The Great Resignation and What to Do About It

The year got off to a rocky start for many organizations.

I’ve heard many clients express their struggle to keep skilled staff, and their fear that the rotating door of people coming and leaving is the new normal. We are hearing a lot about the “Great Resignation” – the phenomenon of people voluntarily resigning from their position, more flippantly called the “Big Quit.”

One of the toughest pressures that many organizations are experiencing is employee retention.

Lately I’ve heard several clients wonder What’s next? as the pandemic continues to put pressure on their organizations, from changing workplace protocols to planning for returning to work – and then having to change the plan, all of which makes employee retention more difficult. It’s clear that one of the toughest pressures that many organizations are experiencing is employee retention.

The costs of turnover are high.

Staff turnover is no small concern for organizations. Losing employees places tremendous strain on an organization. Those left to carry on have to pick up the slack of the added work while management looks for someone to hire. Then there are the costs and time required for advertising, recruiting, interviewing, and checking references.

Once a new person has been hired, they still need time to learn the role. And often the most senior or knowledgeable person is responsible for training, on top of the list of things they are responsible for. In fact, the cost of hiring is estimated to be up to 33% of an existing employee’s salary. Then there is the less tangible impact on morale, as existing staff may be sad to see a colleague leave, wonder why the person really left, or even if they should leave themselves.

Losing employees places tremendous strain on an organization.

Why do people leave?

The reasons people leave an organization are complicated. Typically, employers believe that employees leave for more pay. However, when we look more closely, there are often additional factors at play. Sometimes an employee leaves because they are looking for work that’s more in line with their future aspirations. Sometimes it’s because their role leaves them unfulfilled. These factors are generally beyond an organization’s control, so we should celebrate their decision to pursue their career goals.

However, sometimes people leave because they are unhappy with how they are treated – and this is the element we can control.

What can organizations do to avoid a “Great Resignation”?

Recently a friend told me that, several years ago, he had been tapped on the shoulder to apply for his dream job. However, he decided not to take the position, even though it meant a shorter commute and higher pay. I was perplexed by his choice and asked him to explain. He said the organization he currently worked for really cared for him, and he knew that the level of support he received wasn’t likely a part of the new organization’s culture.

The care he experienced was tangible, and he went on to talk about how that care was expressed. In the midst of the pandemic, his employers fully endorsed his work from home. He was provided extra time to focus on mental health and to care for his aging mother. During the winter holidays, leadership also announced that they added a few extra bonus days to be used at each employee’s discretion throughout the year – no questions asked. He said that he probably wouldn’t use them, but that just knowing that the organization prioritized employee well-being gave him a sense of security that he wouldn’t trade for anything!

Interestingly, the care my friend’s organization gives its staff is directly translated into the kind of service their employees provide for their clients. My friend prided himself on giving individualized care to his clients, and the level of support he received from his current employer made this kind of attention possible. In our conversation, it became clear that his ability and willingness to do exceptional work was the direct result of his employer’s support. It was a win-win situation.

If we want our organizations to be successful, it is critical that we take good care of our employees.

My friend added that he had seen many other people in other organizations in the same industry – which is fast paced and demanding – who are tired, demotivated, and overwhelmed. In fact, he had left his previous employer because he was exhausted by what he referred to as “the pressure cooker” environment. Sadly, he said that his healthy current workplace culture was not the norm in the industry. As a result, he was willing to make certain concessions to stay.

When people aren’t cared for, they do what they can to get by, or they may begin to look for employment elsewhere. If we want our organizations to be successful, it is critical that we take good care of our employees. In our current work climate, it has become clear that there are many variables that we can’t control, and we can’t always predict what is around the corner. However, we do control some of the most important contributions to keeping good employees. Richard Branson once said, “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business.” Rather than worrying about the Great Resignation, we should turn our energy and attention to creating great places to work – and we do this by focusing on caring for our employees.

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Wendy Loewen

Managing Director

Wendy is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This books is available on our website

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