July 5, 2021
The idea that thousands of people will voluntarily quit their jobs in the coming months has gone viral.
It is what Texas A&M professor Anthony Klotz, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, dubbed the great resignation. In short, Klotz’s thesis is that, after almost a year and a half in which very few people have dared to leave their jobs due to the uncertain environment, the outlook could be very different soon. And this has its logic. But probably this foreseeable increase in voluntary employee turnover is not only because many people, who during these months have been postponing their decisions to change jobs, now want to make up for the lost time. In addition, since the pandemic broke out, the world of work has changed in many aspects, the crisis has been very stressful for many people, and many others have had time to think and now see their lives (and the world) differently than how they saw them in early 2020.
However, in some professions, they have not waited for the end of the pandemic. In January, Mark Maurer revealed in The Wall Street Journal that more CFOs of S&P 500 companies resigned during 2020 than in previous years. Specifically, a total of 37 CFOs, including those of General Motors and HP, submitted their resignation, which represents an increase of 28% compared to 2019, and a figure significantly higher than the average number during the last decade (25 per year). Of course, as the language of corporate communications on these issues tend to be ambiguous, some of these resignations might be layoffs, but still, it is a relevant figure.
On the other hand, we have the YOLO (You Only Live Once) phenomenon Kevin Roose wrote about in a celebrated article published in April in The New York Times. After a year locked up, enduring endless successions of video calls, and to the surprise of some of their employers, many people are abandoning comfortable, stable jobs to start a new business or turn a secondary occupation or entertainment into a full-time job. Others, in front of the back-to-office instructions from their companies, threaten to quit unless they are allowed to work where and when they want. In a scenario in which we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, vaccination rates increase, the job market recovers, and their bank accounts have grown fat after a year without practically leaving home, many are willing to assume more risks. Yet, the story is always the same. The experience of the pandemic has changed the priorities of many people who have realized that they do not want to continue living (or working) as they used to do.
If we go back from the level of facts to the level of intentions, the conclusions of a report produced by Microsoft, with the participation of more than 30,000 workers in 31 countries, are quite revealing. According to this report, it appears that four out of every ten workers could be considering the possibility of leaving their job. And this proportion rises to 54% among workers between 18 and 25 years of age.
In the same line, the results of the Pulse of the American Worker survey conducted by Prudential point that 25% of American employees hope to find a new employer once the threat of the pandemic has diminished. Many feel stuck in a context where companies automate processes and tasks faster than they anticipated before the pandemic, and have relegated professional development activities to more urgent needs, such as the survival of the company or the safety of people. Specifically, of those who said they plan to change jobs, 80% are concerned about their career, and 72% about their skills, compared to only 46% of employees in general. To this feeling of stagnation, we must add the social distancing caused by remote work, which makes people feel a little less emotionally attached to the organization, and a little more open than before to the proposals of headhunters.
Finally, we can also highlight the research carried out by the HR software company Personio, according to which 38% of employees in the United Kingdom and Ireland have plans to change roles in the next six to 12 months, or once the economy has stabilized. (This proportion rises to 55% among young people between 18 and 34 years old). Among the factors behind those intentions, 29% of respondents highlight the lack of professional progress opportunities, 29% the perception that their work is not sufficiently appreciated, 25% poor management, 23% a salary freeze or cut, and 23% that their job bores them.
But still, what is most worth noting in this later study is that it reveals significant differences between how employers perceive their organizations and how workers see them, which could also be feeding the intention of those people to leave their jobs.
To begin with, employers are indeed aware that the ‘big escape’ may come on the way, and practically half of them are concerned that some of their employees may leave once the situation improves. However, only a quarter of the surveyed HR decision-makers say that talent retention will be one of their organizations’ priorities over the next 12 months.
Nevertheless, what I find particularly striking is the tendency of the surveyed HR decision-makers to underestimate the impact certain variables have on the intention of people to leave their jobs. In particular, the influence of people feeling no appreciation for their work (29% workers vs. 15% HR), the lack of professional progress opportunities (29% workers vs. 17% HR), and the existence of a toxic culture (21% workers vs. 12% HR).
These figures remind me of the results of a survey we conducted in Future for Work Institute almost a year ago, just after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which uncovered a large gap between the way executives and workers evaluated their companies’ response to the crisis.
While 78% of executives evaluated their performance positively, only 55% of middle managers, 45% of technicians, 44% of administrative and customer service personnel, and 39% of the operators and auxiliary service workers agreed. More specifically, 73% of executives positively evaluated the decisions taken on internal communications, 80% those on occupational health and safety, 71% the decisions regarding work organization, and 82% considered the company paid attention to people’s circumstances. However, in the next most positive group, middle managers, the proportion of positive opinions on those topics was only 55%, 54%, 58%, and 52%, respectively.
Before those data, I cannot help but wonder if the ‘great resignation’ that seems to be looming is a reaction to the ‘great seclusion’ we have suffered during the pandemic, or a consequence of the ‘great disconnection’ that has grown, and continues to grow, in many organizations …
Image Nico Kaiser under a Creative Commons license