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A quick guide to the great resignation of 2021

Read time
6 mins

“I quit.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million American workers uttered those words in July 2021. They’re part of what’s being called “The Great Resignation,” and it’s impacting employers, employees, and consumers alike.

This tidal wave of resignations may not have yet reached its peak. Microsoft surveyed more than 30,000 global workers, and their research revealed that 41% were considering quitting their job or changing their profession.

Why are so many people leaving their jobs? Are companies and managers driving employees away? What can employers do to stop the exodus? Did COVID-19 cause this?

This guide will address those questions and more as we take an up-close look at a phenomenon that will someday be in the history books.

What do employees want?

This question is one of the impetuses behind the Great Resignation. This is a relatively new question that workers are asking themselves. It’s a turnaround from the question on their minds pre-COVID-19, which was, “What does my employer want me to do?”

Remote work has opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities they have in life, both professionally and personally. They’ve had plenty of time to think about what their priorities in life are. They’ve had an abundance of time to enjoy their families more than they’ve ever had before, and their priorities have shifted.

A recent article told the story of an individual who had managed a restaurant in San Diego for the past 19 years. The restaurant was shuttered during COVID-19, giving him relief from his 60-hour work weeks and letting him spend more time with his two young children. He came to the realization that he had missed too many Thanksgiving dinners with his family and had never seen his kids open gifts on Christmas morning. This inspired him to quit his job, and he’s now gainfully employed in the insurance industry.

Stories like his are common among people who are asked why they quit their job. They came to the conclusion they could change careers and find work that was aligned with their values and dreams.

[ Report: To remain remote, employees are ready to give up benefits ]

How can employers help?

This is a new question that many employers ask themselves as they watch their employee count drop. During exit interviews with people who have resigned and frank discussions with workers who are still with them, they’ve discovered three things that they can do to stop the attrition.

Communicate better

One of the big complaints workers have is that during the pandemic, they heard less often from their managers and felt detached from their companies.

According to a survey conducted by Inc. Magazine, communication is the number one skill employees feel their managers lack, rising from the number five spot in 2019. Combined with the fact that communication is the top skill employees value in their manager, second only to confidence, the need for change is readily apparent.

Open communication only happens when there is safety and trust, which is much more of a challenge when people are working remotely. Zoom and FaceTime aren’t ample substitutes for personal interaction between employees and management.

Accept that remote work is here to stay

In a study conducted by Growmotely, 61% of surveyed employees prefer being fully remote, and 97% of employees don’t want to return to the office full-time. They want flexibility from their employer between working remotely and working in an office. Many employers are finding that mentioning remote work options in job postings and during interviews is a necessity for attracting top talent.

Environmentally conscious employees also want to continue working remotely. Eliminating or reducing daily office commutes lowers air pollution, carbon footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions is increasingly important to them as the climate crisis becomes more and more of a reality.

Smaller employers in smaller cities offering remote work will also be more competitive. For example, all things being equal, a small company in Iowa has as much of a chance of landing a top candidate as a company in New York City if the prospective employee can work remotely and not have to relocate.

Deliver employee development

Top performers at a company may already be great at what they do, but they want to continue enhancing their skills and become even better. They’ve shown they can be effective in the office and working remotely, and they’re indicating that they’re highly motivated to achieve even higher levels of performance.

This not only benefits the employer by retaining employees delivering high-quality work, but it helps them identify workers who are progressing with their professional and personal development and may be candidates for future management positions.

[ Related read: Why companies must prioritize mental health in the workplace ]

Is COVID-19 driving the great resignation?

The pandemic has given people the chance to rethink their careers, long-term goals, and work conditions. A study by Bankrate in August 2021 showed that telecommuting and flexibility were the primary reasons people gave for finding a new job. This may have ultimately happened anyway, but COVID-19 has intensified the feelings of frustration many people already had.

Many restaurants and hotels are now finding themselves understaffed because so many of their employees left because their jobs required in-person interaction, and they feared contracting COVID-19. They also cited having to confront customers not willing to wear a mask as a reason for leaving.

Where have these workers gone? They’ve quit to start working in offices and warehouses that may pay less than what they were earning, but these new jobs typically offer better benefits than they had with their former employer, and they have an improved opportunity for advancement.

[ Related read: Essential things to consider when changing jobs ]

Who will win?

Who will emerge victorious after the Great Resignation?

It doesn’t appear to be the consumer. Their frustration continues to escalate as the shortage of wait staff at their favorite eateries lengthens wait times for service and shortens the hours the restaurant is open.

It doesn’t appear to be businesses. Losing key personnel, a decline in morale of the overworked employees who remain, and product shortages have caused many small businesses to close their doors, and more casualties are expected.

The winner appears to be the American worker. They can now work where they want in professions they find satisfying. They’re enjoying higher salaries thanks to employers competing with each other to recruit them. And, they’re happier.

Will the eventual eradication of COVID-19 stem the flow of workers headed toward the exits? Time will tell, but how much longer can businesses and their customers wait?

Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published September 27, 2021
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