The Great Resignation: what will it take to retain talent in 2022 and beyond?

Find out what is driving employees to leave their jobs during what has been dubbed the Great Resignation, and what it will take to improve employee retention.

What is the Great Resignation?

According to the World Economic Forum, the Great Resignation is “a phenomenon that describes record numbers of people leaving their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends”. It’s an idea that was proposed in May 2021 by Prof Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, who’s studied the exits of hundreds of workers. In an interview with Bloomberg, Klotz predicted that a large number of people would leave their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and life returns to ‘normal’. Following this interview, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A Microsoft Work Trend Index survey of more than 31 000 workers around the world confirmed 41% of people – almost half the global workforce – considered quitting their jobs in 2021. But what is the cause of this great increase in resignations, or pondering the idea of resignation?

What is driving employees to leave their jobs?

Overdue resignations

“When there’s uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year,” Klotz told Bloomberg. The numbers are multiplied, he says, by the many pandemic-related epiphanies – about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means – that can make people turn their back on the nine-to-five office grind. Ian Cook, vice president of Visier Inc., a global leader in people analytics and planning, completed an in-depth analysis, published in the Harvard Business Review, of more than 9 million employee records at 4 000 global companies in which he uncovered two key trends of the Great Resignation. The first trend he uncovered was that resignation rates were highest among mid-career employees; the second, those resignation rates were highest in the technology and healthcare industries. In South Africa, while we face a record high unemployment rate, which hit 34.4% in the second quarter of 2021, there is still a lack of skills in particular sectors. This means that this pool of highly skilled workers – as things slowly start returning to normal – can be more discerning about how they want to work, and likewise, where they want to work, which also explains the exodus of highly skilled professionals from South Africa.

Increased workload

“The volume of work has increased for many during the pandemic,” says executive and business coach, Dr Marlet Tromp. With hiring freezes and retrenchments, it means that there are fewer people to do the work, with deadlines and expectations much the same, if not amplified. The pressure is on for staff, says Dr Tromp. These findings are reflected in a recent survey of 4 303 IT workers by cybersecurity and antivirus provider Kaspersky. The company’s data showed that 54% of employees reported an increased workload since switching to remote working. In South Africa, people worked just over six-and-a-half hours a day leading up to the pandemic. However, since moving to work from home, this number has increased by an additional 38 minutes to over seven hours a day, according to data from The Economist.

Lack of trust and communication

Elise McCabe, a career transition coach and managing director of Career Management Consulting, reveals the top reasons her clients decided to leave their existing employers in 2021: 1) frustration with their employer’s responsiveness to the pandemic, 2) their employer’s lack of sensitivity and 3) a lack of approachability when it came to managers and leaders – especially in terms of remote or hybrid work models and productivity management and expectations. “Many workers have experienced a shift in what is expected of them and not having their boundaries respected, like having meetings after hours and being expected to answer emails after hours. When people are in the last phase of burnout, they tend to make life-changing decisions, like resigning from their jobs,” Dr Tromp.

6 Tips to get employees to stay

#1: Make company culture a priority

Don’t let the pandemic sink your company culture. The global increase in remote work caused by the pandemic threatens to weaken even the strongest of company cultures. Do a recon of your workplace culture. Whether that means improving a toxic existing culture or maintaining and refining an existing one, “a good company culture should foster creativity, collaboration and communication,” says McCabe.

#2: Provide opportunities to grow

Upskilling is essential for organisations that want to retain their valued employees and overcome skills gaps, especially post-pandemic. Providing the opportunity to upskill also allows you to show you care about your employees. “It’s important to encourage and support continuous learning. Implement an upskilling plan to align to a career path that benefits not only the individual, but you as the employer,” says McCabe. “Employers should also look at prioritising internal mobility for their employees, especially to retain top talent, through effective career path creation,” adds McCabe.

#3: Offer a flexible working environment

Research from Afriforte, published in Business Tech, revealed that half of the employees surveyed would like to continue working from home after the pandemic. 41% were keen on a hybrid work model, and only 4% would like to return to the worksite. Consider offering a hybrid timetable that works for both you [and employee], says Dr Tromp. You can also look at introducing a gradual return, which will allow employees time to adapt and work around the hurdles of returning back to the office, like a long commute or organising care for their children.

#4: Compensation

More than a quarter of South African respondents reported a decrease in their income in a Statistics South Africa report between April and May 2020. Monitoring compensation and time between promotions post-pandemic is going to be vital. “Remunerating your employees correctly is an important factor to measure and manage when attracting and retaining talent,” says McCabe. “To ensure salaries are market related, employers can run salary benchmarking research, using platforms such as PayScale and Glassdoor, to remain competitive. These are equally useful tools for employees to use to gain data on market-related salaries.” McCabe also advises regularly reviewing the benefits your company offers. “Keep [your business’s] benefits relevant and applicable. Be mindful when considering which benefits are attractive and going to add value for your employees,” says McCabe.

#5: Implementing wellness programmes

Fitbit’s Georgia McDermott spoke about corporate wellness during the 2021 Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, revealing that nearly half of people surveyed are consuming more junk food, half are more or significantly more sedentary than before the pandemic and 40% lack the motivation to maintain their wellbeing. Mental and emotional wellbeing programmes offer a great way to manage and prevent mental issues such as anxiety, depression, stress and burnout, says McCabe. “If employees feel that they are supported and not ostracised by their employer, it can create feelings of security and being looked after, which can directly influence performance,” says adds.

#6: Communicate often and allow for better feedback

“Organisations need to communicate and share information as frequently as possible. The pandemic has caused plenty of uncertainty, which, in turn, affects people’s emotional wellbeing. Organisations can provide a level of ‘certainty’ by providing open and frequent communication. Even if you do not have all the answers, communicating that you’re working towards the answers can provide comfort,” says Dr Tromp.

More importantly, feedback from employees is a metric often overlooked. A survey done by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking, and solutions company, showed that the businesses they surveyed were strong at communicating with their workforce, with 94% making regular communication and 91% making good use of social channels like Microsoft Teams. However, far fewer were in ‘listening mode’, with only 30% having surveyed their staff opinions since the beginning of the pandemic. “While employers apply metrics to assess and measure causes of employee turnover, data from employee exit interviews are not always accurate and honest; therefore, if this data is considered, it may not offer a realistic theme in terms of the reasons for employee turnover,” says McCabe. “‘Red flag’ reasons for employee turnover can create reputational damage and a problem when trying to retain or attract good talent. So, it may be necessary to rethink how you conduct feedback sessions and exit interviews, to extract honest reasons why employees are leaving.”

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