What Societal Drivers Are Compelling the Great Resignation?

article Nov 30, 2021
The Great Resignation

Capitalism has elevated more people out of poverty than any form of government ever devised. It’s been successful because of a simple reason: it’s mutually beneficial for all entities. The human desire to survive is as powerful as the human desire to thrive—capitalism seamlessly coalesces both instincts which is one of the reasons it’s had a successful path. Generational influencers and environmental concerns continue to apply pressure for a much-needed make- over. And I suspect for many companies, it can’t happen quickly enough.

My experience as a small business owner working with mostly Millennial employees has provided me with insight into how to effectively motivate younger generations. We work in the highly competitive office furniture industry. Our current workforce is 77% female, culturally diverse and 88% of our staff is under 41. Since our inception in 2006, we’ve always led with a high degree of soft skills to include emotional and spiritual intelligence—EQ and SQ. We’ve consistently fostered a family-centric, trusting, and safe workplace culture.

In 2014 we implemented WFH (work from home) policies created in partnership with Millennial co-workers. As a Boomer, I was initially uncomfortable with this idea but quickly realized the wisdom of these policy shifts which ultimately allowed us to seamlessly change to WFH full- time in 2020 and endure the devastation of Covid on our industry.

What I’ve experienced is that in order for business to thrive—perhaps to survive—our workplaces need to mirror the mutuality of benefits inherent in capitalism’s construct. They need to better align with the belief systems and values of today’s majority workforce, the under 40 generations. Our workplaces need to reflect a continuation of this natural evolution. The sooner leaders acknowledge the innate, mutual benefits that are derived in designing an equally beneficial workplace, the sooner our businesses and economy will rebound.

There must be equal opportunity created for all within our businesses, let’s explore this idea.

A quick Google search yielded two hundred sixty-six million blogs, articles and organizations offering reasons for why the Great Resignation is happening. As employees are exposed to this content, they’re realizing they have options, they have value and they have the power. I believe what we’re seeing with the Big Quit is the realization by millions of Americans that they no longer need to work for organizations that don’t appreciate them.

Business leaders are worried—and rightly so. Introspective leaders might be asking themselves “Is this a blip or is this a portentous future warning?”

Isn’t this just one side of the coin? What about the other side—the attraction of future staff, the retention of your remaining, committed employees? Why are we not equally focusing on the entire employee lifecycle?

Let’s go back to March 2020 and the months that followed when many fast-acting companies immediately laid off even their best employees to get ahead of financial losses. Many of these layoffs were absolutely required during Covid, especially in the food/beverage, fitness and travel industries. But the first kneejerk response to a collapsing economy for many companies was to eliminate valuable, loyal employees. This sent a clear message to far too many people, “employees have no value”. Too many capitalists (business owners) completely focused on short-term profitability versus long-term consequences.

Even though the office furniture industry was hard-hit by the drop in demand, we were able to avoid all layoffs; we knew and our staff knew just how much we respected them and their work. We knew business would come back with a roar and when it did, we’d need them.

As an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company 2013-2020, we prepare for insane revenue growth and sure enough in October 2021, sales shot up 254% and November 151%, paving the way for a customer-committed pipeline that met 50% of our 2022 required revenue. This is unprecedented in our company.

Why have we weathered the storm so well and what are some of the reasons so many employees, organizations and writers have provided for the Great Resignation?

Lawrence Katz, labor economist and Professor of Economics at Harvard, noted in the Harvard Gazette that “there are very strong economic incentives to change jobs — that’s the first reason. But a second issue — we see a lot of anecdotal and survey data on this — I think we’ve really met a once-in-a-generation “take this job and shove it” moment.” Why is that? Katz surmises that people are in stronger financial positions due to 2020 lower spending habits, increased savings created by strong governmental subsidies and societal safety nets during the pandemic as well as high stock market returns.

Katz also noted “… the number of strikes we’re seeing and workers willing to protest, whether it’s Hollywood production crew workers, John Deere employees, or Harvard graduate students, is very high relative to where the unemployment rate is at. So, I think there may be something more persistent here.”

Wikipedia observes

The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit,[2] is the ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs… The resignations have been characterized as in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American government refusing to provide necessary worker protection, and wage stagnation despite rising costs of living.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed workers to rethink their careers, work conditions, and long-term goals.[7] As many workplaces attempted to bring their employees in- person, workers desired the freedom to work from home given during the pandemic. With telecommuting also came schedule flexibility, which was the primary reason to look for a new job…

Additionally, many workers, particularly in younger cohorts, are seeking to gain a better work–life balance.[16]

Could this shed light on why folks are leaving? Perhaps they’re seeking better work-life balance, flex hours, WFH capabilities, a living wage and benefits that respect employees and their family’s well-being concerns, their fear of Covid—these are certainly all contributing factors. The majority of employees that left my company, Innovative Commercial Environments (ICE), mostly left to become entrepreneurs, try something more adventurous or they desired a less stressful, deadline driven workplace or industry

As an author of Inspiring Generational Leadership: Your Guide to Design a Conscious Culture, I share the generational journey and great gift of mentorship within our company. I’m keenly aware of and close to what motivates Millennials. Click here for a free book excerpt, Chapter One Conscious Capitalism, Millennials and an Evolving Perspective.

One of the few articles found during my Google search that resonated with me was Eric Strafel’s Chief Executive article Building an Engaged Workforce by Putting Social Issues Front and Center. Strafel focuses on the aspirational virtuous values of younger generations within the workplace. Millennials and ‘Zoomers’ “care far more than previous generations did about making an impact on issues that matter to them. This might have something to do with the fact that they grew up with the internet and had access to boundless information about the inequalities in the world. This also might be because so many of the problems we face—climate change, lack of sustainability, deteriorating infrastructure—will affect them the most. These generations know well the ills of the world, and they want to do their part to fix them.”

Good news is employers are responding with a 4.2% increase in salary however if all you do is throw money at the feet of this generation, you won’t retain engaged and highly-motivated employees. This Korn Ferry article What Matters More: Wages or Purpose? reflects my experience at ICE leading Millennials:

A growing desire to be a part of something meaningful is one of the issues driving the Great Resignation. Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees say COVID-19 has prompted them to reflect on their purpose in life, and nearly half say the pandemic has prompted them to reconsider the kind of work they do.

Still, experts say there may be other, more effective strategies for keeping employees engaged and loyal. In survey after survey, Frost says, employees around the world say their top priorities from employers are clarity around what they need to do to do a good job, transparency about their career paths, and support for future career growth. Initiatives such as skill development programs, mentorship opportunities, and workforce planning exercises can address those priorities directly.

My experience is that ICE has been successful due to the mutually beneficial gift of mentorship; leaders need to care about developing employees. And to encourage you to consider the long- term benefits and underlying societal drivers behind the Great Resignation—because this just might only be the beginning of a pernicious problem—let me share Dan Pontefract recent Forbes article

“It’s not the quit rates that we should be worried about…it’s the contemplation rates of quitting that are what is troubling. (per) Joblist, 73% of respondents are considering quitting their roles in 2022…gender equality firm Catalyst, and Harris Poll released a report titled “The Great Work/Life Divide” and found nearly 50% of employees are contemplating leaving their job.

The researchers also wrote, “Approximately 41% of those surveyed say they are considering leaving their job because their company has not cared about their concerns during the pandemic.” There’s that word care again.

These alarming rates of contemplation statistics have been going on since about the summer of 2020. Dependent on what piece of research or survey you review, the quit rate contemplation statistics range between 40% and 80%.

Many employers are now trying to make this cultural shift because they’re forced to. Younger generations are savvy, they see right through all the perfunctory statements and marketing excrement. If you do not authentically value your teammates, don’t be surprised at the quit rates as well as the talent attraction challenges within your company because as I and many Conscious Capitalists know, employees are waking up, realizing “I am valuable”.

Is it The Great Resignation or The Great Awareness? Only time will tell.