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The Great Resignation: Everything you need to know

Many people are leaving their jobs for greener pastures in what is known as the Great Resignation.

Periods of uncertainty and upheaval often have far-reaching effects on society. They can even lead to people resigning from their jobs.

During the pandemic, the world changed. There were shutdowns, quarantines, and restricted access to goods, services and jobs. Many businesses in the retail, hospitality, food services and travel sectors furloughed and laid off employees. And across multiple sectors, many employees worked from home for extended periods of time -- many for the first time in their careers.

With such large-scale disruption in the economy and the lives of hundreds of millions of people, many people have a renewed focus on what matters most to them. That period of introspection and reflection has led employees to rethink their jobs and their career paths.

What is the Great Resignation?

Employees across multiple sectors came to the realization that they weren't happy with their jobs during the pandemic. People weren't satisfied with their work environment, the industry they were in or their work-life balance and left their jobs.

Anthony Klotz coined the term the Great Resignation. Klotz is an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. Klotz was quoted using the term in a Bloomberg Businessweek article in May 2021. In the article, he predicted the mass exodus -- or Great Resignation, as he referred to it -- of employees from jobs and careers they no longer wanted to pursue.

"The great resignation is coming," Klotz said in the Bloomberg article. "When there's uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn't happen over the past year."

Klotz's prediction turned out to be accurate. The Great Resignation isn't just a hypothetical idea; it's an economic movement backed up by statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between April 2021 through April 2022, 71.6 million people separated from their jobs, which averaged 3.98 million people quitting each month. In November 2021, the level of quits reached a new peak of 4.5 million Americans.

The Great Resignation is sometimes thought of as the precursor to quiet quitting.

What is driving the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation is a phenomenon that spans industries and regions across the U.S. -- though some sectors have been hit harder than others.

In particular, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has repeatedly highlighted many people leaving their jobs in the leisure, hospitality and food services industries. Retail is another area that many have left. At the height of the pandemic, many workers in those sectors had their hours reduced or eliminated.  Many also realized the precarious nature of their employment that offered no job security.

Learn how the hospitality industry is being rebooted with technology.

Those in professional and business services have also quit. The Bureau of Labor statistics reported 706,000 resignations in August 2021 alone. The reasons why those in the professional and business services sectors have resigned are many and varied. They include a lack of work-life balance, a desire for more fulfilment or just a better place to work.

The ongoing stress and anxiety of the pandemic has also put extreme pressure on those in the healthcare industry. This resulted in 579,000 people walking away and resigning from jobs in August 2021.

How the Great Resignation can boost your tech career

But it's not all doom and gloom. The Great Resignation can be an opportunity for employees to boost their tech careers. There are many unfilled jobs in the tech industry, and employers are worried about losing staff. This is an opportunity for employees to advance their status and careers in several ways:

  • Negotiate higher pay. This is an opportunity to have employers recognize employee value and negotiate higher pay.
  • Negotiate a promotion. Employers increasingly need to show they value their employees, so this is an opportunity to ask for that promotion.
  • Cross-train and make a lateral shift. This is an opportunity to cross-train in different job roles or responsibilities. There is also the potential to make a lateral job shift within the same organization.
  • Figure out what is important. The Great Resignation is about figuring out what's important and what employees really want. Millions of workers are rethinking what they want to do and how they can do it -- and so should those in the tech industry.
  • Resign and find a better job. While there is usually a shortage of skilled IT professionals in any given year, the pandemic exacerbated the situation. That means that there could be more opportunities out there, where employers that are more willing to pay more for top talent.

Great Resignation statistics

Here are some statistics regarding the Great Resignation:

  • One in five nonretired adults left their job by choice in 2021, according to a Pew Research survey.
  • Forty-one percent of the total global workforce is leaving their employer in the next year, according to a Microsoft report published in March 2021.
  • Seventy-four percent of people who responded to a LinkedIn survey said being stuck at home during the pandemic was a root cause for them to reconsider their current state of employment.
  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a PagerDuty report identified an increase in employee turnover in technical teams over the past 12 months.
  • Twenty percent of employees worldwide are actually engaged by their work, according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2021 report. The lack of engagement means it's more likely that employees will look for other more fulfilling and engaging employment.

What can employers do to retain employees?

It has never been easy to attract and retain quality talent in the technology industry, and the Great Resignation certainly hasn't helped. Employees currently have the high ground, as there is more demand than supply for quality IT staff. But there are some things that employers can do to retain existing employees and even attract new ones.

  • Reward employees with higher wages. It's easier to pay an existing employee a higher wage than to struggle to recruit and train new employees.
  • Provide opportunities for advancement. Employees stay when they are engaged and have the opportunity to advance their careers.
  • Provide tuition reimbursement. Many employees want to better themselves. Providing tuition reimbursement for IT education can be a benefit that will pay dividends to the employer as well.
  • Support a hybrid work environment. The ability to work flexibly -- either in the office or at home -- is critical to employee satisfaction. Businesses that reject hybrid work may have a hard time finding job candidates.
    Read more here about
    hybrid work tips.
  • Enable team collaboration. When employees are part of a team that works and collaborates well, that can often be an incentive to remain with the team. Team collaboration is about shared goals, activities and tasks that are supported across both in-person and remote environments.
  • Support stress reduction. There is no shortage of stress in the average workplace and there are many ways to help employees manage stress and prevent burnout.

The Great Rehire

Everyone who quit their job is now part of the next movement -- The Great Rehire to fill all these employment gaps. Employers are looking at to fill open positions as hiring and job openings sit at record highs. As of April 2022, there were nearly 11.4 million job openings in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Great Resignation -- or Great Reshuffle -- started with employees wanting to control how they work. And now with the Great Rehire, recruiters and talent acquisition management teams need to approach filling job openings differently than before the pandemic. Employees want to continue to have control and will put a focus on purpose and meaning in their careers. They will prioritize companies that provide benefits to both global and local societies, according to a report by Harvard Business Review.

There are some hiring trends with the Great Rehire, as candidates won't rush to take any job. Here are some key trends to consider:

Faster recruiting is key

One way to get top talent is to move quickly and efficiently. The average time to hire an employee after the interview process is 23.8 days in the U.S., according to Glassdoor. Depending on the company's location or the type of position, it may take longer. For 2022, pushing candidates quickly through these processes is key.

Social media recruitment is essential

Social media is a powerful recruiting tool. Companies can grow their employer brand by showing their culture, employees, benefits and flexible work hours. By posting this information, employees can share with their networks, and companies can get in front of the right candidates. By emphasizing culture and benefits, companies can also connect with people who may not be looking for a job but are intrigued by these posts.

Read about social media recruiting strategies that work.

Candidates want control of work-life balance

There may be more activity from candidates looking to switch jobs or careers, but top talent will evaluate potential employers based on compensation, culture, development and diversity. Employees will also continue to prioritize work-life balance above other benefits. The most popular benefits employees look for include a flexible schedule and a hybrid or remote opportunity, according to the Greenhouse 2021 Employer Hiring Sentiment Report.

Diversity and inclusion are important

Diversity, equity and inclusion will be a crucial component of hiring. Recruiters said that more job seekers -- around 49% -- ask about diversity and inclusion initiatives within a company, according to a study by Jobvite. Employees value a diversified workforce that includes more than employees of different ethnicities, genders and racial backgrounds. Diversity is complex, and there are different categories including:

  • culture
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • education
  • skills
  • language

By embracing these changes, companies can recruit candidates as they put a focus on diversified organizations. This includes using different talent pools and focusing on finding the right fit versus the needed background.

Read more about diversity hiring mistakes.

The Great Regret

Some employees who resigned during the Great Resignation are finding that their new jobs aren’t meeting their expectations. A recent study from Joblist found that at least one in four people regret quitting their job. This new era is being coined as the Great Regret.

Seventy-two percent of people were surprised about their new position or company and their new employment was different from what they expected, according to The Muse. Forty-eight percent of these workers stated they would try to return to their old job if possible.

One of the main reasons people regret quitting their jobs is the difficulty in finding new employment. These respondents did not have another job lined up before quitting. Forty percent of the Joblist survey responders found it difficult to find another job without having secured a new position.

Enter the next phase…The Big Stay

In 2023, the rate of Americans quitting their jobs has slowed down. With talks of a possible recession and large layoffs, people are deciding to stay put in their current role. The Big Stay is the next phase as The Great Resignation slows down.

The rate of Americans quitting is down 5% the first quarter of 2023 compared to the last quarter of 2022, according to an ADP Research Institute report. Comparing numbers from 2022 shows an even bigger slowdown.

There is a debate about how long The Big Stay will last. Depending on the economic conditions, the job market could pick up again, so companies should not be complacent with current employees.

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