What’s going on with the ‘Great Resignation’?

You’d better work on hanging on to your workers, or you may end up shutting your business doors.

Well, that was different.

Last night on my way home from a rare “In Real Life” meeting, I stopped at a McDonald's to grab a quick Quarter Pounder. The manager got on the loudspeaker and told me they were already closed… at 7 p.m. It turns out his head cook had just quit, and two other staffers hadn’t shown up.

Welcome to the 2021 job world.

Of course, restaurants large and small have been especially hard-hit this year. After decades of poor pay—in North Carolina, the minimum wage for tipped employees is still $2.13 per hour—and no work at all for many food-service workers during the pandemic, restaurant staffers have had enough. But it’s not just burger flippers or a white tablecloth maître d’ who’ve had enough. It’s almost everyone.

A new Gallup analysis found that 48% of America’s working population is actively searching for a new job or looking for new opportunities. As Gallup’s analysts wrote:  “Businesses are facing a staggeringly high quit rate—3.6 million Americans quit their jobs in May alone—and a record-high number of positions remain unfilled. Gallup discovered that workers in all job categories, from customer-facing service roles to highly professional positions, are actively or passively job hunting at roughly the same rate.”

I could have told them that. In my long career of reporting on the tech industry, I have never seen so many employees quitting or eagerly looking for another spot.

I see it locally near my home in Asheville, NC. Friends and colleagues tell me they see it in Silicon Valley. I see it remotely in Boston, New York City, Washington, DC, Portland, OR—you name the place. A lot of people are sick and tired of their jobs and want out.

There are many reasons. As I’ve mentioned before, many folks—even before the Covid-19 Delta variant and anti-vaxers slowed the return to work—did not want to head back to the office. Now they want to less than ever. And all you bosses who insist everyone will be forced back into their cubicles and workstations will soon find your staffers leaving you for good.

A recent Harvard Business Review poll found “employees want to work from home 2.5 days per week on average.” As time goes on, people find they like working from home more than ever. Zoom chats, Slack conversations, and other remote work interactions used to be weird, but people have gotten comfortable with virtual meetings. Workers who think the boss is going to insist on a return to the old ways are going to quit. Indeed, they’ve already started.

In particular, women and people of color have little desire to return to the office status quo. Why would they? It’s always favored white men, who—spoiler alert—are the ones who most want to return to the office. But, even they, according to a FiveThirtyEight survey of knowledge workers, are in no hurry to go back. Just over 30% want to go back to a 9-to-5 office schedule.

There’s more to it than just those changes. As Gallup puts it, “it is [not] just an industry, role, or pay issue. It’s a workplace issue.” Put simply, many of your workers are unengaged or, worse still, actively disengaged from work.

“Some very well-paid people are among the most disengaged, and disengaged white-collar workers are slightly more likely than others to be looking for a job,” Gallup reported. And while paying them more might help, it’s not a panacea, according to Gallup: “It takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.”

Indeed, many workers feel so unconnected with their jobs that “nothing” is all it takes for them to quit. I’ve known several people in the last few months, some of them quite senior, who’ve quit their jobs without any new position in the offing. They were just fed up with the feeling that their managers didn’t care about them or their work.

That’s a business killer. “Replacing workers requires one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary,” Gallup said. “So, it costs $9,000 per year to keep each disengaged worker and between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace them.”


Adding insult to injury, since most of those still at work aren’t interested in being there, “each new hire is liable to land on a less-than-engaging team and probably won’t stay long.”

So, what can you do? I’ll go into more detail next week. But, for now, Gallup has a useful paper—Align Your Employee Compensation and Talent Management Strategies—with some suggestions you should read. Make a point of talking to your employees to find out what they’re thinking and let them know that you value them and their work. If you can’t do that last part, you need to ask yourself, “What are you doing with your company?”

Because you, too, may be burning out—and your business may follow you into the flames.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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