Why the pandemic has triggered the Great Resignation

In the future, historians will refer to the 2020s as the era of the Great Resignation. It’s a term coined by Anthony Klotz, Management Professor at Mays Business School in Texas. It’s a way of defining the increase in the number of people who have resigned in the United States as the pandemic started to draw to a close. There was a 2.4% increase in resignations in March 2021: a record number over the past 20 years of American history. Why? Here’s what the professor had to say:

We know that generally many employees only stay at their jobs because the costs of leaving are higher than the costs of staying, and this ratio has shifted for many workers over the past year. The costs associated with staying have risen, with many workers experiencing burnout — a key contributor to voluntary turnover. At the same time, some costs associated with quitting have decreased. The pandemic has provided many Americans with an opportunity to reduce expenses, pay off debt and save money. Combined, higher employee burnout and enhanced financial security is a recipe for increased resignations.

This explains why people are leaving and why they are ready for a change. But where are they heading? When companies know what people are aiming for, they can work on retaining those who now have more options available. We’ve gone way beyond a vision of human “resources”, where we can acquire and maintain talent to ensure maximum productivity. During the pandemic, a large portion of the workforce started questioning the meaning of their lives – as many crises do – and they wanted to regain control.

At the same time, other factors pushed them into making radical choices. A recent Microsoft report revealed that 40% of people are thinking of resigning by the end of the year. Not everyone will be able to follow through on that, but the bad news is that the most talented amongst them will probably manage to. They are the ones that will cost companies the most. The same Microsoft report highlighted the things that have prompted this shift. They’ve outlined 7 factors that touch everything from the growing need for flexibility to the depression that’s hitting Generation Z after entering the world of work remotely. Three of these factors highlight the amount of work given to employees, managerial responsibility and the ongoing identity revolution.

1) Increased productivity hides an exhausted workforce. The numbers don’t lie. The digital invasion in our workplaces has removed any buffers that were there previously. We now find ourselves managing schedules that don’t allow any down time. We’re spending more than double the amount of time in online meetings, a statistic that’s only continued to rise. Even the length of meetings has increased by 10 minutes, going from 35 to 45 minutes. What’s more, we’re sending around 45% more chat messages each week. We can almost see the physical impact this digital wave has had on us. A greater quantity of work doesn’t necessarily mean better quality: people start to feel trapped and stressed. Our computers have started to feel like conveyor belts, and people have started asking themselves questions. 37% of workers say that their companies are now asking too much of them.

2) Leaders have lost sight of their people and they need to wake up. Anthony Klotz refers to it as “managerial laziness” that stokes the illusion of being able to go back in time, returning to old ways of working. With the temporary ways of working through the pandemic extending over time, the complexity of life has crossed over into business. And it’s not going away any time soon.

This wonderful video shows a dad at his “first day in the office”, accompanied by his little girl that’s reassuring him. You’ll see your friends again, you’ll be okay, don’t cry. Because the dad doesn’t want to go back to the office, and he doesn’t want to let go of his little girl’s hand. The video highlights something that’s rooted in truth: life has collided with work, and we can’t just press the rewind button. Managers and leaders need to make an effort to see this increase in complexity as a destination that changes the rules of the game.

 3) Authenticity will drive productivity and wellbeing. The Microsoft report says that 17% of people have cried in front of a colleague over the past year. We’ve let ourselves be seen at home, let others catch a glimpse of the artwork on our walls, of our washing machines, our children, our kitchens and our emotions. And we’ve learned through it: 39% more people feel that they are ready to “bring their whole selves to work” compared to the same time a year ago. On the other hand, 31% of people feel embarrassed about showing their private life while they’re at work.

When the chips are down, do we really want to hide away again? Why then have these transparent relationships with colleagues improved our wellbeing and productivity levels? Why should we want to go back to the way things were? Maybe it’s better to go someplace else instead.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here