Understanding the Great Resignation & How to Protect Your Business

The Great Resignation. The Employee Exodus. No matter what you call it, it translates into business loss on many levels: talent, knowledge, revenue, productivity, success. And it seems that no industry is being spared from this people pandemic’s gruesome grip.

A Fortune article I ran across explained how the phenomenon described as “turnover shock” has become so prevalent. A personal life event such as a divorce, illness, death of a close relative or friend, etc. can precipitate self-reflection about one’s job satisfaction. But a global catastrophe like COVID-19 can upend every aspect of daily life and jolt us into a mass reflection.

The record number of job openings in the U.S. is simply feeding the frenzy. Add the increased ability to work from anywhere, and you have the perfect storm for this calamitous quit. The ensuing reality is a seismic shift in power from employers to employees.

Demonized by burnout, work-life balance, and virus fears

Executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that remote and non-remote workers most often cite burnout-related reasons. Other research indicates 25% of those leaving their jobs cited burnout and another 25%, work-life balance.

Take the example of Justin Hoffman, a marketing director for an orthopedic practice, featured in the NY Times. After concluding that he was being underpaid by about $13,000, he asked for a raise in March and was given only a small bump in pay—”the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. His last day was in early June. He said he probably would have quit eventually, but the pandemic hastened his decision.

Many people who are reluctant to return to work because of lingering fears of the virus are leaving positions in search of a safe workplace. Those with child care or elder care challenges are looking for more flexibility. Others who have felt stuck in jobs they knew weren’t a good fit are seeking a career change to more meaningful work.

But at the heart of all this re-evaluation is the recognition that since we don’t know what life can throw at us (like a pandemic), we need to make the most of every day.

Reverse resignation with intentional retention

We’ve been helping clients develop and implement retention strategies for years, and we see the need for a concerted retention effort as critical for survival. Clearly, work is no longer just about paying the bills. Employees are rethinking what work means to them, how they are valued, and how they spend their time.

So what can employers who want to keep employees from quitting do? Start the process with the understanding that the unprecedented boost in resignations we’ve seen over the last several months could be the result of more than just a year’s worth of pent-up resignation thinking. Then a natural next step would be to find out what company policies or lack thereof are (or could be) contributing to employee dissatisfaction.

Identify root causes

A detailed data analysis will help you determine which factors could be driving higher resignation rates. Survey topics should include(and are not limited to) communication, culture, leadership style, compensation, time between promotions, tenure, performance, training opportunities. Look for trends within your organization. Larger organizations should think about segmenting employees by categories such as location, function, and other demographics to better understand how work experiences and retention rates differ across specific employee populations.

This information can help you identify not only which employees have the highest risk of resigning, but also who can likely be retained with targeted interventions.

Develop tailored retention programs

With root causes identified, you can begin to create programs to correct specific issues that your workplace struggles with most. For example, if time between promotions is a frequently cited issue, it may be linked to lack of demonstrated appreciation time in addition to reevaluating your advancement policies. Training opportunities may be a cry for a better suited position.

The approach is basic thinking about the impact of the employee experience on engagement. Employees who like what they do, understand how their contributions support the organization, and feel they are appreciated and supported work hard and go home feeling free to engage with family, friends, and personal interests.

Examine culture & communication cues

A significant chunk of employee satisfaction relies on the organization’s culture and quality of communications from its leaders. Employers who blend courage with vulnerability, empathy, and grace in their communications demonstrate their humanity, which makes them more relatable. This approach inspires employees to feel supported, contribute their best efforts and muster up resilience in the face of temporary setbacks.

Fit for the future

Motto for this moment and beyond: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of retention. Consider stemming a future resignation crisis by analyzing how prospective hires will fit with your organization vis a vis:

  • culture and values
  • job function/role/responsibilities
  • work location flexibility vs. role needs
  • psychological profile (personal values, beliefs, etc.)


Get started by taking our employee assessment to discover low points that need attention and create the experience your employees are looking for. Don’t want to go it alone? We’re here to help, so let’s start the conversation: hillary@askhillarys.com or 952-933-8365.