Is the 'great resignation' really the 'great reckoning'?

Survey find certain groups more inclined to leave their jobs than others

Is the 'great resignation' really the 'great reckoning'?

Much has been heard about the departure of workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic or “the great resignation.” But is it truly happening?

“We’re calling it more ‘the great reckoning’, where employers have to really start to examine how to make these jobs more attractive for people,” says Adam Pressman, partner in employee research and engagement leader at Mercer U.S. and Canada in Atlanta.

The consultancy recently released results of a new survey that showed a mass resignation is not really taking place among all sectors, but it is for certain types of employees.

The company asked 2,000 U.S. workers in August how they felt about one key statement: “At the present time, I’m not seriously considering leaving the company.”

On the whole, 72 per cent agreed, which is about the average historically, according to Pressman.

“But you do see an increase in intention to leave when you start looking at hourly frontline workers and when you look at different segments. You always see a little bit higher intention to leave amongst younger populations, which we do -- 18 to 24 year olds, entry-level professionals -- but we’re seeing pretty high numbers when you look in retail, hospitality, food service. People that are really on the front lines, that are out there interacting with the public, have a much higher intention of leaving their current job.”

That numbers falls to 64 per cent of those who are making less than US$60,000 per year, found the survey.

“There is a great resignation but it’s really a mixed and divided story,” says Pressman. “It’s really about frontline, hourly, lower wage workers that are bearing the brunt of what’s going on right now and those are the people that are more likely to turn over and leave or just not come back to the workforce.”

Top concerns include health, compensation

When asked about their biggest concerns, the top response overall was physical health and fitness, with workload and work-life balance second and mental and emotional health coming in third.

But for those who make a lower salary, covering monthly expenses is a top concern, followed by mental and emotional health.

Many employers are boosting wages and benefits to attract more workers, found a Canadian survey.

For employers, it’s time to focus on the frontline workers, says Pressman, but it is not as simple as boosting their pay.

Adam Pressman

“They do need to figure out how to prioritize their hourly, frontline, low-wage workforces, think about what they can do from a total rewards point of view. If they can pay more, it would help; [or] if they can offer more benefits or flexibility into those jobs, or rearrange the job to make it less difficult on people or more sustainable, whether it’s job sharing or different shifts or different flexibility arrangements. They need to examine those jobs, finding ways to make them more attractive,” he says.

Burnout was also seen as a growing concern as one-quarter of respondents reported they were extremely or highly stressed, which is where managers can help relieve the burden, says Pressman.

“They need to take steps to try to mitigate burnout. [That means] have different ways of supporting mental health, making sure there are resources available for employees to utilize when they’re burning out and making sure managers have tools to really support employees with their concerns, and their life situations and their needs. We’re just going to have to have a more empathetic approach to those populations, to keep them and give them what they need.”

Canadian HR Reporter spoke with a Vancouver academic about some strategies to help reduce employee burnout.

Business receptive to change

On the positive side, companies are making adjustments, according to Pressman.

“Organizations do seem to want to examine employee needs: What are they not getting today? What do they need in the future? How do we better meet those needs, given the amount of money that we have to spend? It’s not necessarily ‘We’re just going to increase our budget exponentially to cover what employees want.’ It’s more like ‘Let’s look at all the things we’re offering today’ and figuring out how to rearrange that in a way that optimizes what employees really want.”

But for HR, the steps to take are clear, he says.

“First of all, prioritize the frontline hourly or low-wage populations because they’re bearing the brunt here. Rethink the employee experience and the way your jobs are structured and organized. Make sure you’re taking steps to mitigate burnout and supporting mental health.”

It’s also important to “make sure you’re creating a psychologically safe environment, particularly for underrepresented segments of your population,” he says, as Black workers in the survey, for example, reported personal safety being of utmost anxiety.

“Those segments tend to have much more concern around some of these issues than the majority segment so you really need to prioritize those parts of your population to make sure they’re feeling safe and getting what they need.”

Among Canadians who have not yet taken steps to address their mental health but would want to, 30 per cent say affordability of care is the greatest barrier, according to a separate report.

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