Published in Forbes

According to a report by the US Labor Department, 2.7% of the US workers have left their jobs in April 2021. A sharp rise of 1.6% from April 2020 and the highest in more than two decades. 

In its “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work- Are We Ready” report, Microsoft found that as much as 41% of the global workforce and 54% of the Generation Z workers could be considering resignation. 

Many are calling this the era of “The Great Resignation”.

So, What is ‘The Great Resignation’ All About?

Dr Anthony Klutz, a professor of Management at the Texas A&M Mays School of Business, first coined the term “The Great Resignation” in his “The Covid vaccine means a return to work. And a wave of resignations” article. 

Traditionally, a large number of people quitting their jobs used to be seen as a positive sign. It demonstrated that the country has a strong economy with plenty of job opportunities. But these are not normal times, and this current resignation wave is nothing like the past. 

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Why The Great Resignation Now?

With salary cuts and several businesses shutting down, the pandemic posed financial challenges to most employees. But, now that things are getting better, why are people resigning?

Pandemic Resignation Backlog

As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 6 million fewer resignations in 2020 compared to 2019. Many who wanted to quit their jobs last year decided to stay put to navigate through the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. This created a backlog, the effects of which can be seen trickling down to this year and beyond. 

Uncertainty- A Breeding Ground For Opportunity

About 3 in 5 workers in the UK are considering a career change- a trend observed across the globe. 

The pandemic brought with it uncertainty. While uncertainty breeds anxiety, it also pushes us to rethink and re-evaluate our life and career choices. The number of people choosing to ditch their jobs and make a complete career shift has been unprecedented. 

Many are deciding to follow their hobby and ditch their jobs, while many others are exploring the possibility of learning a new skill and embarking on a new career path. 

The uncertainty, in essence, is becoming a breeding ground of opportunity for several professionals, and many employers are facing the brunt of this. 

Workplace Culture – A Catalyst to the Movement

While employees grappled with uncertainty during the pandemic, organizations were caught off-guard too on dealing with the challenge. Many companies didn’t, and unfortunately still don’t, have the required systems and policies to deal with the threats posed by the pandemic. 

The mental well-being of employees, for instance, came to the forefront during the pandemic, with a significant percentage feeling burnout and overstressed at work. While managers and leaders tried tackling the issue, without a structured approach, many lacked the competency to overcome the challenge.

A few notable observations in this regard- 

  1. Lack of Recognition: I’ve seen organizations offering plaques and other awards to their employees but what is missing is a routine systematic employee recognition program.
  2. Professional Relationships Matter More than Ever: ADDI research found that as much as 57% of the employees quit because of their boss. The best places to work are not the ones that offer the highest salaries or ones with the most attractive office interiors. These are companies with people trusting and having a positive relationship with their managers and leaders.  
  3. Lack of Employee Engagement: Disengaged or unengaged employees are not productive and are likely to look for another opportunity. You can read the article “Increasing Workplace Engagement” for tips that have worked for several organizations. 

Some Common Signs of High Turnover in Organizations

So, how do leaders and managers protect their organizations against high turnover? Knowing the warnings signs of when an employee is ready to quit could help. Here are a few such signs-

  • Distracted and unmotivated at work
  • Disengaged at work
  • Negativity towards management and colleagues
  • Not interested in promotion
  • Unresponsive to emails
  • Minimum contribution during meetings
  • Taking a lot of personal days off
  • Recent life events, like marriage, having children, divorce, new home purchase, etc.
  • More active on LinkedIn

The Way Forward – Respond, Not React

As organizations and leaders brace for the impact, it is essential for companies to respond and not react. When you look at the challenge holistically, you can also see it as an opportunity to restructure your workplace culture – one that engages, encourages and empowers your team to achieve the common goal. 

Flexibility is Essential

As Mark Cuban pointed out in his 2020 CNBC interview, how companies respond to reopening the workplaces could define their brands for decades. So, be cautious with reopening the office and be more flexible with remote, hybrid, and office working.  

Review Compensation and Other Benefits

Salary cuts (during the pandemic) has acted as a critical trigger for many choosing to quit their jobs. While most employees have been relatively supportive in the early stages of the pandemic, the elongated cuts have pushed many over the edge. 

Whether things are getting back to normal or you are steering towards the new normal, this could be an excellent time to review employee compensation policy and other benefits given. 

The Need for Empathetic Leadership

Burnout and mental distress due to the pandemic are commonly observed among employees. Many have also lost their loved ones to COVID-19, while many are still dealing with the post-Covid physical, emotional, and mental health complications. A continuous and consistent listening program where managers regularly engage with the employees could be an effective way to offer support and show that you genuinely care. Most importantly, there is a need for empathetic leadership- a rare but precious virtue of leadership. 

Building “The Happy Organization” to Get Past the Great Resignation

As the world recovers from the after-effects of the pandemic, people want to be happy, valued, respected, empowered and encouraged now more than ever. 

Most importantly, the leadership can play a critical role in helping the employees achieve this objective and improve their quality of life while also providing them with an unbeatable reason to stick around. 

This wave of resignation could be an excellent opportunity for leaders to realign their corporate values and focus more on their employees and the workplace culture to build “The Happy Organization”.