Battling the Great Resignation: How Not to Lose Employees and Alienate Them

Millions of Americans have quit unsatisfactory and disappointing jobs, and scores more are likely to follow suit. Employers must act now not only to make their employees stay but to make sure they’re happy.

Battling the Great Resignation: How Not to Lose Employees and Alienate Them
Editorial Team
December 1, 2021
Battling the Great Resignation: How Not to Lose Employees and Alienate Them

They call it the “Great Resignation.” Between April and September of this year, more than 19 million Americans left their jobs. Some 4.4 million people quit in September alone, according to latest figures released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on November 12. That is a “quit rate” of 3%, the highest for any month.

What’s behind this unprecedented quitting binge? Quite simply, the Covid-19 pandemic has given people a rare opportunity to re-evaluate the place work holds in their lives. Many have decided that they’ve had enough of bad bosses, low pay, unfavorable conditions, poor work-life balance, and the general idea that their work must be their identity. While many might have held on to their jobs in 2020 for fear of losing a financial safety net in uncertain times, the current state gives them more confidence to take the leap. This means even quitting without having another job lined up. According to a McKinsey survey released in September, 36% of respondents in five countries – the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Singapore – who quit in the past six months did so without a new job in hand. For the US alone, the figure is 40%.

While attrition rates are highest in low-paying industries such as leisure and hospitality and retail as well as in high-burnout sectors such as healthcare and tech, employers across the board are worried. That’s because the Great Resignation isn’t over. A new Gallup poll says 48% of working Americans are actively job hunting. Furthermore, 18% of those surveyed by McKinsey say they are almost certain to quit in the next three to six months while 40% say they are somewhat likely.

What can employers do in this situation, especially with the talent market stretched to its limits? How can they hold on to their employees and survive the Great Resignation?

Why employees are quitting 

Sixty four percent of employers surveyed by McKinsey expect the worker exodus to worsen in the next six months. Yet, many of them don’t really know why their employees are leaving. Here are the key factors behind the avalanche of resignation and the long wait between jobs:

  • The pandemic led to pay cuts, but it also gave rise to stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, which helped many people give up jobs they disliked to wait for jobs they wanted.
  • Among the most wanted jobs are remote positions. According to job site Glassdoor, the share of online job searches for remote work jumped 460% between June 2019 and June 2021. Additionally, a global survey of 209,000 people found that 89% of the respondents expect to be able to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic ends. However, the demand for remote work far outstrips supply. There are also cultural barriers to remote work at many workplaces. Therefore, those waiting for their desired remote positions might have to wait awhile.
  • Currently, 74% of people are disengaged with their jobs (up from 69% in 2019), and the pandemic has given them the opportunity to reassess their priorities.
  • There has been a suburban shift with both companies and individuals moving to the suburbs and smaller cities in large numbers. Since the jobs are no longer where the workers are, vacancies are on the rise.
  • The Delta variant has forced many anxious employees to quit, especially in cities with no mask mandates and in offices that are aggressively pushing ahead with their return-to-work plans despite concerns. A federal vaccine mandate – according to which companies with 100 workers and more must ensure their employees are vaccinated or face weekly tests and mask requirements – has been put on hold by the courts, leading to more confusion among the workforce.
  • Those who have quit don’t have the skills for the jobs that are available.
  • Finally, employees want better – wages, benefits, conditions, work culture, and managers. This sentiment is behind the sharp spike in attempts to unionize workplaces in the US. The approval rate of labor unions in the US is 68% for 2021, the highest in 50 years. October, which saw more than 100,000 workers across industries participate in various labor actions such as strikes and picket lines, was dubbed “Strike-tober”.

How employers stand to lose

A rash of resignations can ruin a company in many ways:

  • Financial loss: Resignations lead to replacements, which are expensive. Replacing just one employee costs American companies up to two times their annual salary.
  • Lost talent: Finding an appropriate replacement is easier said than done. Given the rapid transformation of in-demand skill sets, talent is scarce. There are too many job openings and far too few people to fill them. This explains the 10.4 million job openings versus 6.5 million hires in the US for the year as of the end of September.
  • Loss of productivity: When a team member leaves and a replacement is hard to come by, the team finds itself missing a key skill set. This impacts quality of work, project completion, and bottom lines.
  • Loss of morale: If the person who quits happens to be a great performer, innovator, or problem-solver, their departure will most certainly lower team morale, again leading to a drop in productivity.
  • Domino effect: The departure of a team member means an increase in workload and stress for the remaining members. If the burden is too heavy, they might be tempted to jump ship as well, even if it wasn’t their intention originally. Tempting offers of remote work and flexible hours from rival companies might make them put in their papers.
  • Loss of tribal knowledge: Tribal knowledge is undocumented information known by certain individuals or groups within a company. When a seasoned hand makes way for a newcomer, a loss of tribal knowledge is expected.

Beating the Great Resignation: How to make your employees stay

1. Make them feel valued

Fifty-four percent of employees don’t feel valued by their organizations. Showing you care can be as simple as aligning employee benefits with employee priorities. For example, family responsibilities are a major reason why people are quitting or thinking of quitting. Offering family-centric benefits such as childcare and nursing services might help change their minds. Many organizations now offer greater flexibility as a desired work condition. In fact, flexible hours actually mean more work hours – 2.5 more hours a day, to be exact. Employers who really care about their employees can further sweeten their flexibility offer with generous paid time off and more holidays. It’s time to treat your employees the way you treat your customers. Learnit’s Customer Experience workshops are tailored to teach you how to treat your customers well, so that they treat you the same. Taking these classes can also help you learn to value your employees more.

2. Empathize with them

If 54% of employees don’t feel valued by their organizations, 52% don’t feel valued by their managers. What’s more, 92% of employees are more likely to stay if their managers show more empathy. It is essential that managers and leaders develop empathy for their team members and the challenges they are facing in these tough times. It pays to practice empathetic leadership, allowing managers to build solid relationships based on trust with their team members. This makes employees feel valued and invested in, which in turn improves their productivity and engagement with the company. To be empathetic, managers and leaders require certain skills such as listening to others without being judgmental, communicating with compassion, and considering another’s perspective. Fortunately, these are all skills that can be learned. Learnit offers various classes on Empathy, including the Emotional Intelligence workshop that will help your managers and leaders acquire effective empathy tools such as focused listening and understanding non-verbal communication. The Communication Strategies workshop will help them become effective communicators who know how to frame sentences for easier acceptance and avoid language that makes it hard for their audience to listen.

3. Train them well

According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends report, companies that rank highly on employee training see 53% lower attrition. Yet, Training Magazine’s 2020 Training Industry Report says midsize US companies cut training expenses by 30% and large companies by 40% last year from the year before. It’s no wonder that employees are looking elsewhere. In a new poll of 2,000 employees at midsize and large US companies, 47% percent of the respondents admitted to looking for new jobs that could provide them with growth opportunities while 43% felt their professional growth had slowed or stopped. 

To stop bleeding talent, companies must continue to invest in training their people or else the losses from mass resignations will dwarf the savings from training budget cuts. E-learning solutions are an easy and fairly affordable training option for big and small companies. Learnit offers a wide range of classes focused on the personal development of employees. From Critical Thinking and Presentation Skills to Time Management and Negotiation Skills, there’s something to suit everyone’s needs. The Avoid Burnout While Working Remotely workshop is extremely relevant to our times, given that burnout is a top reason for employees quitting their jobs. This class equips employees with the tools and techniques needed to avoid burning out on the job and trains managers to recognize signs of burnout around them. We recommend the Thrive in Chaos workshop for organizations and teams struggling to make up for team members who have left. Through this class, they can learn to regain focus, communicate effectively under pressure, and make decisions swiftly and confidently.

For companies, training employees is just one aspect of helping them advance in their careers. It is also an employer’s responsibility to ask each employee what motivates them and where they see themselves two, five, or ten years down the line. Based on the employee’s response and the results of their training, employers can then look for opportunities for advancement that might exist for them within the organization, even if it lies outside their current teams.

4. Be inclusive

Diverse organizations are 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability than their competitors. Compared to individuals, diverse teams deliver better outcomes 87% of the time. Diverse teams show greater acceptance, tolerance, trust, innovation, and relationship building. They are likely to have better morale and superior decision making. An effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) strategy can lead to all of the above advantages, yet not all organizations value diversity and inclusivity. This is a costly mistake because a lack of diversity might be encouraging many individuals to quit. The previously mentioned McKinsey study points to a greater likelihood among employees who identified as non-white or multiracial to quit because they felt they didn’t belong in their organizations compared to their white counterparts. 

How can a company embrace diversity and inclusivity? Learnit’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion competency is a good place to start. The Inclusion workshop trains employees to work more effectively with team members of differing backgrounds, abilities, nationalities, genders, and religions. Meanwhile, the Unconscious Bias and Microaggression class is designed to help people realize their hidden biases and stop them from behaving or thinking in a discriminatory manner. While training employees and managers to become more inclusive is vital to controlling resignations stemming from lack of diversity, organizations should ideally extend their DE&I strategy to their recruitment policy so that they can attract a diverse workforce.

5. Re-imagine the way you lead

It’s a common refrain that people quit because of bad bosses, and the Great Resignation is very much about picking a fight with all the mean managers who made your work life miserable. Just take a look at Antiwork, the subreddit dedicated to telling off bad bosses. It has over a million subscribers already. To tackle the Great Resignation – which many are calling a “workers’ revolution” – companies must change the way they lead their people. Leaders cannot afford to delude themselves into thinking that they will just hire more talent than they lose. There simply isn’t enough talent to go around. Instead, they must focus on making people stay, even if it means changing themselves in the process. The days of being an old-school manager who likes to dictate terms to their team are gone. Today, employees place great importance on being heard and understood by their leaders, and that’s what leaders should aspire to do. They must prioritize personal and professional interactions with team members, which are more important now with large sections of the workforce working remotely and feeling increasingly disengaged and isolated. Managers can take Learnit’s Build the Foundation of a Good Remote Team class to better understand the psychological and emotional challenges of remote work and learn how to empower their remote teams to succeed and earn their respect. Similarly, the Create a Culture of Accountability workshop teaches leaders to seek and get accountability while being respectful to their employees. Finally, the Elevating Managerial Effectiveness workshop tackles one of the most pertinent questions of our times – Why do people quit? The answer: for want of growth opportunities. Taking the class will help leaders know how to provide opportunities for growth and thereby maintain a healthy staff strength.