It’s not about the money… so what did cause the Great Resignation?

In this exclusive guest article, John Laycock, Managing Partner at executive search firm Anderson Quigley, uncovers the surprising causes of the Great Resignation.

As we emerge from a two-year period of upheaval unlike any other in recent memory, the effects of the Great Resignation continue to be felt throughout the job market. But how did it happen?

2020 and 2021 were years unlike any others in our lifetimes. As countries fell into lockdown like a global domino topple in March 2020, the dynamic of the working world shifted almost overnight. One of the subsequent effects was a movement that was swiftly coined ‘the Great Resignation’, which saw more people quit their jobs than at any other time in recent history.

New studies are beginning to analyse the ongoing impact of the Great Resignation, and the myriad factors that contributed to its onset – and none of them are to do with money.

The Great Resignation is about more than a pay packet

It’s been widely reported that the Great Resignation stemmed from people reviewing their personal goals and priorities. While this is true in part, it misses the larger picture – namely, just how many employees were dissatisfied with their working conditions before the pandemic began.

A recent US study on the Great Resignation revealed that of the phenomenon’s five greatest causes, three are attributed to toxic workplace culture, burnout, and feeling undervalued. In other words, serious issues that already existed pre-pandemic were brought to the fore and could no longer be ignored.

From so many resignations came a parallel boom in vacancies, and across several sectors it’s now a jobseekers’ market. With so many lucrative opportunities at hand, workers are feeling empowered to reflect on their priorities and seek positions that make them feel more valued and challenged.

Organisations underwent a mass upheaval

John Laycock, Managing Partner, Anderson Quigley

John Laycock

The other root causes are being identified as job insecurity and staffing upheaval, as well as companies’ mishandling of the pandemic. So if a problem wasn’t present in a workplace prior to Covid, the company’s handling of the pandemic and bungled internal policies may have been the thing to tip their workers over the edge.

The pandemic has taught us a lot of things, and it’s caused many people to reflect on what matters most to them and to make some significant life changes. For some, these reflections have triggered a desire to seek new job opportunities and challenges – to work more flexibly, or perhaps in a different sector.

Much has been made of the mass resignations occurring at the mid-level, but senior levels are implicated in this movement too. I specialise in recruitment for public and third sector interim management at Anderson Quigley, and since the start of the pandemic have witnessed a strong increase in senior leaders shifting to interim roles for a more flexible working style and a better work-life balance.

On the other side of the coin, you have companies that are looking at their staff rosters from a different angle. This is a relatively underreported way in which the Great Resignation has impacted the UK’s labour market. If someone has just resigned, an employer might wonder, “do we want to replace the exact same position? Do we want the same skill set? Or do we need something different?”. In the same way that employees are now more conscious of their work and lifestyle choices, so too are hiring managers reflecting on what the best staffing solutions might look like for their organisation to thrive.

Resignation isn’t going anywhere, but the ‘Great’ may well do

UK businesses have been through a remarkably turbulent period over the last two years, and my advice to all business owners would be to continue to build a degree of ambiguity into preparations for the year ahead.

Employers can also play their part in staff retention by addressing the crisis of employee satisfaction which the pandemic brought to the fore. Make a frank assessment of your workplace culture, as well as the opportunities for development and progression offered to your employees. Initiate frank conversations with your staff on the levels of support and flexibility they need in order to succeed.

Every major upheaval brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. Business leaders now have an extraordinary chance to take the lessons the Great Resignation has offered us to set their organisations up to thrive in 2022.