Is it possible to counter the “Great Resignation”?


Working in HR, it’s unlikely you’ve gone a day in the past 18 months without hearing the notorious term “big quit.” Coined by Professor Anthony Klotz, the term refers to an expected wave of people leaving their jobs as a result of the pandemic, either because they had postponed their resignation during a lockdown or because the pandemic had highlighted their desire for a better work-life balance. Just when we were focusing on the idea of ​​the great resignation, Professor Ranjay Gulati repositioned it as the “great overhaul”, highlighting how employees try to adjust their relationship not just with their employer, but with everything the concept of employment.

Analysis of Office for National Statistics data for 2021 offers insight into this phenomenon in the UK context. He suggests two mechanisms: First, that employees would have delayed or avoided job changes during the height of the pandemic, as this would make them ineligible for furlough. Second, job vacancies declined significantly at the start of the pandemic, as companies did not want to risk recruiting at a time of uncertainty when demand for their goods and services was unpredictable and fluctuated wildly. As the economy has emerged from the pandemic and confidence has risen, job vacancies and moves have also increased – indeed UK job vacancies hit an all time high between December 2021 and March 2022. That’s great news for job seekers, but less so for employers keen to snag star talent.

My work at the University of Birmingham Business School, and recently my research conducted in partnership with the CIPD and published in its Good job index 2022, shows that one in five employees in the UK could leave their job in the next 12 months, with improved pay, work-life balance and job satisfaction being the main drivers. So how do you navigate this new world of work? Job quality is key to employee retention, and flexibility is at the heart of that.

Even though Jacob Rees-Mogg might wish otherwise, it’s clear that remote and hybrid working is here to stay. Among those interviewed for the Good job index, 46% reported working under a hybrid arrangement in February 2022. Meanwhile, recent evidence has proven the common-sense notion that most workers prefer more flexibility to working hours. After all, who wouldn’t rather be able to adjust their working hours to pick up their children from school, catch up with friends or simply be at home rather than fight against the daily rush hours. Working from home can also increase inclusiveness, as it provides greater accessibility for those who may find employment in difficult standard work environments due to family responsibilities or disability, for example.

It’s not just employees who benefit from increased hybrid working – organizations can significantly reduce office costs by moving to a hybrid model while benefiting from increased worker productivity. Additionally, my research has shown that hybrid working is an important part of overall job satisfaction and plays an important role in employee retention.

In addition to flexible work practices, adopting a holistic approach that improves all aspects of workplace well-being is key to attracting and retaining talent. Based on our research conducted as part of the Good job indexand my recently published book Well-being and quality of life at workI would make the following eight recommendations to employers to help counter the Great Resignation:

  1. Put in place appropriate policies, processes and resources to support flexible working, including remote and hybrid working.
  2. Establish a work culture where employees and employers understand that to be successful, flexibility must work both ways, including managing expectations around time allocation between work and home, hours of work and delivery of results.
  3. Use flexibility as an enabler of workforce diversity by tailoring work routines to individual needs, while ensuring that routines are coordinated to fit the larger organizational context.
  4. Issue best practice tips for maintaining physical and mental health when working flexibly.
  5. Provide the correct and relevant equipment to enable working from multiple locations.
  6. Build social and work-oriented bonds within teams through regular formal and informal meetings.
  7. Adapt the physical environment of the employer’s workplace by emphasizing collaborative use, enabling formal and informal connection, and working in hybrid formats (e.g. hybrid meeting rooms), while by providing spaces for concentration.
  8. Move away from a one-size-fits-all model towards a flexible strategy that will enable a tailored approach that gives employees flexibility and agency in decision-making.

While I can’t promise you’ll never hear the term Great Resignation again, this strategy will help insulate your business from the impact of the current cultural shift in attitudes toward employment.

Dr Daniel Wheatley is Reader in Business and Labor Economics at Birmingham Business School


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