We are emerging from one of the most heavily controlled and challenging periods in recent history, but while the full societal and economic impact of the pandemic will take time to show itself, UK businesses are facing yet another curveball: ‘The Great Resignation’.
‘The Great Resignation’ is an idea put forward by Professor Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. Klotz predicted that workers would resign from their jobs in huge numbers once the COVID pandemic is perceived to be over and we return to a more ‘normal’ way of life.
We discussed the topic with Tom Sharp, founder of POST-Recruitment, to discover what (if anything) businesses can do to prepare for (or minimise the impact of) ‘The Great Resignation’.
What’s the theory behind ‘The Great Resignation’?
Before COVID, most people would get up in the morning, prepare to leave their home, commute to a workplace, park themselves at a desk or workstation, stay there until a clock told them that they had finished, commute home again, eat, sleep, and repeat.
Then, on 16th March 2020, everything changed.
Working from home
As the pandemic shifted from ‘media hype’ to a grim reality, Boris Johnson announced that people should ‘start working from home where they possibly can’, and the working from home era began. Initially, we improvised and tried to adapt to it as a temporary situation (hunched over kitchen tables or standing at ironing boards with partners, children and pets taking on the roles of co-workers). Weeks turned into months, and over 16 of them, many of us have made working from home our new normality.
Whatever your personal experience of working from home, the pandemic has opened our eyes and started a conversation. We have seen the benefit of cutting out the daily commute, a more flexible work environment, and a healthier work-life balance. We have found time for hobbies, walking in nature with the family, playing with the kids and being more involved with their education (stressful as it can be). We have bitten the bullet and invested in office furniture for the home, upgraded the broadband, bought home exercise equipment, and found the time to prepare nutritious family meals from scratch. Some people have even added a new baby (or pet) to their household.
Working from home has become normal, so now restrictions are being lifted are employers expecting their teams to return to the old way of working as if the last 16 months did not happen? As if the potentially deadly virus is no longer factor? If so, they can expect a barrage of reluctance or outright resistance.
Psychological impact of the pandemic
Next, add a person’s frustration with their employer refusing to be flexible or showing a lack of concern for their welfare to the fact that they have been living under a constant cloud of uncertainty and anxiety for a prolonged period.
When we feel that we have lost control in an area of our life, it is natural to try and regain it in whatever way we can, and for many, that means changing our job or switching to a new career path altogether. And, thanks to numerous lockdowns, we have had a lot more time on our hands to reflect on our goals and dreams and to discover new interests.
This may push many people to take a professional leap they would not otherwise have taken such as starting their own business or retraining. At the very least, a fresh start in a new job begins to look appealing.
Finally, there will be lots of people who, had the pandemic not happened, would have left their job at some point in the last 16 months anyway, but they decided to hold off until life was more settled and predictable. Now that it looks like that time is coming, those pent-up resignations are coming out of the woodwork.
When we combine all these issues together, the ‘Great Resignation’ looks like more than a theory.
Why should employers be concerned about ‘The Great Resignation?’
Staff resignations are an inevitable part of running a business. They are often a very personal decision and, in many situations, nobody’s fault. However, resignations can also be a warning sign that all is not well, and when a business has a high turnover of staff or several people leaving in a short space of time, it’s wise to indulge in some organisational soul-searching to avoid losing more employees.
When employee turnover rates are high, the consequences can be serious: the organisation loses valuable knowledge and experience, there is a drop in morale for those left, and a potential loss of belief in the organisation’s competence and the team’s ability to perform. Then, when the new team members enter the organisation, they are entering a team that lacks an identity or a sense of collective purpose. Building relationships takes time, and in that time commitment, trust, engagement, and productivity start to fall.
Tom Sharp is the founder and director of POST-Recruitment. He and his team handle recruitment across ecommerce, sales, marketing, creative, IT, business support and finance industries for large national companies as well as one (or two) man bands. We caught up with Tom to find out his take on ‘The Great Resignation’, what candidates are looking for in their post-pandemic roles, and what some companies are doing to retain a strong and productive workforce.
Are you surprised by the onset of ‘The Great Resignation’?
No, there’s a well-known statistic in recruitment that people tend to leave their jobs within 6 months of a significant life event. It can happen even when the employer has gone out of their way to support them, which can be frustrating for the employer. This time, we’ve all been through the same significant life event – the pandemic – at the same time, so it makes sense that the resignations will start to come in at around the same time.
The pandemic really shone a spotlight on employers. The way they responded gave an insight into how much they value their staff and their wellbeing. Some employees were expected to deliver the same levels of productivity without any additional support, while others went the extra mile for their employees from day one.
In other cases, employers were very flexible and understanding towards their employees during the pandemic, but now the restrictions are easing, they are expecting them to return to full-time office-based work and not listening to what their employees want or need. This is particularly frustrating for employees who have proved that they can work productively from home. Eventually, employees will vote for flexibility with their feet.
Have you noticed a shift in what candidates are looking for from prospective employers?
What about employers? Has there been a change in their requirements?
In some cases, yes. We recently recruited for a £70k Leeds-based role. The employer started off saying that they would want someone in the office 2-3 days per week, but then when the right candidate came along and happened to be based in Cornwall, they were willing to reduce that to just one day in the office per month. Geography does not seem to be as much of a barrier as it was before the pandemic. We recruit for several Leeds-based marketing companies who are actively targeting creative professionals in London.
How can employers respond to ‘The Great Resignation’?
If your business has been negatively impacted by resignations in recent months, the first step is to understand why employees are leaving. Some will have undergone personal trauma or a significant change in circumstance which has pushed them towards leaving, and there is very little you can do about that besides showing them compassion and appreciation for their service.
Others, however, will be leaving because they are dissatisfied with something, and if you don’t know what that something is, you cannot make changes that might prevent more people from resigning or that might persuade quality candidates to fill the vacancies left behind.
It is vital that employers encourage their team to be open and honest about their concerns or frustrations so they can focus on improvement in the right places, but here are some of areas that businesses might want to address if they want to retain their staff, and/or attract new recruits.
Flexible working policy
In some cases, employees working from home on a long-term basis may not be suitable for the business model and it is important that employers are clear and upfront about that. If their stance does not sit well with the employee, it may be better for all parties that they go their separate ways sooner rather than later.
Where working from home does not impact the business negatively, it makes sense to continue to give employees the opportunity to work in the way that works best for them. This might mean working at home, in the office, or a hybrid of both.
However, it is important that employers recognise that working from home can have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of their employees if not done responsibly. In fact, there is a potential risk that employers might be hit with legal action in the future if employees should develop curvature of the spine or other health issues due to inadequate equipment and furniture.
“It can be tempting for employees to work late into the evening or answer emails in their free time, and this can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to switch off from work. We recruit for Asda who have set up time restrictions on emails so that even if someone sends an email at 8pm, it won’t arrive in the recipient’s inbox until 8am the next working day. Communication and collaboration software can also help to keep teams connected, as working from home can become lonely and/or sap employee motivation.”Tom, POST Recruitment
Technology and software
Communication and collaboration are key ingredients in any successful team. Forward-thinking companies need to give their employees the technology, connectivity, and software that they need to work at their best, whether they are at home or in the office.
Our environment has a significant impact on the workforce’s morale and productivity levels, so if your shared workspace is looking less than its best, your team may be inclined to give less than theirs. For employees who primarily work from home, you might consider offering a furniture allowance or rental system just as you would pay for someone’s travel expenses.
UK Coaching are a great example of an organisation that has invested in a brand-new office space during the pandemic that has been designed to encourage their team to come together, collaborate, and share a sense of cultural identity. Click here to read their story.
Physical health, mental health, and motivation are all inextricably connected. It makes sense, therefore, that companies should consider funding gym memberships, promoting physical activity through workplace programs (e.g., walking meetings, sponsored challenges), running online fitness sessions, or providing home exercise equipment such as treadmills that employees can use during virtual meetings.
Funding your fight against ‘The Great Resignation’
If you are concerned about the potential impact multiple resignations has had, or could have, on your business, or you are trying to attract new recruits, you need to provide them with the environment and support that enables them to thrive.
We know what you’re thinking. All those improvements, sound great, but what post-pandemic business has the cash lying around for a complete office fitout, or to provide new technology, office furniture, fitness equipment across the organisation?
That’s where we come in.
With a bespoke finance solution from Bluestone Leasing, you could invest in new technology, furniture, an office fit out, fitness equipment or other business assets for your team by spreading the cost and keeping cash in the business, as well as potentially unlocking significant tax benefits at the same time.
To discover how a bespoke finance solution could fund the improvements needed to minimise the impact of The Great Resignation’ by retaining and/or attracting the best employees, hit the button below.