How To Manage The Great Resignation

Philip Cleave
July 25, 2022
Staff member write their resignation letter

With almost a fifth of the UK workforce admitting they intend to leave their current job for a new one in the next 12 months, the Great Resignation shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, around 85% of all UK businesses report negative effects from this trend including unmanageable staff workloads cited by 20% of these firms and team burnout affecting 31%. It’s a serious issue that all businesses and HR teams should be aware of.

So, if you’ve not already heard of the Great Resignation, then you need to get up to speed with it quickly. You can then put internal processes in place to best protect your business against it.

What is the great resignation?

The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit and the Great Reshuffle, is an ongoing economic trend where large numbers of employees have been voluntarily resigning from their jobs en masse since early 2021.

The term was first coined by Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at University College London’s (UCL) School of Management, in May 2021, when he predicted a sustained mass exodus.

With many economists describing the Great Resignation as akin to a general strike, a number of potential causes were initially cited for its emergence in the year following the Covid-19 outbreak. These included wage stagnation amid the rising cost of living, long-held job dissatisfaction, concerns over some employers’ handling of the Covid pandemic and a growing appetite to work for companies with better remote working policies.

Reasons for the Great Resignation

To get a better understanding of these causes and whether any of them are present in your own workforce, it helps to explore them in a bit more detail.

So, here’s some thoughts to guide you on this.

Poor response to Covid-19 outbreak

While it’s perfectly understandable that some companies were initially better able to adapt to the sudden requirements of working from home than others, some never properly adapted and were unable to effectively support their staff.

Whether that was due to a lack of knowledge, technology limitations, a poor and complex security set up or the absence of an effective remote working and wellbeing policy to support their employees. Whatever the limitation, the poor response to the Covid pandemic by some companies left their staff feeling more vulnerable, stressed, unhappy and likely to resign as a result.

Inflexible working arrangements

What’s interesting here, is that while all staff who could do so were initially made to work from home following the Covid outbreak, the option to continue doing so when restrictions were lifted was not made available to everyone.

Yet some workers really enjoyed remote working from home, whether that was due to a better work life balance, saving on the commute, or less distractions to complete more work. Whatever the reasons, the ability to work remotely from home, even if it was just under a hybrid arrangement for a few days a week became really popular.

Subsequently, as we pulled away from the most disruptive period of the pandemic, employees began seeking out employers that could offer them a greater level of flexibility in their working arrangements.

Low pay

Salary is viewed as another reason behind the Great Resignation. 23% of workers cite low pay and a lack of bonuses and pay rises, as their key reason for looking for alternative employment.

Ironically pay has become even more important in 2022, with the cost-of-living crisis, fuelled by the inflationary pressure that the outbreak of the Russia Ukraine war has had on prices worldwide.

Lack of opportunities

Along with low pay, the lack of opportunities to advance their career is another facet of working life that can leave employees feeling disgruntled.

In fact, such issues are even more crucial among some generations than others. For example, people born within the Generation Z cohort are 20% more likely than Baby Boomers to view opportunities for career growth as important.

So, whether it’s a lack of available positions above their current level that they can move up to, or opportunities to upskill. If there are not enough opportunities to advance themselves, many staff have chosen to move on.

Staff burnout

Burnout is also a critical issue, but it can look very different depending on your line of work. While we will all be familiar with the images of exhausted healthcare workers at the height of the pandemic, burnout can also affect other staff including office workers, but in a less visually obvious way.

More generally the stress of the pandemic and its subsequent effects on working conditions and workloads caused greater than usual burnout among workers everywhere.

Ultimately whatever your reasons for burnout, it can quickly lead you to checking out what alternative employment opportunities are available.

Long held job dissatisfaction

The Great Resignation was also impacted by a backlog of employees who wanted to resign before the pandemic but held on a bit longer during the uncertainty of the lockdowns before resigning when restrictions began lifting.

Then added to this are the many people that simply re-evaluated their life during lockdowns. Having thought about what was really important to them and what made them happy, many took the decision to change their careers as a result.

Or maybe the reason is much simpler?

Regardless of all the reasons we’ve just outlined, there are other research analysts such as Forbes who believe the Great Resignation is simply due to the relationship between supply and demand, which became massively imbalanced following the first Covid lockdown.

Essentially, when the whole planet went into various forms of lockdown in March 2002, companies began huge layoffs and the economy contracted dramatically in ways we hadn’t witnessed for decades. Subsequently, when restrictions began lifting around a year later and there was a sudden demand for goods and services from millions who had spent months locked in their homes, companies had a massive need to scale up again and at speed.

However, with hesitancy over the virus remaining and many workers worried about returning to work, employers faced a short labor supply. To try and address this they were forced to make jobs more attractive in terms of better pay, benefits and conditions, with employees and not the employer having the upper hand for the first time in years. While there is still clearly debate about the main triggers behind the Great Resignation, it’s a trend that’s still very much with us. So, for that reason it’s prudent to have a plan and some ideas about how to manage this threat among your own staff, which we will look at next.

Strategies for managing the great resignation

When it comes to planning a strategy to manage this, you need to be thinking short and longer term, which should be reflected in the ideas that you present. This is because as well as slowing down your current churn rate, you’ll want long-term policies and processes in place that encourage more of your staff to stay.

Here’s some ideas to be thinking about:

Better understand changing employee needs, priorities and expectations

Following the easing of restrictions many employers have been calling on their staff to return to the workplace.

However, during the pandemic many staff will have adapted to another daily routine, whether that was to accommodate more family responsibilities such as home-schooling children, or maybe simply changing their work start and finish times. Whatever the reasons, many staff now have fresh needs, priorities and expectations and employers must show some willingness to try and accommodate these.

An effective way to manage this could be to get your managers to sit down with every team member and discuss their needs, after getting their initial thoughts with an employee survey. The survey’s valuable as it can enable you to get top-level overview of how staff feel and their biggest concerns about working for your company.

Better manage burnout

As we’ve already stated excessive burnout can quickly lead staff heading for the nearest exit, so it needs to be properly managed.

A first step to preventing burnout is to create a more supportive environment.

After taking a hard look at your company culture, you should be asking yourself questions such as: Is our culture one where staff feel valued and cared for? And is it a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for our help?

Depending on where you are with this, you can quickly improve things with by how you’re communicating with staff. Positive notes of encouragement or recognition of a job well done from line managers and senior leaders can quickly boost levels of self-esteem. Similarly, checking in regularly with staff about their workload and how they’re doing can make them feel more supported.

As a minimum, managers should be promoting self-care, such as encouraging staff to use up all their holiday leave entitlement and take advantage of any other company benefits on offer. They should also remind staff about any other available resources that could help them such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Boost staff workplace wellbeing

Closely linked to what we’ve just discussed is workplace wellbeing.

While giving staff opportunities to improve their physical wellbeing through initiatives such as gym memberships are great, it’s important not to forget their mental wellbeing. By mental wellbeing, I mean feeling financially secure, having healthy, supportive relationships, and having a sense of purpose.

There are a number of strategies you could employ to improve mental wellbeing.

  • Try scheduling virtual or in person coffee meetups and team-building activities to help promote greater connectedness among staff and teams
  • Consider initiating a professional or personal development program. This could include subjects such as ‘building resilience’ and ‘communication and leadership’ among others
  • You might want to remind staff about how valuable their contributions are to the overall mission and success of your business
  • For the best results, you might think about implementing a comprehensive staff wellbeing program too. Not only can this help existing staff, but it can help attract better talent to your company as well

Improve your employee experience

Beyond pay and benefits, developing and maintaining a positive employee experience is critical to retaining talent. It’s important because a positive employee experience also increases employee engagement. And high staff engagement is directly linked with greater productivity and profitability, as well as a reduced churn.

The essential elements of the employee experience include a mix of formal and informal elements.

More formal elements include the quality of the employee-manager and peer relationships, opportunities for growth and development, a sense of purpose in one’s work, staff benefits, flexible work arrangements and amenities within the physical workplace.

More informal elements include team-building and social opportunities, minimal politics and office banter, fun and enjoyable events, ergonomically sound workstations, access to healthy food, and good esthetics such as natural light, plants and art.

However, every workplace is different with needs that vary between different groups of staff. So, again the best way to see what staff think of your employee experience is to survey them for their feedback.

Reward staff that choose to stay

While mass employee resignations harm your business, they really impact employees that remain.

Besides weakening morale, many of these employees will be stressed, as more is likely to be asked of them with your labor resources increasingly stretched. Subsequently, you will need to focus more resources towards them, if you’re to help encourage them to stay.

For example, think about hosting a team-building event where employees can get to know new co-workers that are fresh to the business. This will go a long way in help boost spirits, redevelop bonds and foster a sense of community.

Given today’s highly competitive job market, it can also help to review the compensation and benefits package you’re offering staff. From more flexible working arrangements to health insurance, more holidays, perks and bonuses. Think how you compare with your competitors and what you can do to make it more attractive for employees to stay.

Your employee experience is the key

When it comes to staff retention, your employee experience is essential, as it impacts all points of that employee’s journey with you, from their initial recruitment and onboarding to their development and retention.

If you’re not delivering the experiences staff love, they’ll be far more likely to be distracted and tempted by what’s going on outside the business, including any job opportunities.

So, it’s vital that you’re obtaining, listening and acting on their feedback, if you’re to develop and nurture the strong employee experience your staff need.

From fully branded surveys and innovative team collaboration tools to the highest security guarantees and smart integration with your existing business systems. If you’re to deliver the successful program of survey feedback activities you require to improve your employee experience, you need to be using the right tools.

The smarter way to assess employee experience

Smart businesses are attracting the best talent, boosting staff retention and increasing business success by better understanding the employee experience, and fostering a culture, environment and ways of working inspired by this insight.

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