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Unpacking the Great Resignation

Jessica Welch
Tuesday, Nov 02, 2021

Unpacking the Great Resignation

As we settle into the third quarter of what is being called the Great Resignation, certain truths are becoming harder and harder to ignore. This mass exodus of corporate jobs across industries is not something that will dissipate on its own. It’s clear that the people leaving their jobs in droves are unhappy with the way things are fundamentally set up and this rejection of corporate America will only end when we have created a new system. 

We turned to George Randle, Managing Partner of the Talent War Group, to discuss his views on retaining and winning over-the-top talent in a new work environment. He highlights how companies need to change in order to bring talent in instead of inadvertently pushing them away. Here are his thoughts on how you can be proactive about keeping your team thriving. 

We saw 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August which was a record-breaking month, piggybacking on previous record months. How do you see this timing and this increase correlate with where we are in this pandemic? 

It’s important to put this in context, as many of these people are ‘overworked’ insofar as companies had to trim back DUE TO the pandemic impact to revenue, as well as some firms requiring employees to come back into work, and/or be vaccinated. 

Employees had, in most cases, made the adjustment to a new normal of work-from-home, and recrafted their lives around that schedule (kids, errands, productivity). So, when companies said “come back to work” they were forcing the hand of those who were productive and adjusted to remote work. A good deal of the resignation is the lack of flex on the part of companies

What do you think are contributing factors to the mass exodus from the workforce in the last year across industries? 

That “normal” or “traditional” work environments and schedules are a thing of the past.   Employees have been adjusting to the pandemic and a large part of that is them recognizing balance and what’s important to them - ownership, empowerment, good bosses, etc.  Companies that have not learned to appreciate their only competitive advantage—their talent—are losing out big time. 

Why do you think most people are leaving their jobs without a new job lined up?

It's hard to pinpoint truthfully, but people are now focused on their value and it is recognized and rewarded. I also think they are fully aware there are a plethora of jobs out there so the fear of not finding something else is far less a factor than 3 years ago.

I’m hearing we’ve never seen anything like this in our history? Without a past example, how do you think employers will handle this situation?  

While I am not optimistic—and current statistics prove this—the time to handle this was leading and caring for talent at all times, and not just during a crisis.  I am optimistic in that this is forcing employers and leaders to review what exactly they are offering their employees, their talent. It’s now causing companies to evaluate their first-line managers and leaders because, outside of the “return to work” and vaccination issues, people generally leave bad bosses.

And, this pandemic is proving that talent has choices and that you can’t hire or fire your way to success. You have to lead and lead well.  

While people want more pay or more flexibility (and of course a plethora of other things), there seems to be a bigger, overarching theme behind the Great Resignation. People are wanting to change their lives in meaningful ways, stemming from “pandemic epiphanies” that opened their eyes to their quality of life. How do you see employers working to bring people back into the workforce and navigating these new values? 

There are two things employers could do. 

Be flexible with where and how people work. It’s about results, not location.  
Be very clear about what top talent wants. Focus on good leaders, community, ownership (of their work), purpose, challenge, growth, and autonomy to attract the best talent. It's no longer “just a job.”

There is an idea that this change is happening due to a collective feeling of awakening. If this is the case, why does it seem to be just the employees and not the employers who are experiencing it?

I think both sides are feeling and experiencing it though we are simply measuring and seeing the employee’s side in statistics. These pre and post-pandemic times are creating an awakening of employers to what matters—how they get results and how they lead. It might not be a “self-awakening,” but rather a necessity to think differently. This is changing the workforce and workplace on all sides.

How can the talent pool find a career or job in which they are able to put themselves, their families, and their mental health first? How should they advocate for themselves? 

Having coached thousands of people on career changes, my first rule is to get crystal clear on what you want and need. Create an intention or vision statement, without regard to external inputs. Write it down, know it by heart. This helps clear the fog of the job market in significant ways.  

If you don’t, it’s like going to the grocery store hungry and without a list. You may get a lot, and it might taste good, but it’s rarely good for you.  

How do you see this changing the workforce in the future? 

I think that change is now and happening before our eyes. It’s my hope that this drives companies to treat their human capital with the same disciplined rigor and focus they put on their financial capital.  

What can leaders do to retain their top talent who has stuck around so far and what can they do to attract new talent? 

INVEST in people you have...without regard to their longevity. Take the time to mentor, coach, train, and reward them. Make sure you are providing the best leadership you can to them and helping them become great leaders. Good talent taken care of attracts other great talent. 

This is what I tell every firm I consult with. Be flexible and focus on results, not locations. And be very clear about what top talent is looking for in their next job. 



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