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The Overlooked Silver Lining of the Great Resignation

Great Resignation

May 9, 2022

One of the biggest buzzword phrases in the business world over the last few years is “The Great Resignation.” We hear about it everywhere! If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s a reference to the phenomenon we’re experiencing where mass numbers of people are leaving their jobs. This idea started gaining steam in early 2021 but has been continually elevated in our culture each month since.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 48 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, setting a new record for a single year. If the first two months of 2022 (8.6 million quits) are any indication, 2022 has the potential to eclipse even last year’s record. Considering a reported 65% of employees were looking for new jobs in late 2021 (based on a recent study by PWC), this trend of employee turnover is likely far from over.

Employees Consider Life + Career Options

It’s easy to attribute this to a multitude of factors: inflation and the upward pressure on wages, the increased desire for WFH (work from home), people feeling uncomfortable in populated places as a result of COVID-19 and elevated stress points in various industries caused in part by staff shortages and global supply chain issues. Laziness has also been thrown out as a contributing factor, but data indicates people are quickly finding new jobs, not merely squatting in their parents’ basement collecting unemployment checks. These are real issues, and we shouldn’t disregard any of them. With that being said, I think we’re overlooking a very important part of this conversation.

When the pandemic started in March 2020 and our lives ground to a halt, things started to get interesting. Life was altered in ways we have previously experienced. One day we were living the hustle and bustle of our normal lives, busy as ever, not thinking anything of it. The following week our busy lives took a sudden shift, ranging from a near-complete stoppage to a totally different version of busy. Every family’s experience was different but nonetheless intense. It was sudden and it was profound. During the lockdown, many of us reflected on our lifestyle and our choices unlike we’ve ever done before. Some people had been grinding so hard for so long that they simply lost sight of the fact they had life options.

Think of our life and career as a canvas being painted slowly over time. It continues to get painted year, after year, after year. One coat covers the last, reaching a point where we don’t even remember what that canvas looked like so many years prior. Then suddenly, the canvas was replaced with a blank one. As we’re staring at the blank canvas, it dawns on us we have options … seemingly countless options! We start asking ourselves questions like:

  • Do I even like the work I do every day?
  • When this pandemic is over, do I even want to go back to the office?
  • Am I being compensated fairly?
  • Should I consider a different line of work? Or maybe retire?
  • I like this new flexibility to spend more time with my family ... do I want to give this up?
  • I’ve been working for the money ... is it even worth it?
  • I’ve always dreamed of trying ______. Life is short, I’ll give it a shot before it’s too late!

On the surface, employers should be freaking out. An ever-increasing number of people leaving their jobs was unexpected and nerve-wracking. There are roles to fill, responsibilities to cover, succession plans to push forward and higher production needs due to market demands. Revenues may be decreasing, efficiency eroding, and an increased amount of time being invested in onboarding and training newly hired talent. None of this was planned.

When we think about the Great Resignation, it’s easy to associate it with people LEAVING. People running away from something. What if it were actually the opposite? What if instead of people running away from something, they were actually running toward something? New people ARRIVING! These are the same people asking themselves the same questions outlined above … and ultimately chose your company, your team, your culture! That’s a win.

Herein lies the silver lining to all this chaos. Yes, there’s a reality to people leaving their jobs. I left my 15-year career in 2019. I’m sure it was difficult for my former employer to transition when I left. I’m not insinuating I was something special ... I wasn’t. It’s always a challenge to transition after someone suddenly leaves their job. But I’m sure they figured it out quickly and didn’t miss a beat. Here’s the important part, however. I wasn’t running away from something. Rather, I was running towards something different. Not better, but better for me.

The Arrival of New Talent

In the years to come, I would have been less effective in my role knowing I needed to go somewhere else. What my employer experienced was short-term pain, but ultimately it benefited both of us. The Great Resignation is projected to be with us through 2023, but perhaps it can be a win-win. While people are leaving, it also means new talent is arriving. In a perfect world (which I know doesn’t exist), the people leaving are being replaced by those who are a better fit, find more meaning in the work and have a stronger belief in the mission. The possibility exists for a team to be created where there’s higher engagement, a culture of ownership, and more satisfaction found in the work than ever before. That’s a huge win for the individuals, but an even bigger win for the company.

Strong cultures will be rewarded. I recognize the general idea of culture can feel a bit nebulous, but this recent study conducted by The Greater Des Moines Partnership, Bâton Global and Reworc provides some tangible ideas around creating a healthy culture. In an environment where people feel more emboldened than ever to seek out a new opportunity, the companies who treat employees well, listen, pay competitively and foster an employee-first culture will land the top talent. I’m not necessarily referring to the smartest and brightest. I’m talking about the people who will believe in the mission, buy into a positive culture, play their role in the broader team and ultimately drive productivity/innovation at scale. They may also happen to be the smartest and brightest.

I’ll close with this. Scary times are upon us. The stress is real. The costs are real. The inconvenience and frustration of having to train new talent and new teams are real. However, companies willing to embrace this change and embrace the idea of creating a strong culture will ultimately reap the long-term rewards. The transitional period we’re experiencing with our staff won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

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Travis Shelton

Travis Shelton is the host of the Meaning Over Money podcast, speaker and professional financial coach, helping families and businesses navigate the tension between the world's way and a better way. He works with a wide range of clients who are ready to redefine the role money plays in their life. Listen to his podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.