In April of 2020, the U.S. experienced its highest unemployment rate since 1948, the first year the government began recording the statistic. Caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic uncertainty, the crisis peaked at an unbelievable 14.7%.
A year later, in April of 2021, nearly 4 million people voluntarily quit their jobs. That figure only grew in the following months – by the end of the year over 47.4 million laborers turned in their notices. Even with the availability of vaccines growing and the pandemic waning, the U.S. entered its second consecutive labor crisis.
As the saying goes, all great things come in two – though, admittedly, it probably isn’t referring to historic economic downswings.
As winter turns to spring in 2022, the U.S. is still in the midst of this labor phenomenon – a period often called “The Great Resignation.” Spreading without discrimination, this unprecedented wave has impacted nearly every industry, from hospitality to tech to health care and everywhere in between.
With a full year under our belt, we now have the opportunity to examine this period, as well as learn from it. In this article we will explore what this labor movement is, the causes behind it, and how small businesses can learn from it.
The Great Resignation, Explained
Coined by Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz, “The Great Resignation” describes the ongoing national trend where employees voluntarily resigned from their roles en masse.
Starting in early 2021, the amount of workers who quit their jobs quickly transformed from an anomaly to an undeniable trend. A year after its start, resignations show no signs of slowing — 4.3 million Americans left their jobs in February of 2022 alone.
In this section we will explore the causes of The Great Resignation, as well as key statistics that illustrate this unprecedented time.
To the non-observant, the cause of The Great Resignation seems rather simple: a burgeoning job market that favors laborers will surely cause employees to resign their positions in search of better opportunities.
This is absolutely true. The job market is flooded with an unprecedented amount of openings, after all. Even so, explaining this period so simply does not accurately represent the true nature of this period.
In this section, we will explore several underlying reasons for The Great Resignation – particularly from the perspective of the laborers.
As one of the most common reasons to quit a job in general, low wages are an obvious cause of The Great Resignation.
In March of 2022, Pew Research Center reported that 63% of surveyed workers reported wages as their primary reason for quitting. Moreover, compensation was a driver across all ages of workers, regardless of industry or role; 67% of Gen Z and 72% of millennials cite their pay as why they quit.
Even for low income workers, wages are a primary driver. In a 2021 survey, Bankrate found that 72% of those earning less than $30,000 annually planned to seek better employment. The only group that reported no desire to quit were older workers making more than $80,000 per year.
While not a particularly surprising observation, the impact of wages on The Great Resignation is undeniable.
It is important, of course, to not underplay the human element of The Great Resignation.
According to a Joblist survey, 20% of workers chose to pursue new career paths that more appropriately aligned with their current passions, needs, and goals.
While experts debate the specific catalyst, general consensus is the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine periods caused employees nationwide to look inwardly and reconsider their roles. Within that introspection, swaths of employees came to the conclusion career changes needed to be made.
25% of hospitality workers, for example, reported they have no intentions of working in the industry again – an understandable decision given the notable increases in stress and tension within the sector. Restaurant and retail, with similar stressors, has seen similar disillusionment.
The causes for these career shifts are largely individual – some leave to pursue passions, other because of a change in values, plenty for a different work environment, and so on. Still, with 1 in 5 workers saying they quit to change their careers, it’s an undeniable cause of The Great Resignation.
Similar to how the pandemic caused workers to reconsider their career paths, COVID-19 caused millions to reconsider their needs, specifically in relation to work-life balance.
Especially in high-intensity fields and corporate environments, workers across the country began reconsidering their current work environment and the amount of time they spent working. After quarantine proved that remote work and flexible schedules do not negatively impact their output, millions couldn’t bear going back to the old norm.
According to a 2022 Joblist poll, 30% of workers quit their jobs because their employer did not provide an appropriate work-life balance. With so many options available, millions chose greener pastures over their current roles.
Given the overwhelming response by workers, a pursuit of better work-life balance is a clear root cause of The Great Resignation.
After nearly two years of remote work, many workers are resistant to the idea of returning to office. Whether for health concerns, work-life balance, or simply workplace dynamic preferences, many have chosen to leave their positions in lieu of better remote or hybrid models.
This is not particularly surprising – for the most part, America’s venture into remote work has been remarkably popular. Polling data for over a year has suggested the majority of employees would like some form of remote work, with a PwC report finding 72% of workers wanted to continue to work from home for at least 2 days per week; the same survey found that 32% would prefer to be permanently remote.
With such large groups preferring some form of remote work, just the prospect of return-to-office policies have already turned heads – in January of 2022, Bloomberg Wealth found 55% of employees would consider quitting over returning to an unsafe office.
As the U.S. moves past the Omicron wave, companies will continue to roll out their return-to-work. While only time will tell the complete impact, these decisions will surely continue to drive the Great Resignation forward.
When it comes to The Great Resignation, there is no shortage of statistics and data points to illustrate this unprecedented period. From Labor Departments studies to analyses from economists to polling by journalists, there is a sea of information for those looking for it.
To best illustrate the impact of The Great Resignation, we curated the following statistics:
- Since April of 2021, an average of over 4 million workers per month voluntarily quit their jobs.
- 4.5 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in November 2021, the single month record.
- Total resignations are up 23% in comparison to pre-pandemic numbers.
- In February 2022, 6.0% of employees in the accommodations and food service industry quit – the highest of any sector.
- February 2022 saw 11.3 million job postings, nearly the same as December 2021’s record breaking month.
- 6.7 million hires occurred in February of 2022, on par with the 4.4% hire rate over the last few months.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNBC, Pew Research Center
How Small Businesses Can Improve Their Hiring Practices
Almost immediately after Professor Klotz coined the term “The Great Resignation,” experts and business leaders across the country looked for answers to the crisis.
Like all unprecedented points in history, opinions and ideas are diverse and nearly infinite. From radical changes to a return to pre-pandemic times to everywhere in between, nearly everything imaginable has been proposed.
For small businesses, we believe that improving hiring practices can be the answer to The Great Resignation – attracting, acquiring, and retaining top talent is the goal, after all.
Based upon the causes of this period, we identified five ways your small business can improve your hiring practices:
Modernized Hiring Process
While the norm for decades, the practice of withholding compensation ranges for on job postings is nearing its deathbed. With workers prioritizing wages more than ever, small businesses can differentiate themselves by providing transparency on their postings.
This decision has two primary effects, both of which are positive. For one, immediate transparency helps establish trust with prospective hires, an essential part of retaining employees long term. Second, it ensures that applying applicants are looking for a similar pay range, effectively filtering out incompatible matches.
Additionally, small businesses should look to modernize their interview practices to be relevant and efficient. With more options available than ever, long processes are a guaranteed way to lose prospective hires before even making an offer. By reducing the number of interview rounds, and increasing the efficiency of each round, small businesses can identify and offer quality talent without the fear of losing their interest too early.
While there are plenty of solutions worth considering, starting at hiring is surely a great place.
Increased Wages, Better Benefits
With low wages being a primary cause of The Great Resignation, increasing wages isn’t a particularly surprising recommendation. With the current state of the economy, however, it may be the most obvious improvement that can be made.
Year-over-year, real wages, which factors inflation to wage growth, saw a decrease of 0.5%. This means that, even though wages grew 2.7% in 2021, the average American’s compensation effectively decreased; inflation outpaced wage increases. With inflation rising by the day, this gap is sure to grow.
In addition to direct wages, small businesses can offer better benefits packages to attract top talent. Offers like comprehensive healthcare, student loan assistance, financial health packages can be the leg up that a small business needs to acquire top talent.
By improving compensation and benefits packages, small businesses can attract better talent and hire better employees.
Restatement of Values
Sandwiched in nearly every job posting is the company’s values: the stated principles that drive the business’s every decision.
Following the entry of millennials into the workforce, stated company values became a form of recruiting – largely because the youngest working generation cared about making an impact. Companies that appealed to the beliefs of millennial workers were able to attract better talent.
As part of The Great Resignation, employees left their positions disillusioned with their companies. This feeling, which largely is described as “burnout,” grew for many from obvious disconnects between company values and the actual company culture. A poignant example is Activision Blizzard, which state integrity and responsibility as two of their pillars.
With more control over the vision of the company, small businesses can use this period as an opportunity to realign and restate their values.
Unlike the stated values of far too many businesses, these principles should legitimately reflect the current workplace culture – including that which developed during COVID. If possible, these values should broadly align with ideal prospective hires.
After realigning their values, small businesses can restate their beliefs on job applications, recruitment messages, and advertisements to attract top talent better.
Flexible Work Environment Offering
After two years of the pandemic, one thing is abundantly clear: people like flexibility and having more control over their work-life balance.
Offering a flexible work environment can be used to attract top talent, especially as workers continue to cite work-life balance as a primary reason for quitting.
Because small businesses have more control over their workplace dynamics, each company can develop their own flexible environment. Some options include offering remote work, hybrid options, unlimited PTO, and additional policies that provide control for employees.
With nearly 33% of workers quitting over work-life balance, small businesses should adapt immediately.
Talent Management Software
Like all company revamps, upgrades are surely one of the ways that small businesses can improve their hiring practices.
Talent management software is one of the simplest ways to modernize the hiring process.
Of all the options, CAVU HCM offers one of the best talent management solutions available. With the software, businesses can streamline the entire hiring process, including evaluations and onboarding. Companies can even use CAVU to post job openings, track applicants, and run background checks.
With a talent management solution, businesses can improve their hiring procedures, attract more prospects, and hire better talent – successfully navigating the Great Resignation.
Learn more about CAVU HCM’s talent management solution here.