The Great Resignation of 2021: What can employers do to retain their workforce?

Employer, Employers, Guides / 29 September 2021

The ‘Great Resignation’ is a growing trend among workers to hand in their resignation – or at least consider doing so – to find more satisfying employment. Research from organisations like job website Monster, freelance platform Fiverr, and Microsoft all point to the fact that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have encouraged people to take back control of their work-life balance and career options.

What can employers do to retain their workforce?


What has led to the Great Resignation?

It’s easy to say that the pandemic has led to the Great Resignation, but the reality is more detailed than that one blanket reason. Factors surrounding the way that pandemic restrictions have altered the world of work and in turn the public’s outlook on what matters to them most can generally be broken down into three areas:


Priorities have changed

There can be no doubt that facing a global pandemic made everyone reconsider what is important, whether that is family, an improved quality of life, guaranteeing future security, or having a satisfying career. The lockdowns faced in 2020 and 2021 stopped people in their tracks and gave them time to think.

For many workers, a return to the workplace after working from home or being furloughed for several months is also a financial wake-up call. There are travel expenses to cover, the cost of lunch, work-clothes, and child-care. For many, this may be the extra straw that breaks their resolve to return to their old job and persuades them to find something new with better working conditions and pay.


The effect of remote working

The switch to remote working taken up by many businesses and the more recent move to hybrid working has made it clear that flexible working is a valid option for many jobs and businesses. Employees now have proof of whether their jobs can be carried out remotely or flexibly. They also know whether they want to carry on with that work-model or return entirely to the workplace.

For more information on how employers should approach flexible working, read this Flexible Working Practices worksheet by the CIPD.


Employee treatment during the pandemic

A major factor in whether an employee may consider resigning from their job is how their employer has treated them during the pandemic. Many businesses were slow to adapt to the resulting restrictions and as such failed to communicate well with their employees, handled remote working badly, or didn’t provide what employees felt to be a safe work-environment.

In what is currently an employee’s job market where many sectors are struggling to fill vacancies post-lockdown, workers want an employer who treats them well.


How can employers retain their workforce?

How should businesses respond to the Great Resignation and the prospect of an increased staff turnover?


Fixing what doesn’t work

The first step is to find out why employees are considering resignation. It might be that:

  • they felt abandoned and unappreciated because of a lack of communication when working remotely.
  • they realise that flexible working suits their needs, but their employer wants them to return to the workplace.
  • they want to take advantage of the increasing number of vacancies to land a job with a higher salary and improved benefits package.

Whether you circulate an employee questionnaire, hold employee catch-up meetings, or do both, take this opportunity to reconnect.

Fixing your work culture and business practices is best done in communication with your workforce. Employees who feel listened to by their employer and included in business decisions will be more engaged and hence more productive.


Adapting to the new world of work

Businesses that can adapt to a changing work climate are more likely to survive and flourish. Your business is reliant on your workforce, so it makes sense to base that adaptation largely on your employees.

Now that remote and hybrid working have been widely used, employers have a clearer picture of where this work-model is effective. Investigate how flexible working can be utilised in your business. Offer flexible working where appropriate and set up working procedures that are suitable for remote workers as well as office workers, for instance, inclusion in meetings.

Consider whether the benefits of working for your business are skewed towards employees who work on-site and whether remote workers are missing out, for instance, casual Fridays or on-site counselling.

Support career development for your employees. Work alongside them to identify re-skilling, career advancement, and leadership opportunities. Create clear career paths within your business so that employees have no reason to go elsewhere.


Wrapping it up

The Great Resignation should be no big surprise when considering how the world has been affected by the pandemic. The challenge now for employers is to place their workforce at the heart of the way they respond. Communication, accepting the validity of flexible working, and seeking to create an engaged workforce is key to making that response an effective one.

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