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The Great Resignation: Everything you need to know

Many people are leaving their jobs for greener pastures in what is known as the Great Resignation.

Periods of uncertainty and upheaval often have far-reaching effects on society. They can even lead to people resigning from their jobs.

During the pandemic, the world changed. There were shutdowns, quarantines, and restricted access to goods, services and jobs. Many businesses in the retail, hospitality, food services and travel sectors furloughed and laid off employees. And across multiple sectors, many employees worked from home for extended periods of time -- many for the first time in their careers.

With such large-scale disruption in the economy and the lives of hundreds of millions of people, many people have a renewed focus on what matters most to them. That period of introspection and reflection has led employees to rethink their jobs and their career paths.

What is the Great Resignation?

Employees across multiple sectors came to the realization that they weren't happy with their jobs during the pandemic. People weren't satisfied with their work environment, the industry they were in or their work-life balance and left their jobs.

Anthony Klotz coined the term the Great Resignation. Klotz is an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. Klotz was quoted using the term in a Bloomberg Businessweek article in May 2021. In the article, he predicted the mass exodus -- or Great Resignation, as he referred to it -- of employees from jobs and careers they no longer wanted to pursue.

"The great resignation is coming," Klotz said in the Bloomberg article. "When there's uncertainty, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that didn't happen over the past year."

Klotz's prediction turned out to be accurate. The Great Resignation isn't just a hypothetical idea; it's an economic movement that backed up statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In April 2021,  the bureau reported what was, at the time, its highest-ever level of people quitting their jobs -- 3.99 million Americans. The number of employees quitting continued to track high in the following months, with 3.87 million in June and 3.98 million in July. In August 2021, the level of quits reached a new peak of 4.27 million Americans.

What is driving the Great Resignation?

The Great Resignation is a phenomenon that spans industries and regions across the U.S. -- though some sectors have been hit harder than others.

In particular, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has repeatedly highlighted many people leaving their jobs in the leisure, hospitality and food services industries. Retail is another area that many have left. At the height of the pandemic, many workers in those sectors had their hours reduced or eliminated.  Many also realized the precarious nature of their employment that offered no job security.

Learn how the hospitality industry is being rebooted with technology.

Those in professional and business services have also quit. The Bureau of Labor statistics reported 706,000 resignations in August 2021 alone. The reasons why those in the professional and business services sectors have resigned are many and varied. They include a lack of work-life balance, a desire for more fulfilment or just a better place to work.

The ongoing stress and anxiety of the pandemic has also put extreme pressure on those in the healthcare industry. This resulted in 579,000 people walking away and resigning from jobs in August 2021.

How the Great Resignation can boost your tech career

But it's not all doom and gloom. The Great Resignation can be an opportunity for employees to boost their tech careers. There are many unfilled jobs in the tech industry, and employers are worried about losing staff. This is an opportunity for employees to advance their status and careers in several ways:

  • Negotiate higher pay. This is an opportunity to have employers recognize employee value and negotiate higher pay.
  • Negotiate a promotion. Employers increasingly need to show they value their employees, so this is an opportunity to ask for that promotion.
  • Cross-train and make a lateral shift. This is an opportunity to cross-train in different job roles or responsibilities. There is also the potential to make a lateral job shift within the same organization.
  • Figure out what is important. The Great Resignation is about figuring out what's important and what employees really want. Millions of workers are rethinking what they want to do and how they can do it -- and so should those in the tech industry.
  • Resign and find a better job. While there is usually a shortage of skilled IT professionals in any given year, the pandemic exacerbated the situation. That means that there could be more opportunities out there, where employers that are more willing to pay more for top talent.

Great Resignation statistics

Here are some statistics regarding the Great Resignation:

  • 2.9% of the U.S. workforce left their jobs in August 2021, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report.
  • 4.27 million U.S. employees resigned in August. This was following a series of monthly declines in a trend that began in April 2021, when 3.99 million American left their jobs.
  • Forty-one percent of the total global workforce is considering resigning, according to a Microsoft report published in March 2021.
  • Seventy-four percent of people who responded to a LinkedIn survey said being stuck at home during the pandemic was a root cause for them to reconsider their current state of employment.
  • Thirty-nine percent of respondents to a PagerDuty report identified an increase in employee turnover in technical teams over the past 12 months.
  • Twenty percent of employees worldwide are actually engaged by their work, according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2021 report. The lack of engagement means it's more likely that employees will look for other more fulfilling and engaging employment.

What can employers do to retain employees?

It has never been easy to attract and retain quality talent in the technology industry, and the Great Resignation certainly hasn't helped. Employees currently have the high ground, as there is more demand than supply for quality IT staff. But there are some things that employers can do to retain existing employees and even attract new ones.

  • Reward employees with higher wages. It's easier to pay an existing employee a higher wage than to struggle to recruit and train new employees.
  • Provide opportunities for advancement. Employees stay when they are engaged and have the opportunity to advance their careers.
  • Provide tuition reimbursement. Many employees want to better themselves. Providing tuition reimbursement for IT education can be a benefit that will pay dividends to the employer as well.
  • Support a hybrid work environment. The ability to work flexibly -- either in the office or at home -- is critical to employee satisfaction. Businesses that reject hybrid work may have a hard time finding job candidates.
    Read more here about
    hybrid work tips.
  • Enable team collaboration. When employees are part of a team that works and collaborates well, that can often be an incentive to remain with the team. Team collaboration is about shared goals, activities and tasks that are supported across both in-person and remote environments.
  • Support stress reduction. There is no shortage of stress in the average workplace and there are many ways to help employees manage stress and prevent burnout.

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