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The Great Resignation Era: How HR Can Lead Through Change

Discover how HR is excelling in the era of the "Great Resignation"!


HR industry experts and employers must constantly adapt their human capital plans and strategies to meet changing business landscapes. Whether it’s the rise of technology, diverse candidate behaviors, increased or decreased budgets, or any other external factors, HR departments must always hold space for change.

What is the Great Resignation?

Coined by psychologist and professor Anthony Klotz, the term “Great Resignation” refers to the mass resignations taking place across the United States in the post-pandemic period. With businesses shifting their attitudes towards operations, business, and goals, Klotz asserts that a shift in the worker’s mindset was inevitable.

Specifically, the “Great Resignation” describes the over 40% of American workers actively seeking a new job, a rate twice as high as in 2019. It also embodies the 3.98 million American workers that quit in July, the record-high 3.99 million workers that quit in April 2021, and everyone else who quit in between.

The last few months have seen record-high resignations are resignation considerations across a few key industries, specifically:

  • Professional and business services, including HR
  • Technology
  • Healthcare
  • Administrative
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Leisure and hospitality

The Harvard Business Review notes that resignation rates were higher in industries that experienced increased demand due to the pandemic.

Why are People Quitting Their Jobs?

Largely sparked by the trickle effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans are quitting their jobs for various reasons.

  • Everyone Else is Doing It - When you witness your colleagues leave your workplace, you begin to wonder why. Seeing others quit also makes the prospect seem more real and possible. More than 55% of American workers witnessed co-workers quitting in the last six months. And, 42% of them considered quitting more often than they did before they witnessed their co-workers quitting.
  • Loss of Meaning - A drastic life event like the COVID-19 pandemic urged millions of workers to reconsider their priorities and job expectations. The pandemic changed what 64% of people desired from their jobs, with many workers no longer willing to work for an employer that doesn’t share their values. Many companies haven’t been able to show their employees that their work has meaning, which is a big factor in employee retention.
  • Burnout - A uniquely job-related kind of stress, burnout has increased among millions of workers in the last few years. Many factors contribute to burnout, like feelings of isolation. Close to 28% of workers have felt more lonely throughout the pandemic. A lack of emotional support from employers also contributed to greater burnout, as well as any sort of mistreatment by an employer, customer, or client. Experts assert that burnout will continue to rise and prove one of the top contributors to mass resignation, as people start seeking better work-life balance.
  • Flexibility - With millions of Americans working from home throughout 2020, commuting is a thing of the past. So, many workers are understandably resisting their employers’ calls to return to the office. One survey indicates that 1 in 3 workers will quit if their employer doesn’t continue permitting telework. And, it’s no wonder, considering that many workers were just as productive at home, on top of enjoying the extra flexibility and time in their day.

    Another contributor to an increased desire for flexibility is location. Many people realized that city living costs didn’t make sense when working from home, prompting a mass migration to more suburban areas. To keep this flexibility and sometimes-lowered cost of living, workers are willing to seek work elsewhere, even if it means a pay cut.
  • Better Compensation - For the last 50 years, compensation for workers in many industries has progressively declined. The pandemic was a big enough event to encourage workers to take a more active role in seeking greater compensation and career advancement. This is especially true for low-wage workers, and even more true for low-wage workers in in-demand industries. With so many job openings, they have more opportunities to negotiate higher pay with different employers.
  • Catchup from 2020 - Mass resignation isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked resignation rates since the year 2000. What’s added to today’s unprecedented influx, however, is the delayed resignations from 2020. Close to 62% of workers that wanted to quit in 2020 chose to stay because they valued job security amidst the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. So, these workers delayed their decision to mid-2021, when the job market and economy started to improve.

How Can HR Leaders Address Resignation and Retain Employees?

Without intentional work, many employers are at risk of losing their employees for good. Here are some strategies that you can take to combat the Great Resignation.

  • Talk to Your Employees - Every workplace has different root causes for mass resignation. HR leaders should examine these causes by first talking to employees. Their opinions and experiences are the most important factor in your HR strategy, and they’ll stay if you respond to their needs. Use employee data from these conversations to update your workplace policies.
  • Look at the Data - Examine the circumstances around people resigning from your workplace. Do you see more people of color resigning than white people? More women? High performers? Use specific data to inform your strategy. A diversity-focused strategy could support a workplace losing its staff of color, while a female-empowered strategy could address a loss of female staff workers.

Other pieces of data to examine include:

Length of employment
Compensation history


Stated reasons for leaving, and more.
  • Prioritize Career Advancement - With so many employees resigning to find better compensation and meaning, career advancement strategies will be very important in the next few months for HR leaders. Developing tailored career paths for employees
  • Embrace Remote Work and Flexibility - The data is clear: workers don’t want to return to 2019’s workplace environment. The shift to remote work caused an arguably irreversible preference for flexibility. Accommodation is key to retention, and employers should consider offering flexible work arrangements that include hybrid work, remote work, and flexible scheduling.
  • Engage Workers - If your employees are disengaged, they’ll accept another job even if the pay is the same or lower. Gallup found that it takes about a 20% pay increase for employees to leave a job where they have a good relationship with their manager. Both of these things are solvable. Employers and HR leaders need to offer better emotional support in the form of flexible scheduling, time off, and breaks. Additionally, employers should consider offering more competitive pay or raises for a job well done, more so than they did before.

The Great Resignation is a new phenomenon, but HR leaders are more than equipped to address it. Employees want to see their bosses and HR leaders take a more human-centric approach to workplace policies.

Are you experiencing the effects of reduced staff? Our team of experts can help you fill all of your gaps. Contact us here to get started.

IHR cannot and does not provide legal advice. It’s important to consult with qualified counsel before adopting any new policies. It’s also your responsibility to determine whether legal review of work product is necessary prior to implementation.