The Great Resignation: Nine Ways to Counter the Effects

Written by JC Gonzalez

The Great Resignation has upended almost every industry in the world. In 2021, 47.4 million people voluntarily quit their jobs. The event has left company owners and hiring managers asking, what do we do in response?

The first piece of advice is don’t panic. Companies must identify the specific factors leading to employee turnover and take steps to correct them. Here are nine steps your company can take to counter the effects of this mass exodus.

Great Resignation: When Did It Begin? 

Anthony Klotz is credited for coining the term “Great Resignation.” Dr. Klotz is a professor of management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. He referred to an upcoming period of great attrition in 2021 when participating in an interview about the ways people leave their jobs.

The pandemic lockdown may have been a factor leading to the Great Resignation but it was not the start. Most of the job losses we witnessed in 2020 were a result of an economic stoppage. They were not voluntary resignations. 

Employment in the US up to 22 shows the drop in quits before the great resignation
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After several years of a growing workforce, the number of employed Americans dropped by 9.75 million in 2020. By 2021, the recovery was well underway, finishing only 3% below the 2019 peak. And it was during that recovery period of 2021 that the Great Resignation began.

Great Resignation: Why Are Employees Leaving?

In explaining the beginning of what would become the Great Resignation, Klotz said the following: 

“I noticed four trends unique to the pandemic that I believed would each independently contribute to higher than normal levels of resignations in the United States, and that would lead to a massive wave of resignations when combined.”

These were the trends Klotz cited:

  • Delayed resignations
  • Employee burnout
  • Re-evaluation of priorities and values
  • Reluctance to give up remote work

Delayed Resignations

People resign every year; it’s a normal part of the national workforce. As 2019 closed, an average of 3.5 million workers quit their jobs each month. 2020 continued this way until the lockdowns of the pandemic took effect. This led to a dramatic drop in workers quitting their jobs due to the uncertainty of the job market. 

Graph shows how much 2021 lines above well above the average year in voluntary quits
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Data from the Harvard Business Review shows that in 2019, roughly 2.3% of the national workforce quit their job. This rate had increased each year since 2009 and the following year should’ve seen 2.5% of the workforce quitting. Instead, that number dropped. The result was a 2021 consisting of two years of resignations. 

Resignations Due to Employee Burnout

Employees were thankful to work from home and remain employed during a period of high stress. They took on more responsibilities to show gratitude and to prove remote work would benefit employers.

Stuck at home for the majority of the time, the lines between home and work blurred. Employees worked long hours, often unpaid, while they also took on new personal responsibilities. This inevitably resulted in burnout and partially led to the increased rate of resignations.

These conditions were perhaps most obvious in education. As all education moved online, already stressed educators had to adapt to a new environment quickly. In addition to remote learning courses, workplace wellness became a top priority.  

According to a Pew Research survey, 39% of employees who changed jobs in 2021 cited working too many hours as a reason for the change. 

Jobs Reassessed During Lockdown

The lockdown served as a period of personal and professional self-assessment. This moment was eye-opening. Employees driven by pay and travel perks suddenly cared more about health benefits and work-life balance. 

In 2020, we added many more occupations to the definition of essential worker
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The level of perceived exposure to COVID-19 also played a role in these decisions. In early 2020, the term “essential worker” extended beyond health care and law enforcement. It was adjusted to include service workers to keep grocery stores and restaurants open. Workers began to feel underpaid and under-appreciated for working in at-risk environments.

Workers Resigned to Make Temporary Adjustments Permanent

The main temporary adjustment is the ability to work from home. Workers whose primary tool for work was a computer moved to remote environments. While some companies were already working this way, many did it out of necessity, not desire. These same companies began to push workers back to the office as soon as pandemic regulations were lifted. And some employees chose to present a letter of resignation than return to the office.

A Pew research survey showed 64% of workers reported feeling uncomfortable returning to the office. The same survey also cites 57% of people choosing to work from home due to concern over exposure to COVID. For this group, keeping a remote work environment became a priority in 2021.

great resignation factor - people wish to continue working from home
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Great Resignation: What Can Employers Do? 

It may seem that all power is moving to employees in this environment but that is not exactly the case. Even today, early studies show that a large portion of people who changed jobs in 2021 would like to undo that decision and are already looking for new alternatives. Strive to present your company as one that meets the needs of today’s employees. It will put you in position to retain your best employees and attract new talent. 

1. Offer Competitive Pay

We’ve established that pay is not the only factor employees use to stay at a job or take a new opportunity. It does remain one of the leading factors, as 63% of workers quit their job in 2021 due to low pay.  

Failing to pay competitive wages will cost you top talent. Also, training new employees is more expensive than adjusting your pay rates to retain the team you have. 

Employee retention is important during the great resignation because training new employees carries a high cost
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Job search leader Indeed states the average company spends $1,252 to train one new employee. And this number does not include the costs of recruiting, interviewing, and the loss of productivity for both the new hire and the rest of the team. 

2. Build and Incentivize

Another way to retain your team and avoid mass resignations is to keep employees engaged. Ensure there are team-building activities throughout the year to build bonds among your staff. These activities can occur in person, online, or in the metaverse

You can offer incentives to pump up your team. Schedule VR team building activities complete with headsets for all your employees. Encourage them to attend training sessions and collect points for extra perks. Consider spiffs for sales staff and customer ratings for service personnel.

3. Identify Happiness Gaps

2020 was a stressful year filled with fear and uncertainty at both personal and professional levels. This is why many employees who assessed their jobs did so with one criteria in mind, happiness. Before the pandemic, happiness at work was a bonus, not a primary objective. 

Companies must identify what makes happy and unhappy employees among their workforce
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Are your employees happy? Can you identify the areas that make them unhappy? They may see upper management as chaotic, creating fear. They may want a complimentary snack bar to replace the company-owned vending machine. Some areas may be costly while others may be so simple you won’t believe you missed them in the first place.

Don’t let these gaps lead to good employees joining the Great Resignation. Conduct a survey with the goal of identifying gaps. When you find areas of improvement, work with your management team to determine their level of importance. And if an area is deemed important, correct it quickly. Don’t create long processes that draw out a problem when the solution is easy. 

4. Restructure Existing Roles

Not all employees may want public recognition but most stellar employees want you to recognize the work they’ve done for you. During periods of employee turnover, one way to recognize good talent is to revisit their role within the company. This may be as simple as a title change when you adjust pay (see Offer Competitive Pay section). 

Upskilling and reskilling is essential for companies to fight back against the great resignation
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In adjusting roles, you may be able to offer employees the opportunity to learn new skills relevant to their existing role through upskilling. Edstutia offers VR upskilling programs in a variety of areas. Your employees could take courses in our VR campus, saving you the cost of creating a VR training program for this purpose. 

5. Offer Flexible Scheduling

We’ve already mentioned 39% of employees cited working too many hours as the reason for leaving a job in 2021. On the flip side, 30% claimed they joined the Great Resignation because they worked too few hours. 

Consider abandoning the hourly structure and instead relying on what your workforce delivers for a competitive wage. Accept that your employees have personal responsibilities like caring for a parent or attending a child’s school function. 

If you have to continue using an hourly system, do the hours have to occur between 8 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday? It’s possible your graphic designer is most creative during the evening hours. She will appreciate your ability to offer a flexible schedule and you will enjoy superior results now that she doesn’t have to perform creative tasks at 8:30 AM. 

Companies should focus on building a positive company culture so employees prefer to stay
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6. Focus on Company Culture

Even if you are shifting to a remote environment, your company develops a culture. And if you’ve taken care to cultivate a positive one your team embraces, you should broadcast it. Remember that talent is scouting your company just as much as you scout the talent pool. Your company culture serves as a resume of your company and presents you in the best light. 

Use social media to showcase why working at your company is a rewarding experience. LinkedIn may be the obvious choice here but it is not the only choice. Companies like Zappos use their Facebook and Instagram profiles as recruiting tools featuring their employees. The result offers two main benefits. People want to work for Zappos because they care about their team and consumers want to do business with them for their humanity. 

7. Remove the College Degree Roadblock

We’ve all seen job posts with a laundry list of requirements despite being listed as “entry-level” in the title of the job post. One of those requirements is, invariably, the college degree. The average college graduate today takes six years to receive their four-year degree. Only 41% of students get their degree in four years. 

In fighting against the great resignation, companies should remove the degree roadblock in order to attract top talent that may not have the education but may have the skills
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In addition, rising tuition and other socio-economic hurdles have created a skills gap that today is becoming a chasm. This is why Edstutia supports the No Hoops pledge that demands companies hire based on abilities rather than the perceived value of a degree. 

Companies like Apple, Google, Tesla, and others have already eliminated degree requirements. Why are you still including this in your job posts? You may be eliminating candidates highly capable of doing the job required but unable to show the proper documentation. 

8. Remove the Physical Office Roadblock

Employees were talking about doing their work outside the office years before nasal swab tests became part of normal life. Most employees simply accepted the company’s decision as the rule. This rule changed by necessity once COVID forced their hand. 

From the early days of the lockdown, companies resistant to this change were already talking about returning to the office, at least in a hybrid environment. Under this arrangement, employees would be able to work remotely for some period of time and work in the office for the rest. This ratio would typically be dictated by the employer, keeping them in control of this new work environment. 

Work is not only going remote, it's becoming asynchronous. Companies will need to adapt to people working at various hours and from various places around the globe
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In 2022, technology and the Great Resignation has shown us the reality. the future of work does not reside within a building deemed as the company. Your company is now everywhere your employees can work from and work occurs around the clock. In fact, this article from Fast Company explains an asynchronous work environment best: 

“With an asynchronous work style, work becomes more like a relay race where one could set tasks and deadlines for the other without the expectation to respond right away. Work gets done on time, people are less stressed, and it allows for a wider talent pool.”

– Kenzo Fong

9. Review Your Training Programs

Employees want to feel like the company they work for is as invested in their growth as they are in the company’s growth. A training program for employees to upskill and grow within your company is a powerful way to assure workers you are all on the same team.

Training is no longer as simple as setting a conference room aside for training. With a distributed workforce, the best way to run a successful training program is using experiential learning through virtual reality. 

In adjusting to the great resignation, companies should upgrade their training programs
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Edstutia’s training courses focus on technical, in-demand skills companies across multiple industries require. In addition, our focus on soft skills – AKA power skills – gives employees the tools to grow as leaders, communicators, and human representations of your company. 

Great Resignation: Wrap-Up

The Great Resignation has created an unstable work environment across all industries. Companies must take significant steps to hold on to their best employees and find new ones to fill key roles. Here is Anthony Klotz’s own take on the path forward for companies: 

This could be by offering flexible schedules or higher pay, or better benefits to working parents, or by building a truly inclusive work environment. As long as the investment is aligned with the organizational culture, this could bring a long-term competitive advantage.

Edstutia’s VR training solutions are designed around your needs. Training sessions can occur in our fully virtual campus – one of the first in the country – or in unique environments and experiences designed specifically for you and your team. Learn more about our enterprise solutions and how Edstutia can improve your training program.