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The Great Resignation: Millions weigh quitting to pursue new opportunities

Posted by Shivali Anand

August 2, 2021

As has been widely reported, people have been quitting in droves since the pandemic began. Many were parents forced to choose between their career and caring for children learning at home amid widespread school closures.

Others cited a need for more money, greater freedom or a better quality of life. But digging deeper, many workers said they had been galvanized by the pandemic to act on a long-held sense of feeling undervalued by their employers.

This collective sense of discontent precipitated a record 4 million individuals to quit their jobs in April alone. That is the highest monthly number ever reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now workforce analytics firm Visier predicts an even bigger "Great Resignation" looms ahead. The surge will be considerably more dramatic and will hit the technology and health care sectors hardest, the firm anticipates.

Key findings from Visier analysis

In a June 2021 analysis of workforce data from more than 9 million employee records from about 4,000 companies, Visier found mid-career professionals showed the highest resignation rates during the pandemic. In December 2020, the resignation rate for managers was 12% higher than the year previous.

Female managers were more likely to quit to attend to their families, while males were more likely to quit for a new job. This syncs with Visier’s previous finding that 1 in 3 female managers had contemplated quitting during the pandemic.

The highest resignation rates amid the pandemic have been in the health care and tech industries. For the year ending March 2021, resignation rates in the IT sector were up almost 5%, and resignation rates in health care were up 3.61%. There is reason for concern that health care professionals who have been experiencing tremendous workplace stress are at the highest risk of quitting.

Multiple reasons behind the worker exodus

The pandemic has provided a plethora of reasons for individuals to rethink work. Many who work in low-wage restaurant jobs have been pushed by rampant eatery closures to find higher paying work. Some said they abandoned their jobs out of fear they’d be returning to an unsafe environment. But many say they are staying in unsuitable occupations only until the pandemic is safely contained.

Some 80% of those planning to leave their jobs after the pandemic cite the desire for career advancement, and 72% say the pandemic has caused them to rethink their skill sets. More than half of these potential job-hoppers searched out new training during the pandemic, presumably in preparation for a career move in coming months.

The majority of workers who wish to quit say they want a job that allows greater freedom. Even among those not contemplating quitting, half of those who work remotely say they will search for a new job if their position returns to the office.

University of Houston professor Derek Avery, an organizational psychologist, is unsurprised by the numbers considering resignation. Avery maintains employers must not only figure out how to extend flexible work arrangements post-pandemic, but also address the gap between the "haves” -- upwardly mobile workers who benefit most from job-hopping -- and the "have-nots," meaning workers who are less able to switch employers. The gap between those with the means to gain new skills, money, status and flexibility and those who don’t will only widen.

Expectations shifted due to remote work

The pandemic's massive shift to remote work has reshaped how individuals think about when and where they work. Now, workers want the flexibility provided by the pandemic, which was previously unachievable.

"We've evolved,” stated Tsedal Neeley, author of “Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere” and Harvard Business School professor. “The nature of work has evolved. Our perceptions of time and location have shifted,"

Work is no longer just to pay the bills

People now accustomed to working from home no longer want to return to a workplace that entails hours of commuting or sacrificing other aspects of their lives. Rather than return to the same old office, they are looking for new employment that allows for flexibility and remote work.

Employers need to prepare now

"While company leaders are currently coping with the pandemic, they must plan to avoid a talent tsunami," said Melissa Jezior, president and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting. "According to our study, 57 percent of employees in the United States are burned out. Employees with children who are remote learning at home report higher degrees of burnout than Millennials and women. Leaving is frequently regarded as the greatest choice for employees dealing with burnout. And, when the economy and job markets improve, some employees may believe they have no other option."

Jezior says businesses must accept that their strategy and workforce planning will look different after the pandemic. They should act now to identify the talent and positions required to thrive once the crisis has passed.

“Backfiling positions with the same skillsets is the industry standard,” Jezior said. “However, moving forward necessitates recognizing and developing new talents through upskilling, reskilling, and recruiting procedures."

Other suggestions for stopping the oncoming turnover wave

Keep top achievers interested.

Companies need to engage their highest achievers not only because of their value, but also because they are the most vulnerable to burnout, according to Jezior. Focus on career advancement, training and compensation to keep those employees around.

Recognize employees.

A study by the Achievers Workforce Institute found that 74% of employees desire more acknowledgement for their efforts. "It is essential to keep employees motivated, to train managers on effective recognition and make them accountable for rewarding their teams regularly," said Achievers scientist Natalie Baumgartner.

Employees must be heard.

Companies must pay attention to their employees. Foster a supportive workplace by running employee surveys, condoning open-door dialogue and offering mentorship opportunities.

Conducting external stay interviews.

Conversations between managers and workers rarely identify turnover risk because employees do not trust management with that information, said Danny Nelms, president of The Work Institute. Third parties should conduct stay interviews to better understand the true risk of potential turnover. This allows interviewees to feel comfortable with their responses and share the true reasons why they may consider quitting.


Shivali Anand
Shivali Anand

Shivali Anand is a content developer at Escalon Business Services. Her expertise lies in creating consistent and relevant B2B marketing, SEO and social media content. She is armed with a PG Diploma in English Journalism from the IIMC Dhenkanal, Odisha. After starting as a travel writer, she embarked upon a career as a copyeditor, news content specialist, and researcher across organizations including Ministry of MSME, Vaco Binary Semantics LLP, Doordarshan News, and New Delhi Times.

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