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The Great Resignation - "I Quit"

There are signs of hope, vaccines are available, people are traveling, and many are contemplating the return to the office. But there are some dark clouds on the horizon that employers should be taking action on right now. Unless, of course, you want to hear those dreaded words:

“I Quit!”

I just pulled together an update on what is going on with Women and the Workplace for a national group of Chief Operating Officers (COOs). Here’s what you need to know:

What People Are Saying

Three recent surveys, indicate that many people are seriously considering quitting.

· Microsoft[1] had a research firm perform a global study and found 40% of employees were considering getting another job.

· A study[2] done in the UK and Ireland found 38% were considering changing jobs. Note that this jumps to 55% for those in the 18-34 year old range. And a stunning 58% for those in the IT and Computing Industry.

· A US survey[3] found 26% surveyed were planning on switching jobs and generationally, 34% of millennials in the US are looking for new opportunities.

Amazingly, a stunning 48% of employers are not worried about post-pandemic resignations. I guess we weren’t really thinking about chip shortages either, until they happened.

The information above is based on real surveys, what people say they will do in the future.

What People are Doing

What’s actually happening? In April, US workers left jobs at a rate of 2.7%[4]. This is the highest level we’ve seen since 2000. Last year the rate was 1.6% This clearly is not (yet) happening in all industries, but has hit some industries, like accommodation and food service and professional and business services, much harder than others. Below is a chart depicting how quitting has been distributed across industries. If you look at the historical data, a few segments, like accommodation and food services has been elevated for the last few months, and others like professional and business services has just spiked in April.

The other interesting phenomena is that we are seeing the highest rate of quitting from those who started a new position during the pandemic. This may be due to a lot of causes, but I suspect poor job fit along with inadequate on-boarding may be a part of the problem.

Of those who plan to leave[5]:

80% are concerned about career growth,

72% said the pandemic caused them to rethink their skill sets

59% sought out skills training on their own since the pandemic, and

42% would give their employer’s effort to maintain culture during pandemic as “C"

34% want a job where they can work remotely

Clearly, there should be cause for concern on the part of employers.

Why Is this Happening?

The Great Resignation has begun, and it really shouldn’t surprise us. We’ve just spent 15 months in a pandemic. Something that hasn’t happened in more than 100 years. In the US, 34 million people have contracted Covid, we just passed 600,000 deaths. The pandemic was hardest on women and minorities. As of March 2021, 2.3 million women had left the workforce versus only 1.8 million men. It turns out that women and minorities are over-represented in the industries were hit the hardest and held down the longest by the pandemic: leisure and hospitality, health and education, government, and retail. In addition, parents with small children were forced to shift priorities when the pandemic obliterated our child & elder care systems. Afterall, someone had to be with little Alice for online first grade, and many moms and dads have stepped out of the workforce to ensure their families are still moving forward. The pandemic has twisted everyone’s lives somewhere. Many people have lost love one’s and are still grieving.

On top of the impact of the pandemic, we also have the racial unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd. This has touched everyone in some way, and it has highlighted the need for open discussion and dramatic change around race in the US. These events have also resulted in a resurgence of social justice empathy and more and more people are pushing for societal change.

And, oh, one more thing, as if this weren’t enough, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital. McKinsey recently published a study indicating that digital adoption has been accelerated by 3-4 years during the pandemic[6]. I fully expect that rate will continue throughout the recovery. The share of digital products (or those enabled by digital) has also accelerated by a surprising seven years. This acceleration provides additional pressure and pushes up the need for digital skills for workers.

Some of the most interesting data drives home how uneven the woes of the pandemic have been distributed across populations. This data was taken from the Microsoft Study. What is shown is the difference in responses between Business Leaders and Workers without decision making authority. Clearly there are many “Bosses” that need to wake up and understand how their employees are actually faring. This goes to the “your reality is not my reality,” which seems to be happening a lot right now.

What Can Employers Do?

We are at a major inflection point and are poised to see some major shifts. While many people were thrown out of work by the pandemic, many others were able to keep working, and many went home to work. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, many who were hunkered down are now looking outward for new opportunities.

The last year has left a mark on everyone. Make no mistake, people are rethinking how they live their lives. They are also reprioritizing what’s important to them right now. Some have already shifted, others are looking for the right opportunity or are designing their exit strategy and future life plan.

If you are concerned about retention (and you should be), I would encourage all employers to consider the following actions:


If you have significant “pain points” with employees, figure out a way to remove the pain. Ask yourself, “How many employees can I afford to lose over this?”

Flexibility is key right now. People are juggling many balls and the mix keeps changing. Flexibility on your part right now may mean you still have that employee three or six months from now. Focus on keeping people, perhaps responsibilities can shift, new responsibilities can be added, and training accommodated. Keep an open mind and let your employees tell you what’s important to them.

If you haven’t already, ask what employees need help with, listen, and make changes. Many employers have added wellness benefits, are polling workers about return to office plans, and offering upskilling and other resources.

Take a hard look at your on-boarding process and ensure that you are building a lot of touch points to ensure new employees are not left in limbo wondering.

Consider additional skill training for employees. People have been scrambling and trying to keep up during the pandemic, now is a good time to beef-up and add skills to get ready for the next project. Growth and advancement are important to people. Many processes had to shift during the pandemic, and many companies need to backfit training for systems that changed quickly during the pandemic.

The great debate of remote, hybrid, and in-person work will continue. Treat this as an experiment and use it to figure out what really works for which groups of people in your organization.


Continue to remain flexible. It is clear from the data that this is key skill.

Shift your culture – to both the realities of your work environment and also to a more inclusive culture. Building an inclusive culture opens up lines of communications between groups, allows issues to surface and be dealt with before they become a crisis. It makes the playing field more level for all and will allow your company and employees to thrive. Don’t miss the opportunity to start the shift now. Those who shift earlier will soar higher.

[1] “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?”, 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index: Annual Report, March 22, 2021. [2] Hughes, Owen. “Tech workers are getting ready to quit. This is what’s pushing them to leave their jobs.” TechRepublic, May 14, 2021. [3] Liu, Jennifer. “1 in 4 workers is considering quitting their job after the pandemic – here’s why.” CNBC, Apr 19, 2021. [4] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Quit Level and Rates by Industry and Region”, April 2021. [5] Pulse of the American Worker Survey: Special Report – Is This Working? Prudential, March 2021. [6] LaBerge, Laura; O’Toole Clayton; Schneider, Jeremy; Smaje, Kate. “How COVID-10 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point – and transformed business forever,” McKinsey, October 5, 2020.

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