What is the Great Resignation, you ask? Also known as the Big Quit, it is hard to escape the media buzz about employees leaving their jobs in droves while the number of vacancies piles up. And it’s not an issue that’s just isolated to the US. It’s an ongoing trend taking place around the world, where employees are voluntarily leaving their jobs, sometimes with a new job lined up, but that’s not always the case.
As a recent Planet Money article on NPR by Greg Rosalsky pointed out, the numbers are staggering:
“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. That was a record-breaking month, piggybacking on previous record months. “The Great Resignation” is real, and it can be seen across virtually all industries.”Greg Rosalsky, Reporter, Planet Money
The current thinking in the US seems to blame a perfect storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American government’s lackluster performance providing necessary worker protections, and decades of wage stagnation now exacerbated by a rapidly rising cost of living.
As an organization with a global footprint, we wanted to take an informal look at the ‘Great Resignation,’ and its effects on two industry sectors that we know very well: Legal and Finance. To do this, we took advantage of our regularly scheduled ‘wine webinar’ series to discuss this topic with a number of well-known figures from firms within the finance and legal sectors.
Here are some of the responses we received to our questions:
- Is your organisation feeling the effects of “The Great Resignation?”
A close call here, but the ‘No’ answers were very slightly in the lead.
- What do you think is the main driver of “The Great Resignation’
The majority of respondents answered that companies demanding that employees return to the office full-time seemed to be driving employees out the door. In other words, a lack of flexibility from the top.
- It’s clear that the ability to ‘work from anywhere’ is a key driver of “The Great Resignation.” What are the biggest challenges managing risk and compliance?
The majority of respondents felt that having the right policies and processes in place were the biggest challenges for organizations. The role of IT administrators to get this right is critical.
- What are the biggest drawbacks of remote working for your organization?
A slight majority of respondents answered that employees not being able to collaborate as effectively was the biggest challenge here.
Wake up call
Obviously, this was a very informal poll, taken with participants during a series of webinars. For a deeper dive into this trend, check out our recently published “Future of Work” report, with 400 participants from the US and the UK. Alternatively, take our Future of Work quiz to see how your workplace stacks up.
Despite the less scientific approach with our webinar Q&A, it did provide an interesting backdrop for discussion about ‘The Great Resignation.’ While the general consensus appears to be that COVID-19 gave people a push/wake-up call to re-evaluate their lives or jobs, there are certainly other factors to consider. For example, in the US we heard about a rise in requests from people wishing to work from abroad, or even wishing to move to a different state, which appeared to be a way to take advantage of attractive tax rates. However there also appeared to be a strong opinion that working from home was a practical way of doing business as long as employees could still make it into the office when required – perhaps ruling out a big move abroad or to a different state for most people.
There were mixed feelings regarding attrition rates, too. Some firms had seen very little employee churn, while others noted an increase in vacancies in certain departments. We also got feedback suggesting that younger people wanted to be in the office more, often because they didn’t have space to work from home or because they felt a need to create a social life outside of work.
Salaries were another big issue. For example, if you receive an allowance for living in an expensive city like San Francisco or London, but choose to work from home, is it fair on those others who don’t get this allowance but still choose to work from home? Mobility has also made it possible for job seekers to cast a much wider net regardless of where they live. If you live in the North of England, for example, but want to apply for a London job (on the basis that you will work from home) and reap the financial benefits – is money the motivator, or perhaps an equalizer in this case?
Flexibility is clearly a driver, too. People want more power to choose working hours so that they can still drop kids off at school, have more productive family time, and then still get work done later if need be. It’s a general feeling of not wanting to return to the ‘old’ ways of fixed hours, tiring commutes and being under managerial scrutiny. It was noted that as restrictions have abated, certain staff (IT developers) were resigning in greater numbers on the basis that they felt more productive when working from home. The takeaway from this is that as firms look to attract new talent, having clear WFH policies could be a deciding factor.
The power of listening
There are clearly big challenges for firms as they manage our new work-from-anywhere environment. Having the right tools and technology in place are key, with the biggest drawbacks of working remotely being managing risk and compliance. In the opinion of our participants, probably the main driver behind the Great Resignation was a shift in personal priorities, something forged during long periods of isolated WFH. If the Great Resignation turns out to be more than a short-term blip, firms would do well to start listening more to their people.