Take a drive down any busy street and you’ll come face-to-face with a now-familiar sight: businesses shutting their doors because there’s no one left to run them, fast-food restaurants closing their drive-throughs because of a lack of workers, coffee shops opening at odd hours to accommodate for a reduced staff. The list goes on and on. American workers are quitting their jobs more than ever before, creating what is now being called “The Great Resignation.” 

Although many could- and do- attribute this rapid resignation rate to the drastic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus may not be to blame for this labor market problem. According to the Harvard Business Review, this so-called sudden crisis is actually just a continuation in a trend that has been occurring for years.  

Since 2009, Americans have quit their jobs at rising rates for a variety of reasons. Joseph Fuller and Willian Kerr name the “Five R’s” as the key contributors: retirement, relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance. Some- such as retirement (of older, at-risk workers), reconsideration (of a work-life balance), and reluctance (to return to jobs if hybrid or remote working is not an option)- have been inflamed by the pandemic, but they’ve been valid reasons why workers have quit their jobs for years. 

Which, of course, means that “The Great Resignation” may not be a crisis that employers can ride out. In 2021 alone, approximately 47 million American workers chose to leave their jobs. Additionally, an estimated 46% of workers  are planning to look for a new job this year. The culture around working and resignation has changed- possibly permanently. 

Since employers can’t succeed without a strong work force, business leaders and managers must identify ways to retain employees as “The Great Resignation” continues to shift the way that we think about work. Here are some recommendations to do just that: 

Get Employee Feedback & Engagement 

It’s no secret that the most engaged employees are often the most productive and committed ones. If an employee is enthusiastic about their workplace, they are less likely to leave. So how do you make your workers enthusiastic? It might sound obvious, but one of the most effective ways to foster employee engagement is to get direct feedback from your workers on how things can be improved, and to implement those strategies in the workplace.  

A simple way to get this feedback is through anonymous surveys. According to Gallup, some of the best questions to ask your employees are about their understanding of the expectations their superiors have for them, whether or not they have the opportunity to do their best work each day, and if they feel as if the people in the organization care about them. All of these questions would give you key insight into the factors that might tempt your workers to leave, as well as any adjustments the company can make to convince them to stay. The anonymity of the surveys will ensure more honest responses, and will make employees feel protected by the establishment. Doing these surveys early and often will help you as a leader learn more about your employees, and what is important to them. 

However, even Gallup admits that sometimes organizations can overdo it on the surveys. There are plenty of other options for collecting feedback and fostering employee engagement. Hold frequent discussions where workers can safely voice their opinions about their own workplace. Have managers undergo special training sessions to make sure they are being friendly and open to feedback. These steps can go a long way when it comes to finding useful data. 

Once this feedback is collected, make sure to implement the changes your workers tell you they need. If they are asking for flexible or hybrid schedules, do your best to make it happen. If they have specific perks or benefits in mind, try to bring those into the organization. Listening is not always enough! Failing to bring workers’ needs to the workplace can make people feel ignored, and may drive employee engagement down instead of up. The level of employee engagement, for the most part, is solely determined by the manager. If workers feel frustrated with their manager, their engagement will decrease- and they will most likely quit.  

Recognize and Appreciate Your Employees 

Much like employee engagement, implementing regular and honest employee recognition is a great way to get workers to stay. Another study done by Gallup, researchers found that employees who received frequent recognition were more motivated, felt a higher sense of accomplishment, and were even more loyal to the company for which they worked. Recognition also helps leaders establish what they want out of their employers- pointing to workers who are doing well is one of the best ways to demonstrate real-life examples of the organization’s culture and goals.  

Recognition doesn’t have to be an expensive gift or a huge trophy. It can be as small as a thank-you card or a quick discussion in passing. What does matter, though, is that it is honest, individualized, and memorable. Gallup cites six methods of recognition that employees love: 

  1. Public recognition (such as an award or a certificate given in front of a group) 
  2. Private recognition (such as a private conversation or email from a boss, peer, or customer) 
  3. Receiving high achievement on evaluations or reviews 
  4. Promotion or an increase of work to demonstrate trust in the employee 
  5. Monetary recognition such as a trip, a prize, or an increase in salary 
  6. Personal satisfaction (such as pride in their own work and fulfillment in life) 

Getting recognition from CEOs is the most effective, for obvious reasons- who doesn’t want to feel appreciated by their boss? However, no matter who gives the recognition, the way that it is done has to align with the purpose, culture, and identity of the organization. By doing this methodical reassurance, you will remind employees not only of their own value, but also of all the reasons why your company is the best fit for them. 

Offer a Sense of Purpose 

Knowing what sustains your employees’ passion for their jobs is key to retaining any worker. As human beings, we know that we often want more out of life than just money and material things. However, so many employers in the United States and beyond mistakenly assume that financial compensation is the sole factor employees take into account when deciding whether or not to leave a job. The truth is that although being paid fairly and well is necessary and important, it is far from the only thing that American workers think about. 

In an article published in 2021, McKinsey & Company researchers found that approximately 70 percent of American workers derive their sense of purpose in life from their jobs. However, only 18% of employees say that their purpose is actually fulfilled and satisfied by the work they do. This disconnect between work and purpose is a huge problem- and may be part of the reason why employees resign. 

Monster’s 2022 Future of Work survey identified a similar trend. Candidates noted “meaningful work” as the second most important factor driving their career choice. Meaningful work can mean different things to different people. To attract the candidate that is the right fit – the one that will feel fulfilled from their job at your company – employers need to re-evaluate how they are positioning themselves externally, and that means taking a close look at their employer brand. Does it provide a realistic picture of your workplace culture? Are statements made on your career site, social platforms, etc., consistent and factual? Are your company values clearly articulated? These are the things candidates will be carefully examining. In fact, in that same Monster survey, it was revealed that 24% of candidates are skeptical of promises companies make about job expectations, benefits, perks, and culture. To break through this uncertainty, engage qualified talent, and ensure they are staying ahead of their competitors, employers need to rise above the expected and authentically communicate to candidates the value of working for them.

However, offering your workers a sense of purpose is not something you can achieve overnight. It in your organization’s foundation: make sure you have a defined mission statement and core values, and that every leader exhibits those values daily. The most powerful corporate purposes are often ones that- ironically- have very little to do with business at all. Consider your role and contribution to society, and re-frame the work you do in order to make the world a better place. Employees who feel as if they are making a real, meaningful impact on the world around them are more likely to find and fulfill their purpose in your organization. 

Like with employee engagement, it is imperative that leaders listen to their employees. In order to create purposeful workers, you will have to “earn,” as McKinsey researchers say, that special place in their lives. Talk to your employees, learn what they want out of life, and see if they are getting that from you. 

Although that prospect may sound daunting, there are several easy ways to implement it. Managers can facilitate reflection through leadership workshops, storytelling sessions, compassionate management, and even showcasing their own personal purposes to their employees. Encouraging ideas and questions is always a good idea, as well as frequently reminding employees of the company’s larger mission. Workers need to feel as if the things they do every day matter. 

This process might sound like a lot of peuso-science, touchy-feely work to you. However, the very same McKinsey researchers previously mentioned found that people who are fulfilled at work are more productive, more resilient, and more likely to stay in the company. They are even healthier on average, which is so important in our COVID-19 world! Giving your employees a purpose- and fulfilling that purpose- has so many benefits not just for your workers, but for the wider company as well. The potential results are worth all the effort.  

Review your pay scale and benefits 

While it isn’t the only factor when deciding to leave or stay in a particular position, it’s no secret that pay plays a significant role in resignation. In fact, a Pew Research survey found that low pay and lack of opportunities for advancement (such as promotions) were the top two reasons why employees quit a job in 2021. Additionally, a Gallup poll revealed that 64% of employees accepted a new job because of higher pay or better benefits. 

In some ways, this “Great Resignation” is a perfect opportunity for employers to review their company’s salaries and benefits. There are multiple ways that you can benchmark your pay in our rapidly evolving labor market. You could perform a third-party compensation analysis, or look at salary guides and pay calculators. Considering the costs of living expenses in the areas which your employees live and work is a great way to support your workers- and show that you care. Another option is to study reports on the various job titles you employ. Research will be useful as you calculate the best salary and benefits for your workers in order to improve your company’s resignation rate. 

There are smaller ways to support your employees financially, too. Incentive programs can foster employee engagement and morale, as well as loyalty to the company. Performance, metric-related, and attendance bonuses are all very effective ways to keep your employees showing up and working hard. Employee referral programs can help you not only find new workers, but the added rewards will encourage your current employees to stay with your company as well. 

Another option is to continuously update your employees on all the benefits you offer. In the bustle of daily life, it is easy for workers to forget that health insurance, 401K plans, retirement plans, and other employer-funded programs are all a part of an employee’s total compensation. End-of-the-year compensation summaries may be a good way to remind your employees of the bigger picture, especially if changes to those benefits have recently taken place. 

Tip: Don’t forget your tenured employees! If you’re hiring people with less experience and paying them more, you may want to review how you’re paying employees across the board. Your long-standing workers may have had less significant increases over the years, but could get recruited at other companies for much higher pay rates. Don’t financially penalize those who have been reliable, loyal contributors to your organization. The tenured employees will be your examples to your new workers of your company policies, culture, and values, as well as what these new employees could become if they stay with your company through this “Great Resignation.” 

Summary  

The Great Resignation has, perhaps, changed the labor market forever. Remote working during the pandemic has expedited workers into taking a firm stance on what they need out of a job: engagement, recognition, purpose, higher pay, and more benefits. Americans want to pursue work they genuinely believe in, feel heard in their work environment, and be compensated at fair market rates. 

If the Harvard Business Review is correct, and the Great Resignation is here to stay, then companies must adjust and catch up. Employers have to identify ways to keep their workers content and engaged- which will, consequently, benefit their entire organization as a whole.  

The Great Resignation, therefore, may not be the disastrous crisis that we think it is. If business leaders play their cards right, it might actually turn into something different that will transform the labor market for the better. The Great Resignation is an opportunity for innovation, and for employers to creatively satisfy the long-standing needs of the workforce as a whole.