Is a “Great Resignation” of Employees on the Horizon?

August 17, 2021

With the pandemic upending working styles, studies show workers are leaving their previous jobs in droves. Here’s how companies can respond. 

Perhaps no single event has more widely impacted the workforce this century than the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift to remote work in many corporate environments has changed the state of the game. It’s empowered organizations to be more flexible in who they hire, and employees to be more discerning in their job searches. While some have found remote work isolating, others are thriving under the new model, finding greater focus in their work, and using time saved from commuting for new passions, education and skills.

With COVID-19 vaccinations hitting critical mass in many countries and COVID-19 restrictions loosening, employers and employees are asking, “what’s next?” With increased optimism about the COVID-19 situation, a cluster of workplace issues are emerging around how companies can navigate this “next” normal. For example: when should we return to the office, and how can we do so safely? How can we navigate employees who wish to keep working remotely? Should we require vaccinations for employees returning to office, and can we? How can we best support our employees in a more holistic way than we did before?

Some employers are handling these issues better than others. More broadly, the stresses of the pandemic have led workers to expect more from their employers – more flexibility, more support, and more growth. With the economy surging, and a candidate’s market, these employees have more say than they did in the pre-pandemic world.

In this environment, companies who refuse to accept this reality are staring down the barrel of the two words you never want to hear from a strong employee:

I quit.”

The trend has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” Candidates, realizing their worth anew after over a year of lockdowns, are leaving employers in droves – either to pursue new careers and passions, or to move to new organizations who offer more pay and flexibility.

Today, we want to discuss this phenomenon and try to tease out some of the implications for the Supply Chain industry – our area of recruitment expertise.

First, some numbers:

Four million Americans quit their jobs in April alone, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. According to a recent Microsoft survey of 30,000 global workers, almost half (46 percent) of workers are planning to move jobs. Another survey from staffing agency Robert Half found 33% of millennial and Gen Z employees were planning some kind of job or career change. The Globe and Mail recently profiled a number of workers in this cohort, quoting many who feel dissatisfaction and a lack of support in their workplaces, in terms of flexibility for work-from-home, but also when it comes to continuous learning, skills advancement, and other factors.

As the BBC reported in their profile of the Great Resignation, much of the movement – or promised movement – is within the retail sector, where the particular pandemic stresses of front-line work have mounted. But there’s a large contingent of corporate employees looking to make moves as well.

In short, these represent huge numbers. Employee retention should always be a focus, but in this environment, companies who fail to recognize the tectonic shifts underway stand to lose a significant portion of their workforce. It’s worth the extra effort.

It’s also a complex issue, with many factors. But here are a few thoughts from our recruiters who work with candidates looking to switch jobs every day. We hope they can be a good starting point for anyone managing a supply chain workforce who’s waiting for the wave of resignations to wash over their shores (if it hasn’t already).

Consider a Hybrid Remote Work Model:

Certain supply chain roles obviously require physical presence at a site (for example, managing a physical inventory or physical production), but we’ve seen tremendous adaptability in companies’ use of remote work for corporate roles throughout the pandemic. Before you require everyone back at the office, consider employees’ preferences and requirements, and consider hybrid remote work models that allow employees to continue avoiding lengthy commutes whenever possible.

It’s not just dissatisfaction driving the trend towards resignation: remote work has allowed candidates to take on roles without geographic boundaries, working for companies they never would have thought possible. Rather than be a company that loses your best employees to more attractive options that do allow for remote, figure out a way to be one of those companies, and attract even better candidates. Which brings us to our next point:

The Great Resignation is a Massive Opportunity for Talent Attraction:

The current environment has many dangers for losing employees to competitors. But from another perspective, it can be a big opportunity to attract new candidates into the fold. In other words, it’s helpful to not just think about how you can avoid “losing” in the great resignation, but how you can “win.”

It’s important to mention here that remote vs. In-office working models are just a part of the picture. In interviews, employees who have made the leap — or are considering it — consistently say that they don’t feel supported in a variety of ways, not just in their wanting to continue to work remotely. Internal equity and budgets might mean that you can’t boost salaries to attract candidates, but companies should be creative and receptive to other possibilities. They should invest in continuous learning opportunities for candidates, greater flexibility in time off, stock or revenue sharing potential, supplemented parental leave, “lifestyle” budgets, and other ways to attract new candidates. The return-to-normal working conditions on the horizon is causing candidates to re-evaluate not just whether they want to be in an office, but everything about their careers. If you offer more supports, those efforts will pay big dividends in attracting the best individuals.

If you’re a supply chain professional, we want to hear from you! What factors are influencing your career decisions – has the pandemic made you consider a career move? If you’re at the Management level in an organization, has the great resignation impacted your workforce? What steps are you taking to retain employees?


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