are:

  • Creating more manageable [and rebalancing] workloads and performance goals.
  • Implementing flexible work schedules [and/or updating and the policies, procedures, and expectations around them].
  • Giving employees true autonomy and control over their work duties [to the extent possible].
  • Meaningful rewarding and acknowledging of good work and extra contributions during these last several, very challenging years.
  • Fostering a genuine, supportive workplace community and positive work culture [that is calibrated for hybrid and/or fully remote environments].
  • Helping workers find mission, meaning, and value in their work.
  • Asking employees directly what their organizations can do to make their work experience better [in the context their new work/life balance struggles but within the business’ limitations].

Most importantly, we business leaders need not only to think differently, but to act more boldly than we might have in the past. We should avoid always seeing fatigue and burnout as the worker’s problem and go beyond offering things like yoga and mindfulness training to help them ‘fix their own issues’. An extra week off for a Zoom or burnout break [as a few tech companies have recently offered] is a nice gesture but not a real commitment to change. And, as always, the true keys to success in applying the right remedies is in their specificity, correct application, and compatibility with your organization’s and workforce’s particular dynamics.

Ryan Sheehan is a colleague and friend of OA and has led a number of successful talent acquisition projects for non-profit and public-sector organizations with us. He is an accomplished Human Resources and talent management professional with a solid track record of aligning people and business strategies. Across his 18 years of career experience, he has developed, implemented, and improved Human Resources programs, processes, and tools/technologies. Also, Ryan is adept at directly matching top talent with esteemed employers and creating strong talent acquisition strategies, trainings, and teams.