If you work in HR, lead people, manage people, or had to hire people anytime in the last two years, you are all too familiar with the term “Great Resignation”.
What started out as an organizational psychology term has now become part of our regular business lexicon. It’s become synonymous with work in the COVID-19 era and spurred thousands of think pieces on topics like employee engagement, compensation, company culture, and work-life balance.
So much has already been written about the Great Resignation that what I write here probably won’t be novel or groundbreaking. I’m also not an organizational psychologist or an economist that can predict what will happen with the labor markets.
Rather, I’m here as somebody who guided a team through the turbulence of The Great Resignation to recap, reflect, and offer my perspective on what has been the most significant labor trend of our lifetime.
How the Great Resignation started
The Great Resignation set off such a seismic shift in the global economy that it’s hard to believe the term is only a year old. Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, coined the term “Great Resignation” in a May 2021 interview with Bloomberg.
Klotz predicted that the pent-up resignations that didn’t happen the previous year due to COVID-related uncertainty would be multiplied by pandemic-related epiphanies about burnout, work-life balance, commuting, passions, and health and wellness.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the hardest hit industries were those that required in-person attendance and traditionally had low pay, including food services, leisure, hospitality, and retail industries.
We in the tech industry were certainly not immune from the Great Resignation either. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, tech workers had the skills and tools to quickly and seamlessly pivot to hybrid work. This allowed the tech industry to maintain productivity throughout the pandemic and give employees the flexibility and work-life balance they wanted and needed.
From an employer perspective, it opened up the pool of potential talent because recruiters could cast a much bigger geographic net. From an employee perspective, it gave people more options and employment possibilities without the major hurdle of relocation – and people seized this opportunity.
Famed organizational psychologist Adam Grant agrees that the roots of the Great Resignation reach back many years. Grant states that more than a decade ago, psychologists saw a generational shift in the centrality of work in our lives. Millennials were more interested in jobs that provided leisure time and vacation time than Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. They were less concerned about net worth than net freedom.
Back in 2013, Grant wrote about data from the Pew Research Center that showed more than 90% of workers who left the labor market were happy about the decision. COVID-19 was just an accelerant of a movement already in progress.
Is there an end in sight?
Fuller and Kerr believe that the numbers we’re seeing in 2022 are back in line with the pre-pandemic trend, and thus employers will likely be contending with the Great Resignation for years to come.
More than 4.3 million U.S. workers walked away from their jobs in May 2022, slightly down from the 4.4 million in April, and 4.2 million people quit in June, despite an economic cooldown and concerns of a recession.
Klotz, now a professor at the University College London, also believes this trend is not going away anytime soon. In an interview with Fortune Magazine this past April, Klotz said that resignations will continue at a higher rate for many more months as people continue to evaluate what it means to have a healthy work-life balance.
In other words, people are still sorting out their lives amidst the pandemic.
Another issue that Klotz believes workers are dealing with is burnout. Nearly two and a half years into the pandemic, the labor shortage has meant more pressure on employees to take on more work. Meanwhile, employees are reflecting on their values and priorities, all while coping and processing a global pandemic and sociopolitical and geopolitical unrest.
And as more and more companies are calling their employees back in the office part-time or full-time, people who don’t want to give up the flexibility of remote work may look for new job opportunities or leave the workforce altogether.
Is quiet quitting the new Great Resignation?
Like his predictions about the Great Recession, Klotz’s thoughts on burnout appear to be on the mark. A new organizational psychology term, quiet quitting, is quickly gaining traction.
Back in July, a TikTok video with the hashtag #quietquitting was posted by @zkchillin and went viral. Other TikTok users shared their own experiences in response, and #quietquitting now has millions of views around the world.
Quiet quitting does not refer to actually quitting a job. Rather, employees are no longer going above and beyond what they are paid to do. To avoid burnout, they are drawing boundaries around the tasks and work they believe they are not being paid to do.
But the term quiet quitting is in itself stigmatizing because it’s centered on the idea that drawing boundaries is equivalent to quitting, and to me, this goes against the very notion of flexibility, autonomy, and work-life balance that many employers espouse and are promoting.
What quiet quitting boils down to, very simply, is burnout from overworking your employees. Some HR thought leaders even believe that quiet quitting is a good thing, as it prevents burnout and is conducive to long-term productivity and greater retention.
How do you know if your employees are feeling burnt out?
In the employee engagement space, these are the classic telltale signs:
- A drop in productivity
- Low motivation
- Decreased communication
- Withdrawing from teammates
As the saying goes, “if there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Because if one employee is showing these signs, it’s very likely other employees feel the same way – and it’s time to act quickly.
How employers can combat the Great Resignation
Whether you’re addressing turnover or you’re sensing withdrawal and disengagement from your employees, here are four actions that we took here at G2 that may help you stem the tide, improve employee retention, and drive engagement with your workforce.
Listen and act on feedback
Letting your employees talk and hearing what they have to say is just as important as you talking to them. Survey your employees often, make sure you have feedback channels that are confidential and anonymous, and conduct in-depth growth interviews and exit interviews.
Here at G2, we conduct engagement surveys every three months. With frequent surveying and acting on that feedback, we were able to increase our eNPS score by 30 points from the beginning of COVID to now.
Lead by example
Culture stems from the top. If leaders and managers aren’t taking time off, employees won’t feel comfortable doing so. If leaders and managers are working all hours of the day, employees will feel pressured to do the same.
It’s important that leaders and managers visibly draw boundaries as well. G2’s CEO Godard Abel shares that he blocks time on his calendar every day for physical activity, which creates a safe and encouraging environment for others to do the same.
Support and celebrate non-work entities
At the heart of the Great Resignation and quiet quitting trends is burnout, and employees feeling unable to balance all their different identities. It’s important that employers recognize the identities and interests of employees outside of their role.
At G2, we have a network of employee resource groups (ERGs) that have the freedom and flexibility to support employees however they see fit. We offer unlimited PTO that employees can take for family, travel, hobbies, etc. Most recently, we launched a global wellness program that gives employees a flexible stipend to use however they like for their physical and/or mental wellness.
Encourage time for play and rest
At G2, the Great Resignation was an opportunity to redefine what “wellness” means to us, and how our benefits can be more inclusive. Our benefits and perks are rooted in our belief that when an employee feels balanced in their life and healthy, they can be better teammates and bring their best selves to work.
In fact, it’s part of our leadership principles. Principle four, Lead Consciously, includes the commitment of Play and Rest, which encourages rest, renewal, and taking care of ourselves so we are energized and continually set up for success.
This led to the creation of our new flexible Global Wellness Program that allows our employees to choose the wellness activity that best fits their unique schedules, working locations, and individual goals.
Balance is everything
As Chief People Officer, it’s my job to think about the holistic work journey and experience through the eyes of our employees – from recruiting to exiting, working hours and nonworking hours, learning and development, and total rewards.
But having lived and worked through the Great Resignation, and now quiet quitting, I believe there is a key takeaway for employers: employees see their work lives and their non-work lives inextricably intertwined.
This is why work-life balance has become a focal issue and why the saying “it’s not personal, it’s business” is no longer relevant.
When an employee works overtime, their family loses out on time. When an employee does not have access to new opportunities, that impacts their performance and creates disengagement. When an employee doesn’t take vacation and get away from work, it leads to burnout.
The Great Resignation is a reflection of the way employees have fundamentally changed the way they view work, so it’s imperative that employers change the way they see boundaries and work-life balance.
If employees are meeting expectations and deadlines, respecting their boundaries will not hinder productivity. It’s a strategic long-term investment in building retention, positive employee experience, and a healthy work culture.
Wondering how you can use automation to keep your team happy? Employee engagement software offers the tools to conduct surveys, gauge satisfaction, organize reporting data, and promote employee recognition.