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The Great Resignation—why are they leaving?

By Carolina Milanesi
tumbleweed in empty office with one person illustrating great resignation

We have heard about the Great Resignation and the big reshuffle the pandemic has fueled. After perhaps being pushed harder and farther than ever before for the past two years, workers are reevaluating their jobs and the role work plays in their lives. Creative Strategies Inc. ran a study at the end of December 2021 across 1,136 employed Americans. A primary goal was to achieve visibility on the influencing factors behind what seems to be a societal shift in how American workers see their job.

Before we dig into the data related to people wanting to leave their jobs, let’s understand where workers are now. We see two key considerations for our evaluation. First, correlating employee’s desires to what their employer is delivering is a particularly helpful context. The other is to realize the drivers behind the Great Resignation are complex, as they depend on the employee’s role at work, their gender, and the sector they work in.

Many employees still face uncertainty as to when, or even if, they will return to the office. Thirty-one percent have yet to be told by their employer, and another 28% have only been told it will be sometime in 2022. Those numbers are especially alarming considering psychological studies note that uncertainty increases anxiety in employees and is a leading factor for employee burnout.

Knowing when the return to the office will happen is only part of the concern. For those employees who want to work remotely, there is a concern their desire will make them look bad with their managers (28%). Another 27% either agree or strongly agree hybrid work will make it harder to be appreciated and will negatively impact company culture (24%).  

When asked if they had thought about leaving their position since Covid started, 9% said they had already left, 24% said they thought of it but did not act on it, 9% said they were planning to leave within six months, and another 6% is planning to leave within a year. 

Not surprisingly, given the increased focus on remote and hybrid work, the desire to leave is higher among remote workers. Among respondents who usually work either all the time or a few days a week remotely, 52.3% have either left or plan to leave their job. Normalizing remote work has increased the number of job opportunities for workers who were remote before the pandemic.

Even though plenty of data shows a more dramatic effect of the pandemic on women, women (48.5%) were only slightly ahead of men (47.8%) when it came to our panel’s propensity to leave their jobs. 

Looking at the respondents who quit their job and those who intend to, those in management positions expressed a stronger desire to leave at 51.1% compared to 46.4% among non-management workers. The split between management and non-management is interesting as it seems the higher propensity to leave among managers who, according to several studies, have better faired the strain of the pandemic might be supported by a higher degree of confidence in their ability to find another job. 

The stress-test of three critical verticals 

Three industries’ numbers stood out among people who left or are planning to leave their job: technology, education and healthcare. The technology sector has been among the most flexible when it comes to allowing employees to work either full time or part time remotely, so it might appear surprising 25% of the respondents who left their jobs and 18% of those planning to leave work in this sector. Yet, this is a sector facing a considerable talent shortage, which gives power to employees over employers. As for education and healthcare, those sectors have been under immense pressure since the beginning of the pandemic’s widespread, negative ramifications. In these areas, burnout is the main reason behind the departures.

When we start to dissect the motivations behind the desire to move on from one’s current job, we start to see more clearly how the pandemic has impacted people differently. Overall, seeking higher salary (25.5%), being burned out (14.3%), and wanting better benefits (12.2%) are the primary reasons respondents gave as to why they left their job. If you think the way you behaved as an employer during Covid went unnoticed, think again. Among respondents who left their job, 40% said their employer put productivity over wellbeing. This number grows to 43% among respondents planning to leave. To make it very clear, let’s look at it a different way. Among respondents who agree or strongly agree with the statement, “I believe my company puts productivity over wellbeing,” 60% have either already left their job or are planning to leave.

Transparency and consistent, clear communication is imperative

There is a lot of data to digest here. Therefore, with businesses in the midst of another spike in infections delaying the return to work and influencing long-term plans, leadership should use the following points as a foundation to help guide them as they look to shepherd their teams and organizations into an uncertain future of work.

With 44% of respondents saying they want to see how their engagement, work satisfaction, and sentiment measure against coworkers, it is clear employees want more data and transparency. Certainly, more than an annual employee survey could ever provide.

Over the past two years, workers across industries have demonstrated working remotely is productive. While the circumstances we all worked under were extraordinary, burnout is a reality that businesses must address through company culture as well as the tools they provide to get the job done. Among the respondents who said they were burned out, 19% never worked remotely, and 30% always did.

Even if you embrace hybrid work, its implementation will not be successful unless you make all your employees seen and valued. Forty percent of the respondents who left or plan to leave their job are concerned about looking bad in their manager’s eyes for wanting to work remotely. The concerns about how choosing remote or hybrid will harm their career might drive people back to the office but does not assure long-term engagement and productivity.

About The Author

Carolina Milanesi President and Principal Analyst Creative Strategies
Carolina has over 15 years of experience in the consumer technology industry, most recently as the President and Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies since 2016.
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