Lessons Learned from 'The Great Resignation'

Leadership | Collaboration

Recently while watching the NFL playoffs, I noticed an interesting advertising trend. Interspersed with countless ads for financial services, fast food chains, and trucks, I saw something new – a pronounced uptick in slick commercials for job matching platforms like Indeed, Glassdoor, and Upwork. “A sign of the times?” I wondered.

Economists and statisticians differ about whether there really is a worldwide ‘great resignation’ brought on by the pandemic. Or, are we just experiencing common turnover patterns within certain industries or age groups like 16–25-year-olds?1

The Big Surprise: Tenured Employees Are Also Leaving

While these typical turnover patterns are occurring, new compelling research shows that tenured employees (5-15 years on the job) are departing at the highest rates since the pandemic began – a 55-57% jump in resignations between 2020-2021 alone.2

This is a startling statistic when viewed through the lens of talent management, and in particular, leadership effectiveness as a reflection of organizational health. When key influencers resign, they catalyze a resignation contagion. They pull other team members and admiring colleagues in their wake.

Reasons People Leave Organizations
We know that employees leave organizations for many reasons, but among them are disengagement and lack of workplace development. Employee expectations have changed in this regard. They seek different qualities in the work environment than in the past, such as greater transparency and autonomy, heightened collaboration, more creative opportunities, and better professional development.

Leaders are the critical linchpin between the organization and these at-risk workers. Although it’s often difficult for busy managers to track all their reporting relationships well, not attending to the changing needs of these dissatisfied employees costs an organization far more than developing the leadership skills required to understand and meet employee needs in the first place. A 2021 Gallup poll reports the cost of replacing an employee who leaves as 1.5-2x their salary.3

Well Trained Leaders Guard Against Employee Turnover
Training your leaders is far cheaper than losing the employees that report to them. Several core competencies can make the world of difference. Try upskilling or re-skilling your leaders in how to:

  • Get connected and stay connected with employees, especially if they’re remote
  • Keep existing employees engaged and committed to a shared and meaningful purpose
  • Proactively listen to understand specific employee needs
  • Build workable agreements with employees for mutual gain
  • Remain open and transparent, especially in highly stressful conditions

Even complexity theory gives us insight into employee engagement. Leaders can be taught to pay attention to recurring patterns of employee need and development. This gives them opportunities to be proactive, to alter dysfunctional patterns of engagement before key employees leave. Change the patterns and you change the organization.

Quoting the Gallup report: Effective manager development isn't necessarily quick or easy. But the return on investment is so disproportionate, so massive, that it's almost like cheating.” And yet, the best ROI is without question the higher sense of personal engagement, contribution and organizational loyalty workers experience when they become part of something meaningful and vital. And that is the most important gift a leader can give.

  1. Are we really facing a resignation crisis?, World Economic Forum, 12 January 2022.
  2. Stop the Exit, Vizier InsightsTM Report, October 2021.
  3. The ‘Great Resignation’ is really the ‘Great Discontent’, Gallup, July 22, 2021

For more on motivation-based leadership coaching that works to manage and keep valued employees, please visit: StillMind Coaching Solutions.

About Susan DeGenring

Susan is the founder of StillMind Coaching Solutions. She is a leadership consultant, a board-certified executive and team coach, and a virtual program leader. As former Director of Product Development at Interaction Associates, Susan managed the transformation of IA's product strategy, catalyzing a decade of robust growth, as well as led IA's transition from classroom to virtual learning.