Since the pandemic, employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers have played a big part in why they’re walking away.
A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year, and a study from HR software company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record.
There are a number of reasons people are seeking a change, in what some economists have dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. For some workers, the pandemic precipitated a shift in priorities, encouraging them to pursue a ‘dream job’, or transition to being a stay-at-home parent. But for many, many others, the decision to leave came as a result of the way their employer treated them during the pandemic.
Foremost, workers are taking decisions to leave based on how their employers treated them – or didn’t treat them – during the pandemic. Ultimately, workers stayed at companies that offered support, and darted from those that didn’t.
Workers who, pre-pandemic, may already been teetering on the edge of quitting companies with existing poor company culture saw themselves pushed to a breaking point. That’s because, as evidenced by a recent Stanford study, many of these companies with bad environments doubled-down on decisions that didn’t support workers, such as layoffs (while, conversely, companies that had good culture tended to treat employees well). This drove out already disgruntled workers who survived the layoffs, but could plainly see they were working in unsupportive environments.
The mass departure is happening at all levels of work, and is especially evident in service and retail jobs. “Many of the stories have tended to focus on white collar jobs, but the biggest trends are really around traditionally low-wage roles and essential workers,” says Omens. In fact, the American retail sector has seen more recent resignations than any other industry. Just fewer than 650,000 retail workers quit in the month of April alone, according to data from the Labor Department.
Throughout the pandemic, essential workers – often in lower paid positions – have borne the brunt of employers’ decisions. Many were working longer hours on smaller staffs, in positions that required interaction with the public with little to no safety measures put in place by the company and, at least in the US, no guarantee of paid sick leave. It quickly burnt workers out.
Now, major retailers are scrambling to fill open positions, and finding it difficult to get enough new, willing workers in the door. Companies including Target and Best Buy have raised wages, while McDonald’s and Amazon are offering hiring bonuses ranging from $200 to $1,000. Still, a survey by executive search firm Korn Ferry found that 94% of retailers are having trouble filling empty roles.
“When there’s a lot of people moving, that costs companies in terms of turnover and lost productivity,” he says. “It takes six to nine months to onboard someone to be fully effective. Companies that lose a lot of their workforce are going to struggle with this over the next 12 to 16 months, and maybe much longer. Companies that don’t invest in their people will fall behind.”
Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July. How can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?
In normal times, people quitting jobs in large numbers signals a healthy economy with plentiful jobs. But these are not normal times. The pandemic led to the worst U.S. recession in history, and millions of people are still out of jobs. Yet employers are now complaining about acute labor shortages.
Restaurant and hotel workers led the way in spring resignations
More than 740,000 people who quit in April worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, theme parks and other entertainment venues.
Jeremy Golembiewski has ideas about why. Last week, after 26 years in food service, he quit his job as general manager of a breakfast place in San Diego. The pandemic had a lot to do with it. Work had gotten too stressful, marked by scant staffing and constant battles with unmasked customers. He contracted COVID-19 and brought it home to his wife and father-in-law.
The great migration to remote work in the pandemic has also had a profound impact on how people think about when and where they want to work.
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