The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to many of us what’s truly important. And for a good number of workers, being bound to unfulfilling jobs, boring offices, and toxic corporate culture isn’t one of them. People have now had over 18 months to think about their professional lives, and it’s clear that this time hasn’t been squandered by the majority.

As lockdown restrictions around the world have been lifted, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented exodus of employees leaving the jobs that they held before the pandemic hit, an event that has been called “The Great Resignation” by some.

As with other ‘Greats’ we’ve seen throughout history, such as The Great Depression and The Great Recession, the impact could be catastrophic for businesses.


What is the ‘Great Resignation’?

As Anthony Klotz put it, “The Great Resignation” is the idea that a large proportion of people will quit their jobs after the pandemic.

In his article, he explains: “Due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, many employees who would have otherwise quit their jobs stayed put … As the pandemic subsides, these would-be quitters who ‘sheltered in place’ last year will likely enact their plans to leave.”

In other words, there is a backlog of employees who are ready to quit their jobs and search for new opportunities, and the mass exodus has long since begun.

According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, a whopping 41 percent of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year. Meanwhile, a survey of workers in the UK & Ireland was equally as dire, with 38 percent of workers indicating the same.

If you want raw numbers, 4 million people left their current employer in April 2021, the highest number on record according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a worryingly high number.


What’s Causing the ‘Great Resignation’?

High turnover numbers cause problems not just for employers due to the operational cost, it also brings emotional stress for existing employees.

With “The Great Resignation” already sweeping through industries throughout the world—indeed, you may have already lost talent to it—it’s important to consider factors that could be influencing it so that remedial action can be taken internally.

Some of the factors that have been cited as contributing to the current resignation phenomenon include:

  • Dissatisfaction with current roles.
  • Dissatisfaction with development opportunities.
  • A desire for more flexibility (i.e., not being forced to return to the office.)
  • A lack of humanity from employers during the pandemic.
  • Disappointment in employer’s lack of social responsibility (BLM & other movements).
  • Looking for a new career path.

J. P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, says in ‘The Shift From Remote Work To Anywhere Workthat the desire to work from home is a factor that’s contributing the most to current resignation activity.

Forrester’s own data shows that 53 percent of employees want to keep working from home. Although as many as 70 percent of companies are expected to adopt a hybrid working model post-pandemic, not all organizations will, and not all jobs will qualify.

Second to this overarching desire to continue working from home is worker finance. While some people have slipped further into poverty due to the pandemic, others have increased their savings. This means that some workers are using their newfound financial cushion to take a break from work and make a career change.


What Employers Should Do to Fight It

The current resignations trend makes for more worrying uncertainty for employers who are just beginning to get over the COVID-19 pandemic. Chances are that your own organization has already or is currently experiencing higher than usual turnover levels.

While it’s too late to change the minds of those who have already left, there are practical steps you can take to improve the experiences of the employees that have remained.


Find Out What Your Employees Want

Engaging with your employees and finding out what they want is the best way to get started. Conducting things like surveys can offer useful insights into where your employees are experiencing the most problems, i.e., such as fears surrounding a return to the office.

By collecting and analyzing feedback from both current and former employees, you can pinpoint why people have resigned and prevent those who have remained from leaving by tackling underlying issues and addressing their wants and needs.


Eliminate Uncertainty

The first thing that employers should do is eliminate as much uncertainty as possible around your current working rules and operating procedures. You need to be clear about what stance your organization is taking and what things like flexible and hybrid working mean for it.

Before taking a firm stance, however, it’s a good idea to hold focus groups, gather feedback, and survey employees about what they want. Trusting employees and providing a level of flexibility and autonomy is the best way to retain employees after the pandemic.


Offer Flexible Working Options

You knew this one was coming. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us beyond doubt that remote work can work for all but a relatively small number of specialist or business-critical job roles.

As a result, a large chunk of the workforce expects that they’ll continue to have the option to work from home at least some of the time once the pandemic is over. If your employees feel like they’re not being listened to and you force people to come back into the office en masse, you can expect them to start leaving—especially if you can’t justify why they need to work from the office.


Prioritize Employee Development

The pandemic left a lot of employees feeling ready for new and exciting things. Not just seeing friends and going on holiday but developing professionally, too.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to look at creating ways for employees to grow and develop within your organization. Proactively create accessible and transparent pathways that all employees can take advantage of. If internal career or role changes are possible, make sure your employees are aware of them, and encourage managers to dig deeper into their teams to identify people who might benefit the most from further development.


Make Your Return to Work Plans Clear and Known

Employees who don’t feel like they’re being talked to or kept in the loop start to feel undervalued. This can be a significant factor when it comes to resignations and employee turnover.

As a McKinsey survey recently found, many employees feel that they’ve yet to hear enough about their employers’ plans for post-COVID working. While many organizations have said that they plan to embrace a more hybridized approach in the future, very few have said what they mean by this, and this uncertainty is causing some employees to head for the door.

If you haven’t yet, share your plans for post-pandemic working with your employees (and if you don’t have any yet(!!), it’s time to get drafting.)