The Great Resignation

The biggest knock on of the Pandemic related work practices may be the Great Resignation which started in 2021 and seems to be continuing in 2022.

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The Great Resignation

Our man in the know, Jack Card, takes a good hard look at what's happening in staff retention...

We are not yet in a post-Pandemic world but already the impact of working patterns adopted during the last two years are being felt within the workplace. Interestingly this may be because employees are now being pushed to return to the office by some employers or asked to continue to work from home by others. However, the biggest knock on of the Pandemic related work practices may be the Great Resignation which started in 2021 and seems to be continuing in 2022.

What is the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation (aka the Extraordinary Exodus) is the phenomena observed during 2021 in which employees voluntarily resign. The term was coined by Professor Anthony Klotz from the Texas A & M University. It was first observed in the US in early 2021 and continued throughout 2021 with a record 4.5 million resigning at the end of November 2021. However, it has also been observed in the UK as reported by Bloomberg.

What is Driving the Great Resignation?

The question is what is driving this rush to resign? Interestingly, in this writer’s immediate circle there have been several voluntary resignations. When asked about this one person indicated it was because of changing working patterns and the other due to a change in their way of life. Both comments are typical of those questioned regarding the Great Resignation, but they are not the only drivers. These ideas and others are considered below:

Return to the Office. Many people have become use to the work-from-home way of life. It has allowed those who embrace work-from-home (or WFH) to avoid costly and time-consuming commuting, be around for every day (family) activities such as breakfast, lunch, and evening meals, pick up kids from school etc. However, some employers are now requiring their staff to return to the office (for example many investment banks such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been keen to return to the office). This may force some employees to decide to find alternative employment with an employer who will allow them to continue their work-from-home lifestyle.

Continue to Work-From-Home. In contrast many other people do not want to continue to work from home. This can be for many reasons including lack of facilities or available space at home, interruptions at home or the lack of actual contact with work colleagues. In which case, these employees may search out employers who will allow them to work from the office.

Moved Location. One feature of the last two years is that many people have moved out of the large metro areas such as London and Manchester into the countryside. These moves have been to get a better quality of life, or to be able to have more space, to benefit from cheaper house prices, or just to get away from the cities. In some cases, the move may have made daily commuting to their original place of work impractical. If employers require return to the office, this may mean that those employees will look either for employers who will allow remote working contracts or that they find employment locally.

Career Change. For others, the pandemic and its effects have caused them to reconsider what it is they are doing and what they want to do and where they want to be in 5 or 10 years’ time. As such they may decide to move on from their current role and start a fresh in a new role, a new career, or a new venture. In some cases, employees may decide to take early retirement and leave the workforce completely.

Upward pressure on salaries. There is an upward pressure on salaries. In some sectors the demand for staff, particularly staff with some experience, is outstripping supply. This is forcing up the salaries being offered and encouraging employees to move employers. In addition, the real cost of living is rising rapidly with increases in many basic items as well as gas and fuel.

Overall Unemployment rate is low. The fear of not finding a new role, certainly in sectors such as technology, is now relatively low now as there are many unfilled job adverts. Initially, when the first lock downs were in place, there was concern about employment security, however the labour markets are rebounded and are now back to the same levels as they were pre-pandemic. Therefore, employees are confident that resigning from their current role will not leave them unemployed for long.

The Great Resignation

Effects of Illness. Long Covid or other respiratory illnesses may mean that some employees feel that they cannot continue working in the roles that they previously had and thus must look for new roles that can meet their new health conditions.

Pandemic Effect on Women. The pandemic appears to have had a disproportionate effect on woman, who are often responsible for the home and childcare. This has placed extra pressures on them resulting in physical and mental health problems and in them deciding to leave the work force.

What can be done?

This is of course the perennial question, what can be done to retain staff? However, it is even more relevant now due to the Great Resignation phenomenon. Some of the options available to employers include:

Be flexible. Not everyone wants to work from home, and not everyone wants to return to the office. In addition, many people would like a bit of both, with a few days’ work-from-home and a few days in the office etc. Being flexible with work arrangements, where feasible, will probably be an important discriminator for current and prospective employees.

Salary/Benefits. Money is always an issue, but in situations where the market is offering new employee’s higher salaries and benefits then employees currently get (for the same work) at another employer there will always be those who will move.

Listen to your Staff. Many people have been affected by the pandemic in many ways and what will be the best way to support them will differ from one individual to another – therefore employers must listen to their staff.

Staff Development. Other than work arrangements and benefits, developing their staff is probably the most important factor in retaining staff. Those employees who feel they will develop professionally and / or personally will be more inclined to stay with their current employer. Training, mentoring, offering new opportunities are all part of this. Providing a training budget, as well as time for that training, dedicated to each employee will help to retain those employees.

Train to Retain

Of all of the above, the Train-To-Retain mantra will be a key aspect in the fight to retain staff in 2022 and beyond (not least as salary budgets may have been fixed well in advance). This should not be news to most organisations however., it can be an issue for several reasons:

Lack of Budget. When financial constraints are being applied, training can often be the first thing to be cut from the budget. However, as indicated above, this can have a detrimental effect on the staff brain drain.

Fear of Losing Staff. Some organisations have a fear of losing staff if they train them! This represents the situation where an organization believes that training their staff will enhance their CV and thus mean that they will leave for a new role that requires the employees’ new skills. Of course, this is self-defeating if staff do not get the training, they need to do their job they are more likely to leave! If they feel they are not being developed they are more likely to leave! If they cannot see any personal development in their future with an organisation, they are more likely to leave!

Assume employees will train themselves. Some organisations believe that their employees will pick up the skills they need themselves, either organically while they are working or in their spare time. However, what they pick up may not be the right things, what they decide to teach themselves in their spare time (if they have some) may not align with what the employer needs them to learn. This means employees won't be prepared for their current roles and will be more likely to leave!


There are many causes driving the Great Resignation and for many people their decisions are being driving by life changes such as new careers, early retirement, or other pressures. However, for many others flexibility on the part of their employer will be important as well as an understanding of the pressures they are under. One effective way to help to retain staff will be in staff development, the Train-To-Retain mantra. If an organisation does not prioritize the development / training of their workforce, by providing the budget, the time and the resources needed to do this, then many of their employees will just leave!

Ian Watson, Framework Training's MD's take:

I think the pandemic has shone an unrelenting light on how organisations treat their staff. There's been a huge erosion in trust and an increasing sense that employee loyalty tends only to work one way. Organisations that assume that this loyalty exists whilst doing nothing to nurture it will find it harder and harder to retain staff, whereas organisations that make a genuine effort to understand and fulfil the needs and motivations of individual workers will see their approach justly rewarded.

"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to" - Richard Branson.

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