<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=575614229608033&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
October 19, 2021

The Great Resignation: Reframing a Threat as an Opportunity

The Great Resignation. The fact that those words are capitalized means that it is no longer a subject of speculation. It’s very real, and for many employers it’s also very scary.

One glance at the stats suggests the fear is justified:

  • 55% of workers are considering leaving their job in the next year.
  • In the first five months of 2021 over 17 million private-sector workers decided to quit their job at a rate of 3.4 million per month, a 36% increase on pre-COVID figures.

It’s an alarming and unprecedented amount of people seeking change, and it means that employers have a hill to climb.

But to call it the Great Resignation is perhaps a little misleading, as it conjures images of hordes of talent leaving their jobs, never to return. The truth is that it’s more a migration than a resignation, and just as there’s risk, there’s also opportunity, as newly available talent hunts for a workplace that works for them with the same passion that they work for it.

Now that it’s a recognized phenomenon, it’s time to pull the curtain back on the Great Resignation: what it is, why it’s happening, and how both employers and recruiters might minimize its downsides while maximizing its upsides.

Understanding the generational drivers

The numbers quoted at the top are scary not just because they’re large, but because they’re vague. Drill down a little further and things become a little clearer, like the fact that these numbers shift dramatically from generation to generation.

“Gen Z and Millennials are really driving the push for work/life balance,” says Anastasia Valentine, President and Managing Partner of Resource 1. “It’s interesting to read that Millennials are actually the first generation to average a sub-40 hour work week – they average 38.8. When I started in the staffing industry I think I averaged about a 70 hour work week, and I don't ever recall working a 38-hour workweek in my life!”

It’s not that Millennials aren’t accustomed to working overtime. They are. Nor is it that they’re a lazy generation. They aren’t. They simply want the ‘work to live’ mindset to replace the ‘live to work’ mindset. They and Gen Z want to celebrate having a life outside of work, and the Great Resignation is evidence of that shift in mentality. Currently, Millennials represent 41.4% of the workers in the workforce, and Gen Z represents another 5%, though that figure will increase to around 27% by 2025.

With Baby Boomers retiring in droves and being replaced by workers with very different mindsets, employers need to understand the new expectations of talent if they are to succeed in attracting and retaining it moving forward. If an organization celebrates work/life balance, offers mandated time off, and creates explicit work boundaries, it’ll position itself to succeed.

COVID put this shift into overdrive. It taught talent that flexible work was possible – and preferable – in a huge percentage of jobs. It taught talent that they could work to live rather than live to work, that they could get paid as much working from their living room as they could flying all over the country, that they didn’t need to return to work after just five weeks of maternity leave, that they didn’t have to be all things to all people.

These changes are healthy and should be celebrated. If employers are as excited about these changes as their workers are, they’ll succeed, because they’ll let these generational expectations guide their strategies on attraction and retention.

Once the philosophical leap has been made, the question becomes how?

Doing it right, doing it well

It’s all well and good to offer flexible work, it’s another thing to deliver.

As they’re comparatively lacking in resources, small businesses are 17% less successful in adapting to remote work than medium-sized businesses are, simply because they don’t have the technical knowledge and infrastructure to do it. As a consequence, small and minority businesses are feeling the pinch of the Great Resignation more than larger companies, and are also finding it more difficult to attract replacement talent.

There’s no simple solution to this problem, but as we’ve discussed previously, Vendor Management Systems (VMSs) and Managed Services Providers (MSPs) have a responsibility to ensure that small businesses can afford their solutions, as small business growth is good for all.

The issue of access to technology put to one side, what is talent looking for in technological solutions? The answer once again depends on the generation you ask.

“Employers find themselves addressing the Millennials, the digital pioneers who know how great technology can be, and Gen Z, the digital natives who look at technology and consider whether it’s truly efficient or the best that it can be,” says Valentine.

It’s an obvious generalization, but having grown up when personal computers and the internet were emerging, Millennials tend to be more wide-eyed about technology. They’re excited by its modern capabilities because they’ve seen it in its infancy. Gen Z, meanwhile, only knows a world with technology, and are therefore more pragmatic and objective about it. They only appreciate it if it truly adds to or assists with what they’re trying to achieve. Where Millennials might look at the cool factor, Gen Z looks at efficacy. This difference in perspectives is really noticeable between the two generations.

“My Millennials want to buy everything,” Valentine continues, “but my Gen Zs really scrutinize the efficiency of new technology, and whether it's worth their time.”

These two generations already make up half the workforce, and that figure will increase to almost three-quarters in four short years. Post-COVID this segment of the workforce has high expectations about work flexibility, and they know that technology is key in enabling them to realize the work/life balance they desire.

In fact, how they do their job is in some ways becoming more important than what that job is. In terms of the Great Resignation, the ‘how’ is a 60-70% factor in whether they decide to change jobs, which Gen Z and Millennials do at an unprecedented rate: an average of every 1.6 years. The aim therefore shouldn’t be to keep top talent forever – if you keep someone for four years, you’re actually doing really well.

Recruiters need to change their behaviors just as employers do. You can’t look at a resume and say ‘you’ve only spent two years in your last couple of jobs – you must be flaky’. The question should be ‘can you tell me why you’ve taken this path?’ If there are understandable reasons behind every decision, if there’s a plan and a progression, there’s no reason not to submit that candidate.

If you don’t adapt to the new realities of the workforce, you’ll increasingly miss out on great talent.

There’s no better time than now

Staffing has always had a reputation as a change-averse industry. But in the same way that COVID showed talent that work/life balance was possible, it showed staffing that rapid technological change was possible. The numbers were in many cases eye-popping:

  • A 529% increase in communication tool procurement
  • A 167% increase in video resume tools
  • A 500% increase in instant messaging chats

The amount of adoption and acceleration this ‘change-averse industry’ was actually capable of was crazy. And now that we know we can do it, we shouldn’t let up. We should put the pedal to the metal, which is something that Valentine is cognizant of.

“As a business owner, the Great Resignation is challenging me to think about things differently; in how I build a team, in how I scale growth, in how I maximize the value of each seat. These are things that we'll have to figure out like every other company while we’re adapting to this new norm. But there's one thing that I'm certain about: if you haven't seen this change, you will soon. There's more than likely a large number of people on your team right now who are looking to make a change, you just don't know about it yet.

“And if you're not working with the latest and greatest technology, Gen Z and Millennials won't even talk to you about an open job.”

If we were naïve, we might label the evolving demands of talent as selfish, the cries of a ‘What's In It For Me’ workforce. To some degree that’s true – they are wondering what’s in it for them – but perhaps not in the self-centered way that it is sometimes portrayed.

Gen Z and Millennials are simply looking for normalcy, for balance, for a chance to live a life that’s full and rich, both in and out of office hours.

And that’s a good thing because it forces employers to do better and be better.