Don’t Kid Yourself. The Great Resignation Is Not Over

One of the vagaries of working both as a journalist covering the small enterprise beat and as a business owner advising within it is that I have an opportunity to review handfuls of pitches from folks wanting me to write articles about their take on the very world I live in. The best part of this dual life is the opportunity to see, first-hand, the incredible amount of progressive thinking occurring in business right now. The worst part is wading through pitches from people who are either entirely out of touch with what is actually occurring in business, attempting to perpetuate old, worn-out ways of thinking, or both.

Case in point, I recently received a pitch from a firm encouraging me to speak to their client to learn how to navigate the now post “Great Resignation” workplace. The problem with the pitch is that the “Great Resignation” isn’t over, far from it. Businesses pretending that it is are setting themselves up for failure. Smart operators are those who recognize the ongoing nature of this phenomenon and who are making decisions accordingly.

As evidence that the wind remains in the sails of the big quit, October resignations, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics were 4.157 million, off only slightly from September’s record 4.362 million departures. Too, a just-released study from Betterment for Business found that 28% of their sample are currently in the process of making other arrangements. There are no hard data points to suggest that the “Great Resignation” is behind us. What is far more likely is that the key motivations that fueled it have become institutionalized. As a result, until the underlying causes of these departures are addressed, we will continue to see departures between 3 – 4 million per month for the foreseeable future.

I’ve written before that what preceded the “Great Resignation” was, in fact, a “Great Realization” on the part of American workers. This realization can be distilled into three primary themes: (1) a recognition that the social contracts of the last century that governed work relationships – establishing two-way streets and providing a pay-off for years of dedication, hard work and tolerance for toxic work environments – no longer exist, (2) a confidence that one’s talent was near infinitely transferrable and (3) a firmly held belief that there was more to life than whatever their “this” was. The three formed a dangerous cocktail for employers – one where workers finally realized that there was nothing to be gained from giving their all to an employer who gave them not a lot, or, put another way, a refusal to any longer accept the unacceptable, coupled with the notion that they could take their goods elsewhere, and bolstered by a conviction that there had to be something more or better somewhere else.

And so, they began leaving in droves. And they are still leaving.

Unfortunately, in large part, many employers are providing playback to these departures that sound like “entitlement mentality,” “too much Covid money in the economy,” “lazy young people” and other excuse-making which seeks to shift the blame for these departures to those who are leaving and away from those whom they are running from. The trouble with this thinking is this: U.S. workers have, by now, taught themselves that there is no upside to enduring one-sided work relationships and, additionally, have the confidence to move along. They are seeking better environments and will continue moving until they find one. And as long as American employers fail to address the underlying issues that are motivating these moves, they will keep happening. Because not only is the “Great Resignation” not over, it’s not going to go away on its own. It will go away when businesses act.

In doing so, small and medium enterprises have a tremendous advantage over their larger, public counterparts. By leveraging their size and structure, SMEs can more often keep their best employees and gain new ones in the midst of all of this strife. That’s because they tend to be far more nimble and less constrained by the entrenched politics and historically ingrained hierarchal structures of large organizations that perpetuate the messes that ignited the “Great Resignation” in the first place. These smaller firms also have the ability to quickly identify and address the issues that are creating friction between them and their most valued associates. They are likewise better equipped to listen, as there exists far fewer layers and distance between their leadership and their front-line people. Finally, because a great many of these businesses are or very recently were, family owned, they have a key structural and emotional advantage over colder, more detached public firms to appeal to every associate’s need for belonging (to something greater than themselves).

Regardless of a firm’s size, the key is to recognize that the motivations which stemmed from the “Great Realization” are alive and well and still fueling departures, and that those firms who care more will win more. It’s truly no more complicated than that. Because people truly want little more than that – employers who care – about their personal, emotional, and financial wellness and their desire to be a part of and contribute to something greater than themselves. Employers who get that and behave accordingly will change their retention outlook and move all of us one step closer to the day when we might finally declare, ‘the “Great Resignation is over.”

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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