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Insert reason for leaving: Unpacking ‘The Great Resignation’

Chris Parke, CEO - Talking Talent

There are many phrases about job fulfilment, from the ever popular and flawed ‘find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life’, to the ongoing glorification of ‘hustle culture’. The modern working population has been perpetuated by the narrative of ‘work hard, play hard’, but what happens when the ‘play hard’ is no longer possible? Of course, this was the case in early 2020 where, virtually overnight, a workforce was sent home. Hobbies, leisure, and socialising were put on pause and, for those who continued to work full-time, their job was a solo exercise with little else in between. Now more than 18 months on, ‘The Great Resignation’ is the phrase to know. The notion is sweeping workplaces and taking talent with it as we now re-evaluate what work actually means for us and if our current employer is still fit for purpose.

Some have celebrated The Great Resignation as a much-needed mindset shift but for businesses, this may be a worrying trend. A recent survey conducted by Microsoft of over 30,000 of their global employees revealed that 41% of workers considered quitting or changing professions in 2021. In August 2021, the number of open jobs in the UK surpassed 1 million, the highest figure on record. There are several reasons why employees are looking for new opportunities. For businesses that want to retain talent, it’s essential to understand what is beneath the mass departures sweeping professions around the world.

A period of reflection
Something the pandemic brought about for many was a significant increase in free time. Naturally, time breeds reflection and a reassessing of priorities. Many of us will have learnt quickly that work alone cannot give life fulfilment and it’s the activities we fit around it that give us the truest joy. And thus, a new role with flexibility and more time off that equals increased time for family, creative passions, and travel, is much more attractive.

Some workers pined for more emotional support from their employer, others more understanding when it came to parental responsibilities, and others began to consider if their role was even right at all. Above all else, burnout has been cited as the number one reason job-changers left their previous employers. For employees who experienced burnout to the extent that they left their roles, the employers they left have a duty of care to improve.

It is telling that resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees between the ages of 30 and 45. This data goes against the presumption that younger workers are more likely to resign and shows how even those who have built up careers over years are reaching a point of no-return due to outdated working practices that should not go on.

The new force
Within the time that that the pandemic has raged on, a whole new set of workers have entered the workforce. Graduates who would have previously benefited from hands-on support from superiors and been nurtured by social aspects of work, are now starting careers from home. With this new dynamic, these new employees, who have little experience of any other way of working at this point, often feel disconnected from their employers and feel little loyalty to the brands they represent. Showing these new employees that they are valued and can grow within an organisation is a new challenge and, while the social aspect is key, office beers and fruit baskets just aren’t going to cut it anymore. The culture must be one that supports wellbeing and promotes psychological safety.

Data shows that Gen Z care most about work-life balance and personal wellbeing; the previous ‘work hard…’ culture is showing its age. When looking to retain this new talent group, businesses should consider how much value they actually bring to their employees’ lives. Is there enough time off? Do you allow workers to support causes? And are you considering the whole person as more than a means to a business end? In addition, Gen Z can lean towards scepticism and lack of trust after an upbringing of misinformation and media negativity. In business this means that this generation will see through brand puff and quickly grow tired of a company that makes cultural promises, yet consistently fails to deliver.

Insert reason to stay
People do not leave a role without reason, but we can flip that on its head – why should your employees stay with your company? If there isn’t a quick selection of tangible answers then this is a serious business concern. If worker priorities have shifted, then businesses need to respond accordingly, or risk losing talent to more forward-thinking employers. The first step is to spot the signs in an employee who may be thinking about leaving. For example, an employee who is feeling burnt out may be contributing less than before, or requiring more sporadic sick leave.

Can you as the employer support them more long-term? Do they require flexible working arrangements or perhaps one-to-one pastoral support? Employees also respond well to companies that prioritise DEI initiatives, i.e. those that make opportunities for under-represented groups. If your organisation has let these initiatives fall to the wayside during COVID, staff may lose faith and look elsewhere. Progression is also important to many employees. While hustle should not overtake wellbeing, advocating employees’ career growth could prevent them from leaving and is a good way to show them that they are valued.

The Great Resignation should be a wake-up call for many employers. It is not just a media buzzword but the result of incorrect workplace practices going unchecked for too long. HR professionals and business leaders alike must continually examine how workers feel, and not let companies become complacent with their talent. After all, what is your business without your people? Without action, you may soon find out.

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