The Great Resignation was a dramatic reordering of today’s workforce, but it also revealed a lot about contemporary employees — why they work, why they quit, why they stay, and what they do (and don’t) want from their employers and coworkers.
A new study by Real Estate Witch looks at what motivated the millions of workers who changed it up during the Great Resignation, and some of their findings are pretty eye-opening.
Some examples: money is important to workers — but not as important as you may think. Once an employee has decided to leave, it’s very difficult to convince them to stay, and many employees who switched jobs were happy to take less money in exchange for other benefits.
Savvy business owners can sift through these facts and learn some valuable lessons about what it takes to attract and retain talent, how to cultivate a positive workplace, and how to avoid problems before they lead to a wave of resignations.
Companies that integrate these lessons can emerge stronger than ever, even at this moment when small businesses are facing serious challenges like inflation and recession. Let’s take a look at some of the study’s most surprising findings!
Workplace Culture Is Extremely Important
Nearly a third of employees who quit their jobs during the Great Resignation did so because of a toxic workplace. What’s a toxic workplace? Factors cited by respondents included sexual harassment, discrimination, verbal abuse, and poor work-life balance. Basically, they were fleeing horrible bosses.
Before the Great Resignation, the conventional wisdom was that people came to work to get paid and that anything other than money wasn’t going to be a huge factor in how they felt about their job. But that may not be true anymore. Employees spend a huge amount of time at work, and they want to feel safe and appreciated there.
Unhappy Employees Start Looking at the Exit Pretty Fast
Once things sour for an employee, they don’t stick around very long. Well over half of the respondents (60%) said they first considered quitting only a month before they actually resigned, and almost a quarter of respondents said it only took a week from their initial idea about quitting to actually walking out the door.
Almost half of the employees who quit (49%) gave one week’s notice or less, and a quarter didn’t give any notice at all. Furthermore, 1 in 8 employees who resigned simply ghosted their employer.
For employers, that means workplace culture has to be positive but, just as important, consistent. One bad week could be enough to lead to a wave of resignations, and an overnight talent drain can be devastating at a moment when so many small businesses are already grappling with uncertainty.
Many People Have Regrets About Quitting, Especially When It Comes to Insurance
Over half of respondents, or 56%, said they had some regrets about resigning. A lot of these regrets were likely connected to disruptions to necessities like health insurance. How do you find insurance after quitting your job?
Employees who walked were faced with three main options to maintain their health insurance after they quit their job: COBRA, which allows you to temporarily continue your existing coverage, albeit at higher rates, an Affordable Care Act plan through a public exchange, or a spouse or partner’s health plan.
Still, even though grappling with the costs of your health insurance after losing your employer-provided plan is one of the most stressful events in adult life, 58% of employees who quit their jobs said they wouldn’t return to their old jobs.
Once an Employee Decides to Leave, It’s Extremely Hard to Persuade Them to Stay
The study found that 80% of employees who gave notice received a counteroffer to stay — but quit anyway. The counteroffers were substantial, too — 35% offered enhanced benefits, 33% offered higher pay, and 33% offered flexible hours. But it wasn’t enough.
You Probably Don’t Have Just One Unhappy Employee
While it can be tempting to write off an unhappy employee as a singular disgruntled individual, that’s probably not the case. Of employees who quit during the Great Resignation, 60% saw coworkers follow them out the door within six months.
The takeaway? If one employee is unhappy, the numbers suggest that others are probably dissatisfied, too.
It’s Not All About the Money for Job Switchers
Surprisingly, over half the workers who quit during the Great Resignation took a pay cut at their new job — 53% were happy to take a lower salary for a higher quality of work life. The average job switcher saw a pay cut of about $8,000 — not a small amount of money!
The takeaway for employers is double-sided. Not only is a positive company culture absolutely necessary to retain the talent you already have, but it can be an extremely powerful recruiting tool for new talent, even if you can’t quite match the salaries your competitors might be offering. The new line for recruiters isn’t “we can pay you the most” — it’s “you can thrive and be happy here.”
Employers Should Make the Hiring Process Easier
One of the most surprising findings of the study was how universally annoyed employees were by the job search process.
A staggering 89% of employees said they were frustrated by their job search, with the top reasons cited being “unrealistic requirements for work experience” (33%), “being ghosted by companies” (30%), “lack of eligible job opportunities” (30%), “few or no invitations to interview” (30%), and “vague job description” (28%).
This suggests there’s a huge opportunity here for employers who can make it easier for workers to find them and who offer a more streamlined, efficient, and transparent hiring process. Even just bringing experience requirements in line with the pool of available workers or writing better, clearer job descriptions could attract a lot more talent.
The Pandemic Revealed That Employees Want Employers to Lead
The pandemic was a huge factor in the Great Resignation, which can make a lot of these findings tough to evaluate. After all, COVID-19 was (hopefully) a once-in-a-generation event, and we probably won’t see conditions exactly like 2020-2022 again for a long time, if ever. That being said, many employees are aware of and anxious about the second wave of COVID-19.
But digging into some of the pandemic-related findings does yield some useful intel. For example, 41% of employees who resigned because of the pandemic did so because their employers didn’t enforce enough health and safety protocols, while only 28% quit because they didn’t want to follow their job’s health and safety protocols.
Looking at the balance of those numbers makes it pretty clear that employees are looking for employers to be proactive — in matters of health and safety, and likely in other areas, too. They also show that, no matter what course you may choose, some employees are going to object.
It’s best to settle on a path and commit to it. An ambivalent response could risk losing everyone.
It’s also worth noting that one of the most common reasons for quitting during the pandemic was a short-staffed workplace, which was cited by 35% of respondents.
While employers may sometimes choose to compensate for a reduced workforce by increasing the output of remaining employees, it’s clear that this isn’t a viable long-term, or even medium-term, strategy, as overworked employees won’t hesitate to jump ship.