By Allison Philips
Senior Copywriter and Edge Contributor
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. It especially altered the way we work.
Essential workers ― healthcare providers, grocery employees, bus drivers and factory workers ― bore the brunt of COVID-19 as they were forced to work in a pandemic environment. White-collar workers earned a partial respite from having to venture out of lockdown and report to the office, but they faced isolation and burnout. Parents and other caregivers have been ravaged by illness, depression, and exhaustion.
A Fundamental Shift in Work Attitudes
During the “Great Resignation,” a term devised by Anthony Klotz, Texas A&M’s associate professor of management, workers at all levels are leaving their current jobs for what they perceive as new and better jobs. Others have chosen to opt out of the workforce for the foreseeable future or to retire.
“For every action there is a reaction. The Great Resignation is employee reaction to organizational culture. Listen to your employees!” asserts Dr. Marie Gould Harper, CPC and Dean of the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business.
U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that 11.5 million workers quit in April, May and June of 2021. A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 workers globally found that 41% of those workers want to quit and that number jumps to 54% for Gen Z.
Similarly, Gallup noted that 48% of employees are actively looking for their next role. It is not going to stop there.
In July 2021, we saw 3.98 million workers leave their jobs. August set a record. In August, 4.3 million Americans or 2.9% of the entire workforce quit their jobs.
“The Great Resignation is a fascinating topic right now. During this time, organizations and managers need to focus on retaining employees while keeping their overall operations functional and profitable.
“One consideration is that many workers have experienced flexibility and autonomy in their jobs in the past several months. Some employees want to keep it that way. With others, the whole pandemic has made them question what is important to them.” says Dr. Stacey Little, LSSBB, the University’s Management Department Chair.
Start a B.A. in supply chain management at the University.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Reshuffled US Employees’ Priorities
Work in America has essentially followed the same optimistic path over the better part of the last century. Ideally, you go to work and you’ll make money, make friends, get healthcare and other benefits, and finally walk away with a nice pension when you’re done.
However, this reality, particularly for women and minority groups, has proven elusive. As CEO pay has risen to almost 300 times the median worker salary, burnout and anxiety have become linked to all things work-related.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic, a black swan event that upended life as we know it. The pandemic and flipped the concept of work on its head, morphing it into an anomaly that we have yet to fully comprehend.
The pandemic provided a lot of workers with the one thing we never seem to have enough of ― time. It offered us time to think, time to reflect on the role of work in our lives and time to focus on what we really want to do.
Work has always been the American ideal. We work to achieve a better life and our work often defines us. Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, work had begun to occupy more and more space in our lives, bolstered by the advent of the digital revolution that reshaped every element of our lives.
Now that the pandemic is restructuring our lives, millions of workers have discovered that work doesn’t have to feel like a full-throttle roller-coaster ride layered with anxiety and overload. They are also choosing to forgo some employers’ disregard for personal safety, poor management and work-life balance.
Related link: 5 Preparation Tips If You’re Returning to In-Person Work
Public Policy Opened Up New Options for US Workers
As far as public policy is concerned, the government’s stimulus payments and extended unemployment provided some U.S. workers with the flexibility to stay at home and wait for the right job to come along. Others chose the path of entrepreneurship, launching their own business ventures.
Employers Now Face a Mountain of Challenges during the Great Resignation
Company leaders now find themselves in a difficult position during the Great Resignation ― they are sandwiched between the pandemic’s demands on one hand and an unstable workforce on the other. It is worthwhile to note that finding skilled workers was already a significant challenge prior to the pandemic.
Managers now must navigate their way through a different type of workplace. Their focus must now shift to strategies for retaining employees and enhancing their workers’ overall job satisfaction.
Ideally, onboarding, orientation and mentorship should assist new hires on the right path to success. Offering competitive salaries, enhancing healthcare benefits and retirement plans, and providing flexible schedules and remote work could lure some workers back to in-person work at their companies. Other ways to improve employees’ job satisfaction include:
- Clear communication
- Ongoing performance feedback
- Proper training and development
- Meaningful recognition and rewards
- Change management
- Milestone highlights
Related link: 9 Safety Tips to Follow as You Search for a Job Online
Dr. Little says, “Organizations have had to rethink the benefits and work environment they provide their employees. Some companies are offering sign-on bonuses to get the most qualified candidates, while other organizations are offering a flexible schedule, more autonomy, increased benefits, and tuition assistance, once the employee is in the door.”
“Managers and leaders are going to be required to lead with more emotion than in the past. Employees want to trust their leaders and feel included and empowered in the workplace. Supportive leadership and a safe, inclusive workplace are essential to retaining employees,” adds Dr. Little. Employers can also retain workers by offering tuition assistance benefits to promote upskilling and reskilling.