After a two-year parade of new linguistic inventions, the ‘Great Resignation‘ is one of the most defining – a snappy catchphrase with weighty implications, particularly for those in the world of business.
And now with a Wikipedia page all its own, the ‘Great Resignation’ or the ‘Big Quit’ has carved itself a place in the annals of COVID-19 history.
The prevailing narrative surrounding the ‘Great Resignation’ is that the pandemic brought to light and exacerbated a tempest of discontent that had long been simmering beneath the surface for many employees.
The worsening of these sore points – burnout, stress, an overall lack of flexibility in meeting wellbeing needs, and more – pushed many employees, collectively and individually, to reassess their priorities and workplace expectations.
Naturally, many analysts and businesses perceive the ‘Big Quit’ as a negative trend: employees face heightened job and financial uncertainty, while employers must devote more of their strained resources to recruitment and retention efforts.
But like many challenges of COVID-19, the ‘Great Resignation’ also brings with it a vast and untapped opportunity for business leaders to recalibrate how they approach employer-employee relations.
Here’s how workplaces can turn today’s ‘Big Quit’ into tomorrow’s big win.
Creating an employee-first experience
The ‘Great Resignation’ is bound to leave employers with a lot on their plates.
Investing in employee wellbeing will be an increasingly critical part of how companies can stand out in a jobseeker-first market.
Still, they must also bear in mind that extensive wellbeing commitments are now the norm. Large corporations are especially known for trying to outflank each other with the widest-ranging and most ambitious sets of benefits – a trend that is continually shifting the needle on wellbeing expectations.
But tossing out a willy-nilly wad of identikit benefits won’t do much to impress current employees or make a business stand out to potential employees. And the shelf life of experiential moments or company merch is limited compared to benefits that promote and reward individual wellbeing.
Accordingly, businesses should prioritize wellbeing benefits that are rooted in empathy and driven by the actual needs of their individual employees.
Expanding employee benefits
It is no secret that workplace benefits have historically – and unfairly – largely been the preserve of office workers.
Far too few people consider that supermarket shelf stackers, farm pickers, or delivery drivers can and should also benefit from private health insurance, life insurance, free gym memberships, or even happy hours and team outings.
The ‘Great Resignation’ is egalitarian, sidelining preexisting workforce stratification and casting its shadow over various sectors, blue and white-collar alike.
While office workers have struggled to balance Zoom meetings and home-based schooling, the expanding gig economy and its front-line workers, many of whom have kept society functioning during the pandemic, increasingly have their own discontents as well.
This feeds a growing sense that the changing structure of the job market should lead to a realignment in terms of workplace culture.
Employers would do well to extend their benefits to their entire workforce.
Supermarkets should reward their shelf stackers in the same way they look out for data analysts and marketing executives at their HQs.
Such a model, founded in building an organization-wide culture, promotes internal loyalty and pride from those at all levels of an organization.
Flexibility about how we work
A primary focus of the HR discourse since the pandemic outbreak has been centered as much on where office workers do their jobs as on any other factor.
How will we adapt to remote working? When will we be back in the office? What if some people don’t want to come back? How do we manage a hybrid model? Should we offer employees a choice of where they work?
These questions are a touch outdated. At this point, businesses should have already gained a sense of where their employees prefer to work, where they collaborate best, and how to flexible meet the breadth of those needs.
By contrast, the conversation around how we let employees work is still in its infancy.
Flexibility isn’t just a matter of physical location. It’s a matter of management as well – the ability for employees to manage the structure of their working days and the tasks therein in a way that is conducive to overall wellbeing.
For proof, look no further than this recent LinkedIn survey which reported that general flexibility is the fastest-growing priority for US workers.
Thus, in pursuing and defining flexibility within their own organizations, employers would do well to engage compassionately with those who work for them and seek to understand how their employees see hierarchy and structure within the organization.
Only then will employers be able to effectively define what “workplace flexibility” should and will mean within their specific office.
Where is work heading after the ‘Great Resignation’?
Though the term itself will be forever enshrined on Wikipedia, the tangible reverberations of the ‘Great Resignation’ will eventually recede from our consciousness.
At some point, employees will revert to pre-pandemic levels of in-work stability, or the turnover tumult will continue, turning the churn of 2021 into a norm.
Only time will tell if, how, and when the dust will finally settle. But once the market reaches an equilibrium, employers will hopefully be able to discern accurately and astutely which techniques have proven most helpful in enabling employees to weather this period of uncertainty.
Certain long-term reactions have already been set in motion, evidenced, for example, by the rise of financial wellness programs as a component of an overall wellness offering, with 46% of US employers offering such programs in 2021, up from 40% a year earlier.
I believe it is safe to anticipate that, once the short-term shock of the ‘Great Resignation’ has passed, the overall experience will have helped employers up their game significantly and boost employees’ engagement at work.
The mass trend of employees quitting their jobs was certainly a wake-up call. But how employers answer that call will determine what proves most beneficial in the long run.