Jul 15, 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. But what does this mean for organizations?
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 ready to quit their jobs. That’s right, in the words of Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, “the Great Resignation is coming”.

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”. The Microsoft Work Trend Index found that 40% of people want to change jobs. AND 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 a similar U.S. survey found it to be around 26%. 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).

So, why does this matter?

Well, in short, it means that organizations could face high turnover and struggle to retain top talent if they fail to meet employee expectations for flexible working options. 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, recently Apple employees actively pushed back against the company’s proposed ‘return to office’ policy that would require three days on site per week, advocating instead for remote work options.

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.

How can organizations tackle turnover?

Sure, some turnover isn’t bad, but a struggle to retain or attract top talent and increasing staff turnover will inevitably impact the bottom line. 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!

Because no two employees are the same and have different expectations of the workplace – i.e. whilst Sam might prioritize work-life balance to make time for the kids, Alex is more concerned with having a technically efficient home office – utilizing sentiment focused surveys is an easy place to start uncovering these nuances that general monitoring might miss. Then, with this sentiment data, you can action meaningful changes that will serve to improve employee experience, create a fulfilling and truly modern workplace, and improve retention and productivity. Not to mention, potentially attract new, brilliant talent too, as your reputation flourishes!

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