Are We Really Surprised by The Great Resignation?

Are We Really Surprised by The Great Resignation?

You can’t deny that 2020 and 2021 have been the hardest years anyone has ever had to work through. Whether you were working full-time while juggling homeschooling, or losing your mind while on Furlough. It’s not been a pleasant experience. 

Those who remained working had to take on more responsibility from those who were placed on furlough. And those who were on furlough had all the time in the world to ponder on their lives and ask themselves; is this what I really want from my life? 

There’s nothing like a global crisis to make you re-evaluate your life. 

In mid-2020 I remember having numerous conversations with friends and relatives who were all struggling with their careers. Some had been unhappy for a while and were considering retraining and taking a totally different path. For others, the overwork and poor behaviour of their bosses during 2020 was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

Ultimately, for most businesses, covid-19 was the litmus test for company culture. Treat people right, and you’ve gained a loyal and dedicated team who have got your back. Treat them badly, and the walks will ensue eventually. 

And this is now what we’re seeing. As confidence regains in our wider culture, people are making changes to get that work-life balance. 

USA vs. UK

There’s an old saying. America sneezes and the UK catches a cold. 

According to data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, which means this wave of confidence quitting is soon to emerge here in the UK. That’s if it hasn’t begun already. A study by Personio HR Software of UK and Ireland workers found that 38% of people plan to quit in the next six months to a year. 

The U.S may be seeing the biggest spike, but the rumours are doing the rounds in the UK media already, with reports from large recruitment firms that they’ve had their busiest periods yet. And it’s not even January! 

But are we really surprised by this surge in resignations? 

Bad bosses and terrible treatment

From the data being released, it seems that the large majority of people are leaving their jobs because of poor treatment from their employers. 

In October 2021, I did my own deep dive into workplace horror stories that happened during the covid-19 pandemic in a Halloween bonus episode of Make it Thrive: The Company Culture Podcast.  People anonymously shared their experiences which varied from micro-managers to clueless bosses.

Unfortunately, these stories are not rare. Overworking, mistreatment, and emotional blackmail are just some of the situations people have been sharing in the press and across social media platforms. 

The pandemic gave companies an opportunity to show their people how much they cared. And unfortunately for others, it highlighted how much they didn’t care about people’s mental or physical health.  

In 2022, we’ll see people stay at companies that offered support during the pandemic and exit quickly from those that didn’t. 

This isn’t just a prediction. Evidence in a recent Stanford study has revealed that many companies with poor cultures made bad decisions that didn’t support people. Whereas companies that had good cultures and treated people well have been the most resilient to the pandemic. 

People expected their employers to support them during covid-19 and the bucketload of worry and fear that came with it. Or at the very minimum at least acknowledge those concerns. But companies that failed with support, and compassion are now the ones suffering. 

More meaning please

We can’t be completely naive, the reason for high resignation is a spectrum. We would all love to just blame the bad bosses and toxic company culture, but the truth is, this is an amalgamation of people’s experiences playing out. 

On the dark side, you’ve got people quitting because of disgraceful treatment. But on the brighter side, you’ve got people who have spent a year thinking about what they really want to do with their lives. 

The search for more meaning and more fulfilment has also meant people are switching careers entirely, and finally taking that bold step to try their hand at a dream career. 

For companies with these employees, it’s not all bad. 

If you can support these people in their transition, without taking it personally, you’ll end up with an ambassador of your company who will always see you as a preferred employer, and even help you fill their role without an expensive recruitment campaign. 

You can’t blame people for following their dreams after a year of putting their life completely on hold. 

It does, however, give you a chance to re-evaluate your company culture, and the pathways people can take in their careers. If your learning and development programs are hot, you may even be able to keep great people in the company, but help them move into a new role or career that they find more rewarding. 

Can you make people stay?

You can never really make someone stay with your company. There’s no such thing as a job for life now, there’s a job until it doesn’t fit your life.  

But you don’t need to push them out of the door either. 

A poor experience doesn’t just mean it’s costly for you in a financial sense. It also costs you your brand reputation. People talk about where they work, and where they worked. Those scars take a while to heal, and if they’ve had a particularly bad experience they will share it with others. Not even maliciously, just in a casual conversation with a friend kind of way. 

What you should consider is in two parts. What experience are you creating for them while they are working in your company, and what experience will you provide when they make the decision to leave? 

How you create these two experiences, will be everything. 

As the great Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

What’s coming?

The tidal wave of resignations is only part of the tsunami of change that we should prepare for as we enter a world post-pandemic. 

There will be long-term change to workplace culture, and the ways companies invest in their people. The question is, how are you preparing? 


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.