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“The Great Resignation”: why are so many thinking about quitting?

“The Great Resignation”: why are so many thinking about quitting?

 

That’s it. They’ve had enough. Enough of the endless Teams calls. Enough of putting their career development on hold. Enough of feeling unsupported, overloaded, and overlooked by their employers.
 
If the reports are true, record numbers of people around the world have come to the realisation that, for them, enough is enough and are considering voluntarily leaving their jobs.
 
Seven reasons why so many people are considering leaving their jobs

According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, 41 per cent of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year. That’s a very high number indeed.
 
It’s been dubbed the “The Great Resignation” by organisational psychologist, Dr Anthony Klotz, and for good reason. As with the other ‘Greats’ we’ve witnessed across history, take “The Great Recession”, or “The Great Depression”, for instance, the impact could be monumental.
 
Just think about the implications for a minute. If you’re a business leader, almost half of your entire workforce may, right now, be thinking about leaving you. Where does that put your growth plans? Your customers? Your bottom line? Just when you thought you could see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and get back to resurrecting your business, your greatest assets are leaving you.
 
Before we dive into the reasons before this unprecedented movement of talent, it’s important to note that certain demographics of society appear to be more open to the idea of quitting than others. As explained in this Guardian piece, “Socioeconomic differences will shape who is quitting and why.”
 
  • Blue collar workers: In this piece, Sandra Sucher, Harvard Business School professor and author of the forthcoming “The Power of Trust”, noted that low-wage workers are particularly motivated to change jobs with even marginally better offers. As explained in this BBC article, “Many retail and service workers are departing in favour of entry-level positions elsewhere – in warehouses or offices, for instance – that actually pay less, but offer more benefits, upward mobility and compassion. With employers across the board looking for new hires, many have found it’s easy to find another job and make the transition.”
 
  • Gen Z: Microsoft’s research found that 54 per cent of Generation Z workers could be considering handing in their resignation, and pointed to the fact that “…Gen Z reported difficulties feeling engaged and excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table.”
 
  • Mid-career workers and managers: Research from people analytics firm, Visier, found that the cohort of employees aged between 30-45 years old saw large increases in resignations between August 2019 and August 2020, signalling that those who are more established in their careers are more likely to consider to switching jobs. Plus, as of December 2020, resignations among managers were 12 per cent higher than the previous year.

So, what’s behind this predicted mass exodus of talent? What’s triggering people to want to leave their jobs in such vast numbers?
 
1. They finally feel confident searching for a new job

According to Klotz, those people who had planned on leaving their jobs pre-pandemic but decided to hold off due to the instability caused by COVID-19, are now resuming their job searches with a new-found gusto. As a result, the backlog of resignations that have built up over the last 18 months are now beginning to clear.
 
This is hardly surprising. With rising vaccination rates globally, and the gradual opening up of economies, we’re seeing a seismic shift in the job market and confidence returning almost everywhere in the world. This sentiment is echoed by Neil Carberry, chief executive at the UK-based the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), who said, "The jobs market is improving at the fastest pace we have ever seen, but it is still an unpredictable time."  In fact, our own UK & Ireland Salary Guide revealed that 63 per cent of employers are currently recruiting. There are more opportunities out there than there have been in a long time, so many feel now is the right time to finally make their move. But what else is at play?
 
2. They’ve been given the time and space to reflect on both their personal and professional lives

If people weren’t already considering looking for a new role before the pandemic hit, then chances are that they are now. According to our recent LinkedIn poll of over 25k people, 74 per cent said that the pandemic has made them consider their job or career choices.
 
Whether it’s feeling unsupported on a number of levels by their employers, or the fact that, as Klotz argues, we’ve all been forced to confront our own mortality in a way that we’ve never had to before, for many, the pandemic has afforded people the time and space to reflect on their working lives – something that many have never had the luxury of doing before.
 
As explained in LinkedIn’s ‘Hello Monday’ podcast, lots of people have simply realised that life is too short to do a job they don’t love, for a company they don’t think cares about them.
 
3. They just don’t want to go back to the office…ever

After 18 months of working from their own homes, where they are the ones in control, doing their jobs in a way that works best for them and enjoying the freedom to live their personal lives alongside their 9-5’s, some just don’t want to go back to the office. This, coupled with the fact that many have already relocated or are planning to in order to be closer to family or to achieve the lifestyle they’ve always dreamt of, the prospect of having to return to the office has been a big trigger to leave for many people. This is reflected by Microsoft’s research, which found that 46 per cent of people say they’re likely to move because they can work remotely now.
 
But is returning to the office, at least part of the time, really going to be as bad in reality as what many have convinced themselves it will be in their own minds? Lots of people, including myself, feel they have re-discovered a newfound sense of connection with people that they have been lacking for over a year, just by going into the office a couple of days a week.
 
In my mind, both our homes and our offices have a part to play in enabling us to lead fulfilling working lives, but I appreciate that not everyone feels that way.
 
4. They’re burned out

We’ve seen the headlines - burnout right now is real and it’s rife. According to Microsoft’s survey:
 
  • 37 per cent of the global workforce say their companies are asking too much of them at a time like this
  • One in five think their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance
  • 54 per cent feel overworked and 39 per cent feel exhausted
  • The average Microsoft Teams user is sending 42 per cent more chats after hours, with 50 per cent of people responding to Teams chats within five minutes
Microsoft argues that these frightening stats “…prove the intensity of the workday, and that what is expected of workers during this time has increased significantly.” I’d have to agree. It’s no wonder so many people are reconsidering their job options.
 
Technology has been the Great Enabler for us all to continue to do our jobs and keep our economies and societies from total collapse over the last 18 months. Imagine if we had had to cope with a global pandemic just a few years ago without Teams and Zoom, no fast internet, no mobiles, no online banking/shopping/food delivery/Netflix/everything else that enables our lives today? If this had happened 20 years ago, I’m not sure how we would have kept working, so technology has been our saviour. But technology has also blurred the lines between work and private life and the level of burnout and exhaustion is unsustainable.
 
5. They want to hit ‘play’ on their career growth

Everyone wants to feel that they are moving forward, that they are on the path to personal growth and success. The need to feel a sense of progress is an innately human one, but it’s a feeling many haven’t necessarily experienced for a long time.
 
Many have put their own personal development on pause. Instead, they’ve been busy keeping the businesses they work for afloat. Upskilling for many has been off the radar, a secondary concern that can wait until tomorrow, the next month or even the next year.
 
That mindset is starting to shift, with many reaching for the ‘play’ button again. High performing workers, according to research from Axios, are the most concerned about their career advancement in their current job, with 75 per cent of people saying the pandemic has made them question their skillsets.
 
Unfortunately, many feel that to reach the next level and achieve their goals, they have no choice but to move jobs. To me, this is a wholly avoidable challenge and one that employers should be tackling head on. It’s well known that career progression is a crucial factor in employee engagement in an organisation. Without it, people who want to get on will go elsewhere and create value for someone else. And those that stay may well not be as engaged in your success as you hope or think.
 
6. They are motivated by financial reasons

For those who have continued to work during the pandemic, their savings have probably increased. Without the commuting costs, the after-work drinks, the meals out or lunches in, most have actually managed to save money. This financial cushion has led many to feel more confident to make a move, or even to leave a job without having another lined up. For many, this financial freedom has given them more space to make the career decisions that are right for them.
 
Secondly, thanks to sites like Glassdoor and salary.com, people now have more visibility than ever before into exactly what salary their own unique skillset and experience can command. And, when they do decide to move, particularly those working in tech and life sciences, they often realise a 15-20 per cent salary increase. These numbers can make a big difference to someone’s finances and I’m sure are a huge driver behind all the movement we’re seeing in the market.
 
7. They’ve realised they don’t actually like their jobs

Without the welcome distractions and colleague camaraderie that comes with working in an office, many people have been left to just do their jobs at home. And, with all of the peripheral interactions and distractions stripped back, many have realised that they don’t actually enjoy the work they do, especially when they don’t have all the other softer stuff to break up their days. The reality of what they do has really hit them.
 
On top of that, despite the constant Teams calls and chats, many are feeling disconnected from their teams, their managers and their organisations, as explained by Cassie Whitlock, head of human resources for BambooHR, “Many have lost a sense of connection to the workplace,” she says. “Even if they’re getting time with their manager, we discovered they’re having fewer interactions, and the quality of those interactions is diminished. They’re not having a feeling of genuine connection. They feel less seen, recognized, and appreciated.”
 
As a result, there’s been a huge rise in people choosing to go it alone and set up their own solo ventures. According to the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, the pace of new business applications since mid-2020 has been the highest on record, and across the course of the pandemic there’s been a rise in side hustles. This is echoed by Microsoft’s research which found that 46 per cent of people are planning to make a major career pivot or transition.
 
So…do you think “The Great Resignation” is really going to happen? Or is it already here?
 
If you’re planning to be part of it, what are your reasons for wanting to quit?
 
And on the flip side, as a leader, what are you doing to attract and retain your talent? What lessons have you learnt from the pandemic that will help you do that? Here at Hays, we are consciously looking at those lessons to design a better business for all in the future, but that’s not a simple or trivial process as there are so many facets to consider.