Nov 18, 2021 Hannah Lenane

What is ‘the Great Resignation’, why does it matter, and what can we do to tackle it?

With a post-pandemic world of ‘normalcy’ within reach, organizations are facing a new set of workplace challenges. One in particular is gaining traction: ‘the Great Resignation’. The pandemic and rise of remote and hybrid work gave employees the opportunity to reflect on how they work, why they work, and – most importantly – what they want from work.
The Great Resignation

My first statement won’t come as a shock to anyone: the world of work has changed – no, seriously. Whether you’re 100% remote, exploring a flexible hybrid workplace, or back in the office full time (no doubt with rules an excess of hand sanitizer), the way we work has fundamentally transformed. My second statement might surprise you, however: despite the uncertainty and chaos of 2020, people are increasingly either contemplating or actually quitting their jobs.

‘The Great Resignation’ is here

In the words of Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, “the Great Resignation is coming”.

However, one might argue that it’s already here. Ian Cook, VP of People Analytics at Visier explains in a recent Forbes article that “it’s safe to say the ‘great resignation’ is already upon us, and businesses (particularly those in high tech and healthcare) will need to address voluntary turnover while they continue to grapple with post-pandemic recovery and return-to-office plans”.

Not convinced? Well The Microsoft Work Trend Index found that 40% of people want to change jobs. A survey of workers in the U.K. and Ireland found 38% are planning to leave their current job in the next few months (whilst analysis by Gallup finds it to be around 48% of U.S. workers). AND – significantly – those plans are quickly becoming a reality. New data from the Department of Labor reporting that Americans are also quitting their jobs at the highest rate on record, with 4 million workers leaving their jobs every month since spring 2021. But why?

Well, having spent a year unemployed, furloughed, or working from home, many have reflected on what they expect from employers and prioritize for themselves. This has led to a conscious U-turn in some cases (applications to law and medical school have jumped by 20% and 18% respectively, a sign that many are reconsidering career paths), or a forced decision between work-life balance in others (there are now 1.4 million fewer mothers in the workforce than there were in early 2020).

What’s fueling ‘the Great Resignation’?

You may be wondering how this has come about, especially considering the potential risk and instability of leaving your job during a pandemic. To understand what’s behind ‘the Great Resignation’ we need to recognize that it might be more accurate to describe this shift as ‘the Great Discontent’. As Gallup data shows, it’s not an industry, role, or pay issues. It’s a workplace issue. More specifically, a disengagement issue. In their State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report, Gallup identifies that globally, employee engagement decreased from 22% in 2019, to 20% in 2020, employees daily stress record reached a record high at 43%, AND 41% of employees experienced a lot of worry during their workday.

Where it was once possible to hide behind workplace perks, such as social activities, catered lunches, and office dogs, that’s no longer an option. Remote and hybrid work has stripped away these fun surface-level elements, exposing potentially dissatisfying and disengaging work cultures. As this viral thread on LinkedIn shows, many are beginning to realize they ‘deserve better’ and are refusing to remain in roles that do not engage them, have a poor work/life balance, lack growth potential, etc.

So, what does this mean?

Well, in short, it means that organizations could face high turnover and struggle to retain top talent if they fail to meet employee expectations and prioritize the digital employee experience (DEX).

It means that fun perks, a football table, and a fancy office space aren’t going to cut it anymore. As Dominik Pantelides, CEO and co-founder of PERKS states, “traditionally, large enterprises like Google and Apple have been viewed as the dream workplace because they leverage unlimited resources to offer perks. However, due to COVID-19 expediting companies’ utilization of tech, jobseekers realize organizations of any size or location can access and provide perks, virtually.” Organizations need to ensure they’re proactively meeting the demands of this new world of work, or else risk a loss of productivity and staff that will no doubt impact business.

For example, It’s been clear for months that most people are keen for flexible and remote working to continue: research showed that 75% of employees want to continue remote working and 42% of US employees would quit if their company didn’t offer remote working options long term.

In fact, a failure to address employee disengagement could be very costly for business’ bottom lines, as Gallup’s report shows:

  • The lost productivity of not engaged and actively disengaged employees is equal to 18% of their annual salary.
  • For a company of 10,000 employees with an average salary of $50,000 each, disengagement costs $60.3 million a year.
  • Replacing workers requires one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. So, it costs $9,000 a year to keep each disengaged worker and between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace them.

How to survive ‘the Great Resignation’

I know it sounds all doom and gloom, however, there is a simple way to tackle these challenges and survive – heck, even thrive through – ‘the Great Resignation’. And it starts with rethinking your employee retention strategy and prioritizing digital employee engagement (DEX).

DEX = better employee engagement and productivity. Better employee engagement and productivity = better employee retention and, by association, improved customer experience (CX) – after all, happy staff are going to go above and beyond in their work.

With traditional working norms upended across the board and workers re-evaluating what matters most to them, it’s time for employers to listen, learn, and react. Whether it’s the freedom to work remotely, eliminating the exhausting commute; flexible working hours to accommodate work-life balance; better benefits or remuneration; more effective tools to enable them to do their jobs; or even just a safer more inclusive workplace, workers have a new set of requirements. The first – and most important – step organizations should take to tackle the ‘Great Resignation’ is to prioritize data.

Data is your friend at the best of times, but especially when it comes to understanding your employees better. Proactively go beyond simple monitoring systems and utilize qualitative sentiment driven data to truly understand what matters to your people, what their experiences (especially digital experiences) are, and make them see their voice is heard. You don’t want to end up like Apple, with employees stating they feel “not just unheard, but actively ignored” – yikes!

Build an effective DEX plan for 2022, that focuses on employees, their experiences, and their use of technology. With the move to hybrid and remote working comes an emphasis on the importance of digital experience. To quote from Forrester’s research, “once a luxury, an exceptional digital employee experience (DEX) is now a necessity”. With more employees than ever before working from anywhere, IT organizations need to improve digital employee experiences and employee engagement, increase operational agility and automation, and secure employees regardless of location.

Employee experience > everything else 

For organizations keen to quell the potential impact of ‘the Great Resignation’ one thing is clear: to retain and attract employees you need to prioritize creating an employee experience driven workplace and must proactively seek to understand your people better. To quote Forrester’s VP and Principal Analyst, J. P. Gownder, “we are at an inflection point at which many people are reconsidering the particulars of their lives and of work-life balance,” the world is changing and the options are to keep up or lose out.


If you’d like to learn more about the future of work, we have lots of great insights available following our recent Work From Anywhere conference. And if you’re keen to better understand the benefits of sentiment driven data, you can find out all about it here