A Silver Lining to the Great Resignation

Kay Van Slooten

It came as a bit of a blow to many of us who thought The Great COVID Job Churn” peaked in 2020: The Great Resignation.”  The latter term, coined by American management professor Anthony Klotz in May 2021, refers to the notion that a wave of employees will be quitting their jobs, or have already, in a pandemic-related resignation boom. The magnitude of this trend really sank in during a virtual chat I had with my colleague, Mary Kalkanis, our VP of People and Values. Looking at the latest headlines and reports, we realized that if we thought churn had hit its highest level last year, we hadn’t even seen the half of it.   

As employee experience leaders as well as people leaders, we understand the “why.” In a sharp turn from the job uncertainty felt by many at the height of the pandemic, the past year or so gave many people time to reflect on what really matters in life, and reassess what meaningful work is to them. With a “life is short” mentality, many employees have set off to pursue old passions or new priorities (we’ve all heard stories like the sales rep who became a farmer, or the city executive who now works full-time from her cottage). Still, others are quitting because their employers won’t let them work from home post-pandemic, while many employees want to go back to the office, but their employers are transitioning to hybrid or all-remote.

Whatever the case may be, surveys suggest that anywhere from 40% to 95% of employees are thinking about quitting their jobs in the next few months. For business leaders, these predictions are unsettling. Employee turnover can have an enormous impact on an organization, from loss of productivity and cost to hire to loss of valuable knowledge and experience. However, just as those pursuers of passion saw their own light at the end of the tunnel, I see the silver lining of The Great Resignation for organizations. (As my mother always taught me, look on the bright side.)

Ask yourself this: When was the last time your organization had the opportunity to retool on this kind of scale? And when was the last time you had access to such a huge pool of talent choose from? Just around the corner is an influx of job seekers who can bring fresh perspectives, new skills, and different experiences to their new roles. So, rather than fear it and fight it, organizations should embrace the opportunity that The Great Resignation presents. 

The key to seizing the opportunity is to understand that attracting and retaining talent looks different today than it did pre-pandemic. Not only are organizations up against more competitive offers, but they must also meet the new needs of employees. Now more than ever, candidates are looking for three factors in a workplace: sense of purpose, flexibility, and career growth.


Sense of Purpose—Increasingly, people want meaning in their work, and so they want to work for organizations that have a higher purpose they can contribute to. Candidates want to know: What does the organization really stand for and what role do they play in the industry and in society? What would their individual role be in contributing to that central purpose? And to what extent does that purpose align with their own values and beliefs? Assuming employers already have a well-defined purpose, they can foster a sense of purpose in their employees by helping them understand how their contributions make an impact.

Flexibility—Across a multitude of industries, it has been proven that much work can be done effectively in a multitude of remote locations. That has, of course, not gone unnoticed by employees themselves. While organizations may want to drive people back into office environments, there’s a swath of candidates (and existing employees) out there who are not interested in returning to the old normal. To stay in tune with changing employee expectations, employers will need to reimagine a work life that is rooted in the concept of flexibility and personalization.

Career Growth—While career growth has always been important, candidates are increasingly looking for commitments to professional and career development. This is partly tied to meaning: employees are seeking meaningful career experiences and work that will truly help them grow. The ability for organizations to authentically articulate a clear employee value proposition and paint a clear picture of the employee experience will be critical to both attracting and retaining talent.

There is a lot of work to be done to create and foster these three “legs of the stool”: examining your organizational purpose, identifying your employees’ personal needs and goals, revisiting the end-to-end employee experience, and more. Given the new models of working, we’re helping many of our clients map new employee experiences to ensure their businesses thrive in the rapidly shifting world of work. For any organization, it is a journey that will take time, but it will be critical to meet the needs of the future workforce. What are you waiting for? As the pandemic taught us, time is of the essence, indeed!