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Power Inversion: What the Great Resignation Really Means

The Great Resignation, or the Big Quit, is a phenomenon that has emerged over the past year or so, where resignation rates have skyrocketed. A 2021 Microsoft study found 41% of the global workforce was considering leaving their workplace, whilst Wired reported, “job vacancies [in the UK] soared to an all-time high in July [2021], with available posts surpassing one million for the first time.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Workplace Intelligence’s Dan Schawbel reports in his annual forecast:

"All signs point to the quit rate continuing to accelerate in 2022, and 55% of workplace professionals say they expect employee turnover to increase next year.”

How did we get here?

There is a myriad of contributing factors to this climate. The COVID-19 pandemic is the obvious one, but also significant is the nature of the workforce. A recent report from MIT Sloan Management Review commented that “a toxic culture is the biggest factor pushing employees out the door during the Great Resignation”. The same report concluded that patterned behaviours of disrespect, inequality and inconsistency in job security are ten times more likely to be a contributing factor in an employee’s exit than low pay.

There has been a significant cultural shift in recent years, too. Mental health has rightly become a huge, necessary focus for companies as a key factor for recognition by colleagues. An increase in mental health awareness has normalised concepts of mindfulness, reflection and introspection which, fuelled by multiple global lockdowns, gave saw this introspective attitude turn towards careers. Questions arose:

Am I happy with my career?     What do I wish I were doing?

Am I valued in my job?       Should I make a change?

                    Am I content with my work-life balance?     Are there other companies that would treat me better?

Many employees’ critical questions were inadvertently answered by their businesses’ response to the pandemic. The BBC reported:

“Ultimately, workers stayed at companies that offered support, and darted from those that didn’t.”

What’s the significance?

This large-scale reshuffle in the workforce has tipped the balance of power. Employers are now desperate to hire and retain talent, while employees have their pick of options in a wide-open job market. Global management firm Korn Ferry declares, “2022 is the year of the employee” and that this new year “calls for a human approach” from employers. Five out of Korn Ferry’s seven projected workplace trends for 2022 prioritise the employee, which illustrates the dynamic shift in power.

This places candidates in a powerful negotiating position, a vantage point from which lasting change can be generated. This is an opportunity for ‘benefits’ like parental leave, paid sick leave and flexible working to become the norm. May we never return to the days where employees are seen as mindless cogs in a machine!

HR professionals will be powerful drivers of this change, as the on-the-ground foot soldiers. They can set the tone in their hiring practices and management of workplace culture. In hiring, they can prioritise their candidates’ time by using automated, streamlined technology, like Vetting.com, for their pre-employment checks.

To monitor morale and employee satisfaction, we suggest running regular Pulse Surveys. This allows HR professionals and business leaders to collect feedback from all employees regarding their workload wellbeing. A data-driven approach encourages employees to answer honestly, and this intel provides an opportunity for bosses to make adjustments to maintain engaged and motivated workplace culture.

The Great Resignation has shifted the focus of the professional career back onto people. High demand on employers to gain and retain talent places employees in a new position of power. Coming out of the pandemic with fresh eyes and clarified priorities, workers have the leverage to fight for what’s important to them and negotiate for the kind of salaries, working arrangements or other accommodations they feel are important to them.