A record 4.3 million workers in the United States quit their jobs in August of 2021. Since then, people continued to leave their roles in droves, with a staggering 10.9 million open jobs by July’s end. And there’s no sign that this mass exodus will slow down soon.
Economists call this pandemic phenomenon the Great Resignation, a term coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M University. In May 2021, Klotz conjectured that a wave of resignations was coming as workers digested the hardships and lessons of lockdown and reimagined what life going forward should be.
Harvard Business Review found that employees between 30 and 45 years old have the highest resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. While turnover is typically highest among entry-level employees, the study found that resignations actually declined in the 20 to 25 age range (likely due to reduced demand for entry-level roles and financial uncertainty).
What’s behind workers leaving their jobs?
Workers are quitting for several reasons. In an interview, Klotz told Bloomberg that “pent-up resignations” are happening now, instead of in the throes of the pandemic, when many people felt insecure, uncertain, and stressed out. Some workers felt more comfortable quitting due to increased government benefits during the pandemic, while others were likely hunting for a higher salary.
Klotz explains that the resignation numbers are multiplied by several pandemic-related epiphanies—about remote work, purpose, passion projects, time with friends and family, time wasted commuting, and life and death.
But, there seem to be more deep-seated reasons behind the departure, too. Many workers are burnt out after working too hard and long during the pandemic—especially since the lines between “home” and “the office” were blurred.
Rising mental health challenges in the workplace
It’s impossible to talk about the Great Resignation without diving into the many mental health challenges people faced during the pandemic, which took a heavy toll. When companies didn’t provide adequate support for their employees, the tough times just got tougher. A recent survey commissioned by Modern Health reported that just two-thirds of respondents said their employers cared about their mental wellbeing.
Not surprisingly, McKinsey found that addressing the burnout, grief, and loss many people have experienced in the pandemic is one of the crucial challenges for employers trying to retain talent. The perception of the employer’s lack of support or indifference is encouraging some employees to search for jobs elsewhere. In the survey, a third of workers said they were considering changing employers for the sake of their mental health.
What are employees looking for in their next role?
The way we work has changed dramatically since the pandemic began. After having the freedom to work from home, eschewing the hassle of the commute, and dedicating more time to relationships and personal pursuits, it’s no wonder people are reluctant to return to the office full-time.
According to a recent survey, more than a third of participants stated their work-life balance was more satisfactory at the height of the pandemic, and 42% want flexible work situations to continue. Many companies are responding with flexible and remote working policies, fearing employees will quit amidst in-office mandates.
Beyond flexible working policies, employees are looking for a few more upgrades in their next role:
- Personal and Professional Values: A company’s mission and values have always been important, but now more than ever, employees need to feel that they are doing work that matches their sense of self and contribution.
- Meaningful Benefits: After living through a pandemic and feeling constant uncertainty, employees want to know they can rely on good healthcare, unlimited PTO, child and elder care, and career development opportunities. They want individualized benefits (rather than a one-size-fits-all package) and hard proof that employers are investing in their lives and futures.
- Empathetic Pandemic Response: Employees are looking to evaluate employers on how they treated workers during the pandemic, how organized they were with their response, what they’ve done to retain talent, how the pandemic financially impacted their business, and more.
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