The multiple truths behind ‘The Great Resignation’
The Great Resignation. We’re seeing it everywhere. The media brandishes the term like a banner. Leaders are concerned about the talent crisis we’re facing. And HR departments and managers are under more pressure than ever to retain staff by almost any means.
If we’re to take the headlines and statistics at face value, it’s a grim picture. But if we look deeper in the issue, we see that, like any trend, there are complexities and variations that the headlines simply don’t tell us.
Our research at ENGAGE and our work with clients from large multi-nationals through to small, fast-growth firms has identified five critical aspects in understanding why talent retention is so tough at present:
- The great rethink: without doubt, the COVID pandemic has caused many employees to rethink their relationship with work and with employers. For many, it was a chance to reflect on what really matters to them – in both their professional and personal lives. Employees are rethinking what work actually means to them and how they want to contribute value through work. As workplaces gradually reopen but with greater flexibility and hybrid models, people are leaving companies, roles, sectors and even the workforce itself and moving onto their own next challenge.
- Deeper, underlying causes: the pandemic has undoubtedly caused some one-off shifts in retention patterns. However, our ENGAGE data suggests there are much deeper underlying causes of attrition which also need tackling. For example, our benchmark data shows that basic issues such as how people are led, managed, developed and communicated with have a huge impact on retention. Equally, the culture and values of an organisation – for instance, how empowered people are in their job and whether they have a voice in the company – can trigger people to exit. These fundamentals cannot be ignored.
- A disconnect between employers and their people: our insights suggest many companies don’t really understand why their employees are leaving. In fact, there is a gaping disconnect between the way employers and employees understand employee attrition. Employers tend to think people quit because of purely transactional issues such as pay. But employees focus far more on softer factors such as relationships with their colleagues, the culture of the organisation or collaboration with their colleagues. While employers react by throwing money at the issue (pay rises, extra bonuses etc), employees are looking for something much deeper. They want purpose and a sense of both belonging and accomplishment in their role.
- The domino effect: we’ve seen evidence during the pandemic of what’s known as ‘turnover contagion’- when one well-liked employee resigns, scores of workers quit their jobs too. Resignations can be particularly ‘infectious’ during times of uncertainty. We look to others for social cues about when to leave a workplace, and this can be particularly effective when the person moving on is a leader or a friend. Our ENGAGE data show that this is even more true if basic factors in the organisation are not right – for example, poor leadership, lack of transparent communication, a toxic workplace culture.
- The need for better data and analytics: one thing is for sure, very few organisations have great data and analytics to help them understand why attrition is so bad and how to improve talent retention. Our experience shows that attrition data is often patchy (held on multiple systems, out of date etc.), so patterns are hard to assess. Equally, survey and opinion data are often poorly designed so it’s hard to knit together ’soft‘ data (e.g., employee opinions on key issues) and ’hard‘ data (e.g., actual attrition rates). Tackling this will be a fundamental part of whether companies can tackle the Great Resignation effectively.
As with any latest trend or phenomenon, it’s important to delve beyond the headlines to understand the true picture of today’s talent market. And it’s critical to look at every challenge in the context of your own organisation – your business, your people and your goals create a unique set of circumstances that will require unique, tailored approaches.