What Business Owners Need to Know About the Great Resignation

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Written By Adeyemi Adetilewa

The Great Resignation (also known as the Big Quit or Great Reshuffle) that began in 2021 continues to have impacts across the U.S. economy. If you are a business owner, you may already have been affected by massive employee turnover.

Here are the Great Resignation statistics you need to know about and how to move forward from the Big Quit or Great Reshuffle.

How Many Employees Quit?

Real Estate Witch’s study on the Great Resignation revealed shocking numbers. In April 2021, four million employees left their jobs.

After a brief dip in May, that number continued to climb. At the height of the Great Resignation, over 4.5 million employees quit their jobs in December 2021. But why?

Understanding why employees quit, where they went, and what they regret is critical to surviving the Great Resignation.

How Many Employees Quit?

It’s Not Them — It’s You

What is the most common reason employees quit? About one-third of workers (31 per cent) said they left their jobs due to toxic company culture — often the result of a bad boss or a general lack of quality leadership. 

About 80 per cent of survey respondents said the pandemic played a role in their decision to quit, with many taking issues with how their company responded to COVID. They cited their employers:

  • Lack of health and safety measures (41 per cent)
  • Excess to health and safety measures (28 per cent)

These findings underscore why it is important for employers to make an effort to understand their workers’ concerns. Taking a more active approach to employee happiness through feedback and action can improve the odds of retaining the best employees. 

How employees left

Bosses may have room for improvement, but some resigning employees won’t win any awards for professionalism either. Only 52 per cent of workers gave their employer at least two weeks’ notice before quitting, with the remainder giving one week or less. 

Notably, one in eight employees simply disappeared. While employees ghosting a company sounds bad, it is also fairly surprising since job seekers noted that companies ghosting them is the second-most frustrating thing about looking for a new position, according to the survey.

And even though 80 per cent of survey respondents received a counteroffer when they resigned, they left anyway. This is the clearest indication that workers’ ideas about their jobs have shifted to include more than just compensation. It is a glimpse into how employers need to make critical changes to attract — and keep — a solid workforce.

Regrets About Quitting

Over half — 55 per cent — of employees had another job when they resigned, 53 per cent of whom saw a pay cut (but 42 per cent of whom saw their salary increase).

The average pay cut was $8,000, but still-unemployed resigners said they would take a cut of $23,000 for a better job. But are they happy?

About 47 per cent of people who quit during the Great Resignation were very happy in their new role. Nearly one-third of workers (31 per cent) wouldn’t return to their old jobs under any circumstances. 

Despite enjoying their new jobs, most workers (57 per cent) still expressed at least a little regret about leaving their old positions. Even if they don’t regret leaving enough to return, it goes to show that many who quit might have been willing to stay if improvements had been made at the time.

The Great Resignation: Why are so many workers quitting?

The Great Resignation: Why are so many workers quitting?

Just as some customers vote with their wallets, millions of workers are speaking with their feet. With inflation soaring and the U.S. economy adding hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, many are still staying away from work.

Even more eye-opening, 44 per cent of people who quit and found another job are considering resigning again in the next six months. Why?

1. Employees want flexible schedules

Many employees got used to scheduling their work around their lives, and they aren’t eager to reverse that. If it is possible to offer flexible scheduling, this can help attract workers who want to go back to work without compromising the balance they found during the pandemic. 

2. Wages need to rise

Inflation at the end of May was 7 per cent. The national average price of a gallon of regular gas is around $5. Employees will not return to work for pay that doesn’t meet their everyday living expenses — especially if there are no other benefits. 

Large companies are planning for wage increases of 3.9 per cent or more, but this may not be feasible for small business owners. Because 60 per cent of workers expressed profound relief upon resignation, the answer for small employers may be to capitalize on offering a better work environment that is:

  • Fulfilling.
  • Supportive.
  • Collaborative.

This includes plenty of opportunities for employees to work with purpose on projects they find engaging. In many cases, small businesses that offer these positive incentives can be more competitive — even at a lower rate of pay.

3. Workers want a remote option

With some large corporations enforcing a full-time return to in-person work, it remains to be seen how many more people want to return to their jobs. Business owners who can pivot to remote options are more likely to:

  • Remain open during shutdowns.
  • Attract employees who resist in-person returns.
  • Reduce the cost of unused office space.

As organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, the person who coined the term Great Resignation, said, “The move to remote work and changes in job flexibility may not have occurred for another 30 years if not for the crisis. The pandemic brought the future of work into the present of work … [and we] are not going back.”

4. The entrepreneurial spirit is high

That top-notch graphic designer who left last month may now be your direct competition. 

If employees cannot get what they need through traditional employment, many are starting their own businesses. The U.S. Census Bureau reported 5.4 million new business applications in 2021, and that doesn’t include other side hustles and people operating without licenses.

Entrepreneurs are cropping up at all stages of work, from the newly graduated to the newly retired. They appreciate the ability to control their work, their pay, and their progress.

Business owners who focus on employee autonomy and encourage (and reward) innovation may be able to bring some of that entrepreneurial optimism and enthusiasm back into the fold.

How Businesses Can Come Back From the Great Resignation

How Businesses Can Come Back From the Great Resignation

Now is the time for business owners to be proactive in creating a new workplace that is energized and focused on employee well-being and engagement. The culture of the workplace is critical in bringing workers back — even if “back” means staying remote.

What does this look like?

1. Offer a suite of work options

From co-working spaces to full-time, in-person schedules, let employees decide how and where they want to work.

2. Practice effective communication

Stop wasting time with meetings that could have been an email. And stop sending emails that could have been a text. In short? Keep communication simple, clear, and effective. 

3. Engage employees

Don’t just give lip service to the idea that employees’ opinions matter. As the saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Ask for input, listen to what’s not being said, and make decisions that feel more collaborative. 

4. Develop a path for growth

Toxic culture may have been the number one reason employees resigned, but not far below that at 27 per cent was a perceived lack of opportunities for career growth.

And knowing that many of your newly hired employees may be planning to resign again, it makes even more sense to start finding structured paths for employees to grow with you.

This looks like:

  • Mentorship.
  • Relevant training opportunities.
  • Growth mindset.
  • Structured talent development.
  • In-house promotion.

5. Stay balanced

Finally, employee well-being must remain a focus as you move forward during the continued influence of the Great Resignation.

The mental, physical, and emotional toll of struggling with a worldwide pandemic cannot be overestimated. This is true for everyone — employees and business owners alike.

Consider implementing mandatory time off for employees who struggle with unplugging at the end of the day. This could also look like a company culture that restricts work-related email after certain hours or on certain days, too.

Other ways to model wellness and balance include:

  • Offering company-wide training on topics such as dealing with stress, building resilience, and financial planning.
  • Providing incentives for exercise and wellness.
  • Making resources available for employees (e.g., counsellors unrelated to HR).

Above all, business owners need to make it clear to employees that they are more than just the sum of their workload and productivity. Giving them the tools for cultivating balance — and the time they need to use them — is a step in this direction.

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