Listening for the Message in The Great Resignation

Deb Borrell, CRP, GMS - Nov 18 2021
Published in: Ask the Experts
| Updated Apr 27 2023
The collective voice of the workforce is speaking to the future of work. It is a message that should not surprise anyone in the global mobility industry.

Where is our future taking us and our work environment? “The Great Resignation” has been all the buzz of 2021. Some estimate that 40% of the workforce—hourly wage workers and salaried full-time employees–will be resigning. In the U.S., a record 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September—roughly 3% of the total workforce. Amid reports of persistent labor shortages and record levels of job openings, the labor roll grew by 359,000 to 154 million in the same month.

Workers are well-positioned to demand more in negotiations, evidenced by wages growing by 1.5% —breaking a 20-year record—and the value of benefits growing by 0.9% in the most recent quarter. Clearly, many people are now leaving their jobs for greener pastures, but is it an economic cycle or a fundamental change in society?

There is so much tension in the world right now. Anxiety from what we read, watch on television, and of course, various forms of social media. There are both changes we cannot resist and new opportunities we can risk if we choose. Many lost their jobs due to COVID, and they had to reinvent themselves and pivot into another position or new career endeavors. Others are rethinking what they want from life. Do I need to explore other industries, areas of interest, or similar positions with another organization? Or, is it for something they always had a burning desire to do but did not have the time, push, drive, or confidence to go for. Others may have wanted to keep things status quo and not make too many changes due to debt or family matters. Some are just procrastinating the move.   

Others are rethinking their plans on everything from housing locations, lifestyle, relationships, and everything in between. I am seeing more transferees relocating with their companies where there is no local office in my area. Still, they were given an option to move to a place they thought would be most appropriate for themselves and their family’s lifestyle. This is an option that I believe many employees would welcome and will offer companies the opportunity to  retain exceptional talent within their organization and remain competitive. 

The “Great Resignation” is about employees that want to leave their positions to find some deeper meaning, something that energizes them, brings out their creativity, adds new meaning and purpose to their lives. They want change, and the list could go on. Some of us have been putting this off for years and feel now is the time. Ultimately, isn’t that the promise of workforce mobility realized? People taking risks, leaving old lives and seizing new opportunities; daring new dreams.

Other changes were made, and lives changed simply so that businesses to survive the pandemic. Organizations discovered they could be more agile, leverage remote work to technologies to ensure business continuity. This may have been a rapid change. In some cases, there may be a reset once this new dynamic starts to dissipate and life goes back to something more similar to a pre-COVID lifestyle, or will it? The way I see it, it will be some of both. It will be necessary for organizations to stay on the pulse of what is best suited for the people and the business. 

There will be lost productivity from this “Great Resignation.” Those left behind at reduced companies may have to wear many hats to get the work accomplished due to the loss of employees to other favorable employers. Too often, these will be skilled and experienced staff who are sought-after in the labor market. This will damage morale and productivity.

Employees in lower-wage positions with fewer skills that decide to quit their jobs may have a challenge trying to find a new job in a higher position and may have to settle for something along the lines of their previous job. They may not have the means, time, or skills to move into a higher bracket position or wait for higher-paying posts.

Do I believe there will be long-term changes? Yes, I do. It could be everything from what we see with more remote workers, work attire, work/life balance, workweek shifts, etc. Many employees want less pressure in their lives. Let’s face it, the last year or so has not been easy on the mind. The workplace needs to be more employee-friendly than what employers have historically provided. Employers may need to change how performance is measured, focusing more on productivity and accomplishments.  

Some people will prefer to stay with their employer but might demand changes in keeping with the times. Others are looking forward to returning to the office setting where they feel they genuinely thrive and get more accomplished. It will be essential to listen to what employees are telling employers. Organizations need to think creatively and create win-wins in their negotiations. They need to mold their environments and be flexible enough to attract and retain workers in today’s market. The future of the company is the people that work for it.

Organizations also need to be thinking through costs associated with remote work vs. office work. The cost savings for employers and employees can be substantial for allowing remote settings. Less overhead, commercial real estate savings in office leases, and ownership for employers. Cost of travel, such as car, gas, and tolls and travel time for the employee. Also, consider flat tires, car accidents, and injuries that happen to multiple people every day commuting to work. 

Organizations that are currently working through and will keep rethinking what they need to do for their organization and human capital will be those companies that candidates and current employees gravitate towards. Company culture plays a large part in how companies reshape and think through their plans. Each organization has its personality, just like people.

I was fortunate to work for a relocation management company that was cutting edge 20+ years ago in the corporate relocation industry. It allowed me to be the first manager in their organization to work remotely. Our organization closed the Dallas office but did want to keep its human capital intact. They set up an office for me in my home. I managed corporate relocation accounts by day, visited clients, thrived, and finished a master’s degree by night. It offered me the flexibility that many are looking for today.

Back to the “Great Resignation.” What it all comes down to is that people want to matter and make a difference. There needs to be a connection to one’s passions and work. Over the course of a lifetime people invest a lot of time and energy in their work. Work defines them to some extent and they want it to have meaning and purpose.

They have had what I call a “great awakening.” Some from the dramatic changes of the past couple of years and some due to the toll it has taken on their lives and livelihood. Whatever it is, good can come out of anxiety-filled times. The human instinct to seek better opportunities, more security, and greater satisfaction in life. This instinct is the essential energy of the mobility industry. If we can’t honor that, who will? 

Other Voices

Jack Jampel, SCRP, Sr. Manager, Global Mobility”

“TGR is somewhat of a misnomer that may lead you to believe that folks are just leaving the workforce entirely. Yes, there are a good number of those cases.  However, I believe that most employees who resigned have not left the workforce but have shifted to other companies for better opportunities.  In fact data indicates that more people have been hired in 2021 than have quit.  Instead of seeing the glass half empty, I view it as glass half full and would change the cliché to “The Great Opportunity.”  

The market is being flooded right now with talented people looking for something better. Employees had a good amount of time to evaluate their situations and many have had enough of companies that do not care or value them. As much as COVID has created significant disruption for many organizations, many businesses are taking advantage of this talent and will view this as a tremendous opportunity.

Those companies who have always been flexible, always valued their employees, and are making swift changes that came about as a result of COVID, will find that it is very unlikely their employees will look for a new job. That’s of course assuming there were no other problems pre-Covid.”

Katherine Trachta, SCRP, GMS | Senior Vice President, Central Region

During 2020, large numbers of people began reevaluating what is important in their lives, and as a society, we are now facing the impact. The experience of working from home (WFH) has exploded, inciting people to rethink the type of jobs desired and the location of where people work. This further leads to what we are experiencing in the workforce of unprecedented times where past strategies in retaining, finding, and recruiting talent need revitalization. 

There are shifts in corporate cultures that are pivoting toward different and meaningful ways to connect at the individual contributor level and bridge the virtual aspects of attracting, on-boarding, training, and engaging new employees. Seeing the realities around us, realizing things will be different going forward, and mastering these actions is what many employers are navigating at present.