The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls them “Quits.” These are the employees who have moved on from their previous jobs — an increasing fact of business in every industry. They are the bodies in motion who are driving the so-called “Great Resignation.”
But what does it mean to quit? What does it mean to resign? There’s more going on here than workers choosing to “give up.” Enormous changes, many set in motion by COVID and the acceleration of work-at-home and hybrid workers, have left many workers feeling secluded and insecure in their careers.
There’s an old business management adage that suggests if someone is inclined to leave your company, you don’t want them anyway: they’re not up to your mission. If this was ever true, believe it now at your own risk. Employees are quitting *companies,* not their potential. If they’re leaving you, they’re taking that potential elsewhere as they lean into their future. In the process, they’re leaving you behind, trapped in the past.
What type of engagement could have kept them moving forward with your company? Or, if those employees have left another company, what kind of workplace experience can you create that workers on the move want to join?
Defining the Great Resignation
Over the years, data has shown that the thing people care about most is how companies treat them. Employees measure their experience in expected metrics like wages and benefits, of course. But also, safety, security, their opportunities for advancement, commitments to equity, and a belief that they are heard and understood. In a word: engagement.
And employees appear to find that lacking. Just 13% of companies regularly survey employees to understand what they need, with only 18% actively managing and optimizing workloads to eliminate stress. Only 11% of companies offer formal career programs, so in many cases the only opportunity to grow is to go elsewhere.
There are reported large increases in resignations across many age groups: those from 30-35: 21.5% resignation; 35-40: 19.6%; and 25-40: 25.1%. 55% of Americans anticipate looking for a new job. A survey by Ally Bank in August 2021 said 40% of consumers are considering changing jobs in the next six months. As for employers? 92% of those looking to hire have had few — even zero! — qualified candidates apply. These are some of the conditions facing business in the “Great Resignation” of our time.
“Resignation” has two meanings. The first is to leave a significant role. The other: simply to give up. As for BLS’s “quits,” quitting is a term usually indicating a loser or a slacker.
These employees making up the Great Resignation haven’t given up. They are actively creating the conditions for themselves to find a better environment where they can thrive as professionals.
The 1960s and 1970s saw more people quit jobs than had happened in the prior 20 years — and the economy was better for it. Since the 1980s, Americans at least have quit less — clinging to jobs out of fear that there was no safety net to support them while they looked for something new. Now the workforce is demonstrating they are done with sticking it out — and in many cases are being rewarded for losing patience.
This level of “quitting” is an expression of optimism from employees saying, “We can do better.” (It’s also a challenge to companies to do just that.)
Employee Retention in the Great Migration
Think of this Great Resignation as a kind of impromptu, informal labor strike: a collective demand by workers for gains after decades of stagnation, even suppression. It could be the start of a meaningful transformation of working conditions everywhere. It is certainly a demonstrable change in terms of the workforce’s expectations for the kind of experience they want on the job.
What happens to employees when they resign? This question has led Josh Bersin to look at this Great Resignation and more properly classify it as a “Great Migration.” This mighty migration of strong and capable individuals is propelled by the flexibility the pandemic has given to them.
As a global research analyst and advisor on corporate human resources and talent, Bersin is uniquely qualified to identify this massive and possibly irreversible trend that is giving workers a sense of mobility that they’ve never had before. “The pandemic ripped the veil from my eyes,” is a common quote among workers. Many would rather quit and start over in a new industry than remain in a job where they felt unheard. “I’m going somewhere where I’m valued.” With over 45% of employees now working remotely, changing jobs is almost as easy as getting a new email.
Over 90% of all jobs in the US are in a service industry, of some form: customer satisfaction is the end goal. They add value through humanity, consideration, and creativity. In short, every company is basically in the people business. Why should it be any different when it’s your workforce? The golden rule applies: do unto your employees as you expect them to do unto your customers.
The long-standing debate within companies has been what to do about employee engagement and retention like it’s a side problem, or something that only HR needs to worry over. The Great Migration makes this a CEO-Level issue. Leaders must learn that taking care of employees is their number one mission. More than learn: they need to act.
Employee Experience is a Winning Formula
Just as customers expect more, workers are expecting more from their companies. What are some ways you can ramp up your employee experience, and demonstrate that you listen and support your people? Here are some opportunities to demonstrate your commitment to their collaboration, productivity, and health, through relevant, targeted communications:
Digital Signage: The screens throughout your company can alert, notify and motivate, with dynamic content that ranges from new employee spotlights to industry news to performance KPIs.
Wayfinding: Interactive maps on monitors and kiosks guide visitors and staff where they need to be, bringing everyone up to date on changes in a return-to-office.
Space Management: Smart reservation systems book the right room based on needs and attendees, and coordinate technology for on-premise and remote employees.
Modernized Intranet: A web browser front end provides revitalized access to key business resources, apps and policies, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Mobile Employee App: Company branded and customized, with enhanced access to business apps, personalized content, two-way communication and social features.
All of these and more can be achieved with the right workplace experience platform: an intelligent content management system and engagement engine for maintaining staff and recruiting new talent. This same platform can also be key to your retention strategy. Detailed analytics based on engagement rates and surveys can inform you that people of color are leaving your organization at higher rate — which could suggest a need for more focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Or high resignation may align with long gaps between promotions — indicating a need to update advancement policies.
The end result will be greater visibility into how serious any turnover problem is, and the root causes behind it. Then you’ll be better equipped to reduce that turnover and associated costs, and build the type of engaged, effective workforce that will attract other top talent.
Build a Better Employee Engagement
Employees are not standing still, waiting for management to respond to their needs. In the Great Migration, they’re voting with their feet. (Or in terms of remote work, their clicks!) You can watch them go…or be at the center of a new movement of your own, one where workplace experience is championed.
It’s true that not all turnover is bad. But it can take up to 9 months to onboard someone to be fully effective. A struggle to retain your best talent will inevitably drag you back and have a negative impact on your bottom line.
From resignation to migration, the times reflect a revolution in worker expectations. Employees are demonstrating their power to choose a work environment that gives them what they want and need. Now it’s your turn. What will you do with the power to create the next level of employee experience.