The Great Resignation: what’s driving it and how can employers prepare?

Vaco - The Great Resignation Blog Graphic

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a multitude of things have changed. From how we approach everyday life to the structure of a normal workday, nothing feels the same. And in that shift, an interesting trend has emerged: people are quitting or considering leaving their jobs. The reasons for the mass employee departures have been cited far and wide: better career opportunities, a change in life circumstances, and for some, burnout. Regardless of the motivators, employees are resigning in droves, and employers are searching for answers.

Through November 2021, an average of 3.9 million Americans workers were voluntarily quitting their jobs every month. November itself was the kicker; 4.5 million workers handed in their resignations during the month of Thanksgiving.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics had previously reported record-setting employee resignations (quits) in April, July, and September; November topped them all.

Even now, nearly two years into the pandemic, the labor landscape is experiencing shifts on an almost-daily basis. Thousands of employers are scrambling to fill vital roles while also trying to scale their teams for growth initiatives. Many companies continue to find themselves short-handed during the most intense period of transformation in the history of their businesses.

Even those companies that haven’t experienced high voluntary turnover may face a spike in employee resignations over the next few months. Why? The short answer is the post-pandemic work world. The long answer is more complex, and requires a nuanced response by companies that want to be prepared.

Let’s discuss some of the main drivers of this historic surge in employee departures, a phenomenon dubbed “The Great Resignation” by a Texas A&M business school professor. More importantly, let’s examine some of the key ways employers can prepare for the potential shifts in their workforce.

BLS quits data (1)

What is driving “The Great Resignation”?

The short answer is the changes brought by COVID-19. From February of 2020 to February of 2021, 2.4 million women and 1.8 million men left the labor force (meaning they are neither working nor actively looking for work). These numbers represent drops of 3.1% and 2.1%, respectively, and they rank among the largest 12-month declines in labor force participation since the post-World War II era.

The pandemic ushered in a host of cultural and societal changes that influenced the way workers evaluate not only their jobs but also the companies they work for. Let’s look at some of the pandemic-related changes that are driving employees’ decisions to seek new job opportunities in the current work landscape.

Burnout and professional frustration

The challenges of the pandemic led to high levels of burnout and professional frustration. Many employees took on extra work as their teams were downsized; others felt their careers were stalled as opportunities for training and advancement dried up and scheduled promotions and raises were delayed.

These stresses gave many employees a new perspective on their jobs, the culture at their companies, and their management teams. Overall, workers felt compelled to reevaluate their professional priorities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of them have decided to search for more fulfilling and supportive jobs.

Loss of reliable childcare

As schools and childcare centers shut down during COVID-19, many parents were forced to take on full-time homeschooling and childcare duties, while simultaneously adjusting to entirely remote work. Unsurprisingly, many parents (and mothers, in particular) either voluntarily left their jobs or were forced to reduce their hours to accommodate childcare and homeschooling demands.

As the pandemic waned in spring and early summer of 2021, the share of mothers re-entering the workforce rebounded. With the arrival of the Delta variant in late summer, and Omicron in winter, infections again spiked, and childcare challenges returned. Thousands of child care workers resigned, and parents with school-age children were again faced with the challenges of balancing childcare, online schooling, and full-time jobs.

In October 2021, the number of working women was still 1.8 million below pre-pandemic levels.

Companies requiring full-time return to the office

The pandemic gave many workers a chance to experience their professional lives in a different environment—at home. Without long commutes and strict schedules boxing out their weeks, employees began to prioritize other things in life: spending more time with family, taking up new hobbies, and focusing on personal well-being, for instance.

As pandemic restrictions lift, many companies are demanding that employees return to the office full-time, with no options for flexibility. These hardline policies simply don’t fit many employees’ new expectations, prompting them to search for roles that do.

The hottest job market in decades

On top of dissatisfaction in their current roles, many workers are motivated by a job market where they have more professional leverage than they’ve had in years.

Businesses are scrambling to fill vital roles as current employees leave and growth plans are thwarted by talent gaps. Timelines for recruiting, interviewing, and hiring are shortening, and salaries are increasing. And because many employees saved money during the pandemic, they have the financial confidence to finally make a professional switch.

These are far from the only reasons for the uptick in resignations. But it’s important for companies to be aware of some of these shifts and understand their own points of vulnerability. This is especially true for companies who are looking to hire this year (and beyond).

Now that we’ve explored some of the drivers of The Great Resignation, let’s examine some ways companies can prepare for potentially higher employee turnover this year.

Preparing for “The Great Resignation” and a historically competitive hiring market

In the midst of these concerns, there is still good news for employers: there are several ways to prepare for an uptick in employee resignations and get a head start on a great hiring plan. There are thousands of amazing candidates on the market who have the power to transform your team and your business. Here’s how you can set your company apart.

Offer flexible work options

Flexibility, including remote and hybrid work options, is among the most important things to candidates on the market right now.

In a recent webinar, Sejal Chunchu, Director of Business Development for Vaco, emphasized the importance of offering flexibility when you’re trying to land top candidates:

“This is the easiest way to promote productivity, profitability, and happiness throughout an organization. There is less commuting stress, money savings on both ends (for the employee and the employer), increased productivity and performance, and just an overall happier, healthier work life.”

If your company currently has a 100% on-site work policy, and has the ability to offer remote opportunities, now is the time to incorporate more flexible options for employees who want them.

Assess your company’s benefits

A great benefits package is a big advantage for companies who want to attract amazing talent in the post-COVID hiring surge.

It’s not just about salary, either. In addition to the basics like health insurance, employees are looking for flexible hours, work-from-home options, paid time off, and paid family leave, according to a recent survey of more than 2,000 employees.

A great benefits package can tip the scales in your company’s favor, even if you don’t offer the highest salary.

Sell your company’s unique sizzle

Company culture and reputation are more important to employees than ever before, so it’s important to know your company’s differentiators—especially when it’s time to hire.

Take a deep dive into your company’s unique culture, and make a list of your key differentiators. Utilize employee feedback and reviews to find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and develop a plan for communicating those strengths in employee-facing communications.

Most importantly, develop language for communicating your unique culture to candidates in your job descriptions and postings.

Utilize the resources available to you

Employers are facing a uniquely challenging hiring landscape—that much is true. But there are ways to make the hiring journey easier and more efficient. Working with a great recruiting firm, for instance, can reduce the stress of finding, vetting, and hiring amazing candidates.

Experienced recruiters help you locate the truly outstanding individuals who are a great fit for your company’s culture and vision. What’s more, recruiters handle the time-consuming tasks of finding, interviewing, and vetting your candidates, so you can focus on growing your business.

Recruiting and staffing firms work differently than a company’s own internal talent acquisition department. Recruiters have access to candidates they have worked with before, often in different economic circumstances. Additionally, most firms recruit for specific skill sets—not specific jobs—so they typically have more robust resources when it comes to finding a candidate with particular expertise or experience.

At Vaco, we help our clients through each step of the recruiting and hiring process. We help companies find and hire remote and local talent, for contract, temporary and permanent positions. But we don’t stop there. Our strategic staffing services provide long-term insights that help companies plan for the future. We’ll assess your staffing patterns and help you determine your future hiring needs. When it comes to getting the talent you need at the right time, Vaco is with you all the way.

Ready to work with Vaco on your next hiring project? Contact us today!


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