COVID-19 raised all sorts of questions and problems for businesses, but perhaps one of the most surprising challenges currently facing many employers is retaining their most valuable workers.
The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns had a huge impact on the labor market, with approximately 114 million people losing their jobs in 2020. In 2021, however, with vaccines being rolled out and restrictions eased, a clear pattern has emerged of employees looking to take the next steps in their careers.
But what exactly has triggered this trend, and what can you do to stop people from leaving?
The 'great resignation'
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people quitting their jobs in the US increased to 3.9 million in June 2021. The figures showed job openings surpassing the ten million mark, with the largest increases in vacancies occurring in professional and business services, retail trade, and accommodation and food services.
A key finding in Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index, which reflected the views of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries, showed that more than 40% of the global labor force are considering leaving their employer this year.
Anthony Klotz, an Associate Professor of Management at Texas A&M University, dubbed this phenomenon the 'great resignation' in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. He noted that people tend to be cautious and stick with their current jobs during times of economic uncertainty, which leads to "pent-up resignations" that materialize when conditions start to improve.
Why are people quitting in such high numbers?
Various factors have contributed to the increase in resignations this year. The steady improvement in economic conditions and business activity has provided more opportunities for workers to switch jobs, but there are also more nuanced reasons why people are looking to make significant changes in their careers.
For many, the pandemic provided a new sense of perspective on the aspects of their lives that are most important to them, such as their health and the time they're able to spend with family and friends. NPR highlighted the example of Alyssa Casey, a researcher for the federal government who relocated from Washington, DC, to Illinois during the pandemic to be closer to her family. She and her husband then decided to stay in Illinois to prioritize their family, even if it means she has to quit her job.
The BBC also highlighted a trend of workers leaving due to dissatisfaction over how they were treated by their employers during the pandemic. One such employee was Melissa Villareal, a former teacher at a private school in California who was asked to go back into the classroom after only a short closure and found herself managing both in-person and remote learners. Despite high levels of stress and worries about her safety, she felt her concerns were ignored by her employer.
Tackling the talent retention challenge
If you're concerned about losing some of your most valuable workers, you need to develop a talent retention strategy.
Engage with your workforce
The example of Melissa Villareal illustrates how important it is for employers to engage with their workers and have honest conversations about their concerns.
This is an area where many organizations could improve, with Microsoft research showing that 61% of leaders are "thriving" - 23 percentage points more than those without any decision-making power.
Focus on hybrid and flexible work
The pandemic introduced many businesses and individuals to the possibilities of remote and flexible working. Employers that want to maintain strong relationships with their staff will need to put these concepts at the heart of how they operate, rather than expecting people to revert to traditional hours and working methods.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of employees want flexible and remote work options to remain available post-pandemic, according to the Microsoft survey, while 66% of leaders say their company is considering redesigning office space to accommodate hybrid work.
Build a rewarding culture
Company culture has a vital role to play in talent retention. Research by Breathe has shown that poor culture is the reason why one in five UK workers quit, creating a cost of £15.7 billion ($21.6 billion) a year for the British economy.
Focus your efforts on making cultural changes that provide a more supportive and rewarding work environment for your people. As well as helping you retain staff, this will raise employee satisfaction and productivity in the long term.