The Great Resignation: Disruption or Opportunity?

Aug 30, 2021

As a result of the global pandemic of 2020, the business world has undergone numerous economic, operational, and cultural changes. One of the most significant is a cultural movement that has changed how companies recruit and retain top talent -- specifically, a rising demand for remote and hybrid work options. When the pandemic required complete isolation, many companies that were able to shift their operations to a remote setup did so. And now, even after the vaccine rollout has lifted social distancing mandates in most places, more and more workers are accustomed to working remotely and want to continue in that arrangement rather than returning to a traditional office setup.

This has led to what some have termed “The Great Resignation”: a tidal wave of resignations among employees who have reevaluated their work-life balance needs and expectations in the wake of the pandemic. Of course, some companies simply cannot operate effectively without in-person workers, such as those in the service and retail industries. And some employees prefer the traditional office setup and work best in those environments. But companies that were able to adapt and offer unprecedented flexibility are seeing a marked increase in recruitment and retention successes. So does “The Great Resignation” represent a time of great disruption, or one of exciting growth opportunities? That depends on the company -- and how they are responding to this cultural movement.

Great Disruption

For companies that can’t -- or won’t -- offer remote or flex working arrangements, employee retention is becoming a significant problem. Employees in this market are both willing and able to pivot their careers away from industries and companies where their work-life balance needs aren’t being met. Many employers are struggling to find desperately needed workers, due in part to higher-risk working environments, wage stagnation, and long hours. With consulting and freelancing opportunities more prevalent than ever, employees have options that can help them leave behind industries where they don’t feel taken care of. And in a sharp contrast with previous generations, many are willing to make financial and career growth sacrifices in order to prioritize their work-life balance.

To make matters worse for employers, the baby boomer generation is still retiring at record rates. Some industry leaders estimate that 35% or more of the remaining baby boomer workforce will be transitioning from their current leadership roles within the next three to four years, whether retiring or accepting lower-level roles to accommodate shifting lifestyle priorities. These trends are exacerbating the labor shortage and disrupting organizations at every level of their operations, from the ground floor to the C-suite.

Great Opportunity

Some companies have chosen to make remote work permanent for employees who are succeeding in those roles. These companies are seeing incredible success not only in recruitment and retention of top talent, but also in employee morale and productivity. While many feared that worker production would plummet when employees worked from home, the opposite is true: in many cases, companies’ bottom lines are seeing a boost from employees who are performing at historically high levels. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. Working remotely allows employees full control over their time management and work-life balance, eliminates pricey and time-consuming commutes, reduces overall stress levels, and gives workers more time with their families. All of these factors combined contribute to a workforce that feels empowered to do their best work and loyal to the companies that create those opportunities. These employees who can work remotely and continue to produce can truly have it all -- and so can their companies.

A Middle Ground

For most companies, the ideal solution falls somewhere in the middle of those two “all or nothing” extremes. Employers who can’t offer full-time remote work options are instead creating flex or hybrid schedules. For example, employees might spend three days in the office and two days at home, to give them added flexibility and allow for smaller in-person gatherings to keep work environments as safe as possible. Other compromises include an increased emphasis on production and less of a focus on tracking hours; as the debate over the 40-hour work week has been renewed, this allows employees the freedom to get their work done in a schedule that best fits their working preferences.

One market expert estimates that roughly 25% of GenX workers are considering career changes in pursuit of better benefits, so companies are also creating new perks to increase employee retention. One growing trend is tuition assistance programs that benefit either employees who want to pursue higher education and continued learning opportunities, or their children and families. College tuition is a major consideration for many families in this market, and many colleges and universities are open to working with companies to create programs that make higher education more affordable for hopeful students of all ages in their communities. Other benefit programs that are rising in popularity include retirement deferment packages to encourage employees to stay on board for an extra few years, helping their companies weather the storm and recruit and train replacement staff over time. These are just a few of the ways in which companies are finding a happy medium to keep their employees engaged, productive, and feeling valued in their roles.

“The Great Resignation” is a fact of life for businesses in this post-pandemic era. For companies that are not prepared for these cultural changes, this will continue to be a great disruption to their workforce. For those who are prepared and willing to adapt and accommodate their employees’ shifting needs, it can be a time of exciting growth.

About the Author

Bill Wolfe

Bill began working at Kimmel & Associates in 2007, and he concentrates his service on heavy equipment and heavy civil clients and professionals.

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