We’ve all had a rough year, but it looks like the 2020 pandemic lockdowns are behind us. Although many Americans are still looking for work to replace jobs and income they lost in 2020, many millions of employed workers are ready to quit. The Wall Street Journal reported that more U.S. workers are quitting their jobs now than at any time in the last 20 years.
In a Digiday post on the future of work, writer Tony Case says that employers need to brace for what he calls The Great Resignation,” and what I’m calling the Big Quit. (“Resignation sounds more formal and considered; I think this exodus will be a more primal reaction.)
Case cites Sarah Sheehan, co-founder and president of Bravely, a platform that connects individuals with personal coaches. “Since the pandemic struck, Bravely has clocked a 700% increase in sessions around the topics of stress and burnout. ‘There is a huge power shift where employees are now in the driver’s seat,’ Sheehan said. ‘They will tell you what they need — and if you can’t meet those needs, they’re going to go somewhere else.””
Case also says online platform BambooHR found that 78% of remote workers believe their career development has been negatively affected over the past year, while the average employee in the U.S. estimates they lost out on nearly $10,000 in raises and promotions. Recent surveys indicate that almost half of U.S. workers are willing to quit their jobs if they have to go back to full time in-person office hours.
Having tasted flexibility and freedom, most workers are unwilling to give it up.
Employers, already on notice from Generation Z employees who demanded more work / life balance even before the pandemic, are now hearing loud and clear from workers, including the more traditional Boomers, about what they want. Perks they seek include “unlimited vacation, mandatory unplug days, no morning meetings, mental health days and wellness programs, in addition to the work-from-anywhere policy that’s become de rigueur during the pandemic.”
Case interviewed HR experts who say that the first casualty of the post-pandemic era will be blanket personnel policies. There is no “one size fits all” way to manage worker productivity and morale; managers will have to listen carefully to workers’ individual needs and preferred working style and make adjustments. That’s a big culture shift from previous economic downturns, when employers in the driver’s seat set the rules and workers had almost no say over their schedules and working conditions.
Managers will want to work on building empathy and listening skills and may want to reimagine the relationship workers have with HR (and its policies.) In a survey of over 1,100 workers, Skynova’s latest Employment Report said that in businesses ranging in size from 10 to 500+ employees, HR is regarded as the “least valued” department, behind accounting, sales, marketing and IT.
Not everyone who wants to quit will quit, of course; we may be simply seeing the emotional aftereffects of a very stressful period in U.S. History. Events that we are sure will “change everything forever” seldom turn out to do that. We’ll all settle down eventually, after the kids go back to school and we’ve had a small vacation. And hugged grandma.
It’s more likely that workers will take this time to renegotiate their employment agreements, starting conversations about how and when they work that include things that were previously off limits. Feelings. Family. Burnout. Stress. Fear of the unknown. In most sectors, employers have seldom placed mental health and empathy front and center in policy considerations. This is our chance to fix that.
Fewer and better meetings. More – and more sincere – check-ins. Productivity measures that are outcome-based instead of time-based. And let’s make room for silence once in a while; a chance to regroup and breathe.
Maybe we can avoid the Great Resignation with the Great Renegotiation. It’s worth a try.