The Great Resignation


Recent workforce studies across Europe, the US and Asia have highlighted a huge shift in employees’ attitudes towards work, undoubtedly exacerbated by the pandemic crisis. ‘The Great Resignation’ is a term that has been coined to explain this new dynamic in the economy.

It’s clear that the prolonged event of Covid-19 has been a life-changing experience for many people in many walks of life, but the enforced shift to more flexible working and adjustment in people’s priorities has awoken a new attitude in the workforce, and it has caught many employers off-guard.

When asked about their biggest challenges, executives in organisations across the economy overwhelmingly stated that retaining talent was their number one concern. Number two was recruiting talent.

But should organisations have been caught off-guard in this way? Should we be surprised by this current workforce turbulence or were the signs there before the pandemic struck?

I believe there are several factors driving this paradigm shift in employee expectations.

Firstly, in the developed world, people are living longer lives, despite the tragic covid-related deaths we’ve seen in the past 2 years. This means there is a greater value place on healthy working and building resilience, through a work/life balance. The traditional three stages of education, work and retirement are fragmenting and merging into a more fluid life journey with interconnecting and overlapping phases.

Secondly, in the UK, we have more two-income families than ever before. This increases the viability of one partner choosing to pursue an ‘alternative’ to permanent, full-time employment, such as adult learning or starting their own business.

Third, we are also seeing a distinctive shift in the way organisations are led and managed – from command and control, where employees look to management for direction, to a more distributed model where personal agency is the prevailing culture among employees.

The Leaders’ Response

As the noise about a Great Resignation in grows to a cacophony, leaders find themselves at a pivotal crossroads between employee retention and business results. But this isn’t a binary choice.

Business growth relies on employee engagement, which employers can reinforce by investing in their talent through career development and learning opportunities. The priorities of leaders for the year ahead must shift to ensuring top talent not only stays with the company, but that their skills can evolve quickly enough to stay competitive.

Regardless of where your employees work — in an office, in a hospital, in a manufacturing centre, in their living rooms, or on a beach — empowering them with continuous learning opportunities will pay dividends in 2022 and beyond.

Investing in workforce development facilitates employee productivity, keeps employees engaged and satisfied in their work, boosts employee retention, and supports the innovation needed to grow revenue.