What’s driving The Great Resignation — and what can you do about it?

Chelsea Milojkovic
October 27, 2021
What’s driving The Great Resignation — and what can you do about it?

One of the greatest impacts of the pandemic was the space it cleared for reflection around what’s important. We were all reminded of the non-negotiables for happiness: our health and time spent with family and friends. 

The deck was also cleared to reflect around what we do for work (and how, and where). It became clear that the way we work could be re-evaluated and re-negotiated — there’s no such thing as a set system. Everything is a discussion; all can change.

Despite this shift in what we now know is possible, it can be tempting to side-step this time of reflection and re-negotiation and hop back into work “as normal.” When Winningtemp founder Pierre Lindmark was interviewed by the BBC in September, he observed that “I see a lot of companies forcing it right now. They start saying, ‘OK, now, you took the second vaccine, you need to be at the office’.” 

Employees aren’t having it. “The Great Resignation” is in our midst, with record numbers of employees leaving their organisations as we proceed deeper into winter.

Even as global economies have begun stabilising, this heightened state of job mobility is still here. And the competition for talent is intense. What is driving these resignations? As an employer, what can you do to motivate your people to keep choosing your organisation? 

Resignation driver #1: Inflexible working conditions

Having a blanket policy for how, where, and when all employees work used to be standard. Now it’s necessary to rethink these policies entirely. After experiencing a different reality, the daily commute is now seen as entirely optional for workers across many industries.  

Everyone is doing the math about what they’ll gain from going to the office relative to the sacrifices involved. The calculations are favouring an employee-centric, flexible set-up. 

Our own Cecilia Holmblad, Head of KOL at Winningtemp, did the math in a recent LinkedIn post. At the top of her list for loving her home office: “I get 2 additional hours with my kids — everyday = 10 hours/week = 40 hours/month.” 

In the UK, the right to work from home and request flexible hours could soon be enshrined by law. A bill was introduced in September that would guarantee an employee’s right to request flexible working conditions — regardless of how long they’ve worked for their employer. A business case presented on pointed to a number of compelling statistics, among them that:

“9 in 10 employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity at work – ranking it as more important than financial incentives.”

Resignation driver #2: Chronic stress 

For some industries, the pandemic was the busiest it had ever been. The Harvard Business Journal noted two industries in particular saw incredibly high stress levels and a large number of resignations as a result.

“3.6% more health care employees quit their jobs than in the previous year, and in tech, resignations increased by 4.5%. In general, we found that resignation rates were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic.”

And now? We are continuing to see an increase in stress across all industries. Here is what Winningtemp’s Swedish customer data shows us, compared to last year (2020): 

When asked “Do you feel that you are free from stress negatively affecting your work” in Winningtemp pulse surveys, respondents are responding that — indeed — stress levels are high. Markedly higher than last autumn. 

Time-limited stress is a facet of nearly every form of employment. But chronic, unrelenting stress should not be a part of any employee’s working life. Where it is, there will be burnout — and resignations. 

All over the world people came to understand that health and work-life balance is just too important, even if it means leaving the career field of their choice. 

Resignation driver #3: Not enough support for wellbeing and purpose

Our time is precious and we’re spending the majority of our waking hours at work. With the space to reflect, employees are pondering: what is it that I do with my days, and is it making me happy? As Winningtemp’s Head of HR, Sara Holmberg, notes:

“Instead of chasing higher salaries, we’re witnessing that a lot of the talent pool — especially young talent — is migrating to companies that offer a sense of purpose and a community-oriented company culture.” 

Support for wellbeing is also becoming a critical factor for employer branding and retention rates. In a report by the American Psychological Association, 89% of workers at companies that supported wellbeing initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. For those working at companies with little-to-no support for wellbeing, 51% said they intend to leave their job in the next year 

Fulfilment, work-life balance, physical & mental wellness — all of these have been moved up on the priority list of employees today.

The ONE factor that effectively combats all three drivers

Luckily, there is one thing you can focus on that effectively addresses both the immediate and long-term drivers of resignations. That factor is: autonomy

As detailed in our e-book The science behind effective organisations: 9 factors that matter most, autonomy is all about trusting the will of employees to do good work and giving them the latitude to accomplish that work in the way they see fit. 

This category speaks to how employees can control aspects of their work, such as their use of time and how they perform tasks.
The research shows that absenteeism is strongly influenced by the extent to which employees can decide how they work with their tasks and use their skills. Moreover, autonomy helps employees opt out of or postpone tasks, which reduces the risk of burnout.
A lack of autonomy has also been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. Meanwhile, higher levels of autonomy have been linked to innovative behaviour. The research also shows positive links to job satisfaction, work performance, dedication, and motivation.

Start looking through the lens of autonomy and a lot will change. HR thought leader, Josh Bersin, said it well in our podcast with him back in the early days of the pandemic: “I believe that one of the ways to simplify HR and leadership is to assume that people come to work, to work.” 

Embrace the fact that your people want to give their best and will find the ways to do that themselves when given the empowerment and support. This trust is the gateway to more fulfilling relationships at work, greater levels of innovation, and a thriving company culture overall. 

Start with asking some questions. How can you give your people greater autonomy in where and when they choose to work? How about greater autonomy about which work tasks they take on and how to best complete them? How about autonomy in sculpting the job role that makes them happiest? 

Not only will autonomy help employees themselves navigate around burnout-inducing stress, it will also give them the freedom to grow and experiment, which expands their career horizons and cultivates a sense of purpose — all while staying within your organisation. 

Chelsea is Winningtemp’s Copy Whisperer. Her daily mission is to encourage people around the world to step into a new & improved era of employee experience. A native of California, Chelsea’s dreams of mist and stone brought her to Sweden’s west coast where she plans to frolic and write forever and ever.

About the author
Chelsea Milojkovic

Focusing on people

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