The so-called “Great Resignation” of 2021 – an unprecedented number of workers quitting their jobs post-COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns – has sparked a lot of soul searching among workers, CEOs and hiring managers.
Companies' true colors shine when something like COVID-19 turns everything upside down. At some firms, loyal 10-year veteran employees got layoff notices and were then rehired for less money. The pandemic made clear companies are not, as a rule, loyal to employees, so why should an employee be loyal to their company?
That said, resignations often come after periods of economic uncertainty, but it may be uncertainty itself that bottlenecked some so they happen all at once. Likely, a significant percentage of workers were planning on finding something new and resigning in 2020, as some do every year, independent of the coronavirus crisis.
I mean, 2019 showed the highest number of workers (4.5 million) quitting jobs since 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for seasonal workers, that’s still 2.4 percent of the U.S. non-agricultural workforce who quit their jobs in 2019, long before authorities identified the coronavirus as a global threat.
Employees feel more comfortable quitting when the market is booming. Unemployment was at historic lows leading into the pandemic, which probably explains why we saw the beginnings of the Great Resignation in 2019.
It’s also impossible to discount decades of wage stagnation as a driver in The Great Resignation, as well as generous pandemic-related government benefits. And though the U.S. seems to be nearing the end of its COVID-19 disaster, dangerous new variants make recovery more unpredictable and leave many workers still scared of exposure.
How Will the ‘Great Resignation’ Affect the War for Talent?
Attracting and retaining top workplace talent in this complex labor market is nuanced. Some argue cash is king, and they aren’t wrong; salary and benefits are obviously central motivators.
The war for talent has put pressure on companies to transform their images with financial incentives like longer paid vacations; more paid sick time; extensive medical, dental and vision coverage; life insurance, 401k, etc.
Offering expanded remote work and hybrid opportunities is also a powerful incentive for certain types of jobs and workers, and can potentially save facility costs.
One facet of talent acquisition and retention you can’t just throw money at, though, is your company culture. Especially in high-skill fields where workers can afford to be choosy, workplace atmosphere; collegiality among employees; synergies of beliefs with management; personal values and morals all play a role.
Millenials and Gen Z-ers before the pandemic were already more likely to cite personal values as an important factor in choosing a workplace. The COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide self-reflection it has caused can only further that trend in the labor market.
If you’re a smaller firm fighting in this war for talent, promoting the mission of your company and how it makes the world a better place is your biggest gun against those big, corporate tanks with all their cash resources.
Clint Armstrong is the founder and CEO of SkillsetGroup, the staffing and consulting firm rocketing onto the national stage and expanding into new sectors. Clint will periodically weigh in with his expertise on general trends in the labor market and aspects of his business philosophy that have allowed SkillsetGroup’s revenue to grow exponentially year after year since its founding.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics