3 Lessons for Employers From The Great Resignation

It appears as if The Great Resignation is going to stick around for awhile. More than 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, amounting to 3% of the workforce. That beat the barely-had-time-to-take-its-coat-off record of 2.9% the month before.

So what are the three biggest lessons for employers? While it might be tempting to lament the persnicketiness of Gen Z and their older brothers and sisters, the true lessons lie in an honest recognition of a shifting balance of power in the workplace.


Lesson #1: Pay your employees a competitive wage

The Great Resignation’s most popular participants are mid-career employees looking to take advantage of rising wages to make more money. So right there goes the theory that it’s those young whippersnappers. No. It’s the 30- to 45-year-olds who, in the wake of a pandemic that brought a tremendous amount of financial uncertainty to their lives and, often, those in their young family, are seeking pastures made even more green by those dolla-dolla bills, y’all.

As painful as it is for employers who already might be cash-strapped by rising prices and supply-chain problems, it’s time to reward top-tier players with salaries that not only make them feel seen but also give them the financial security competitors are ready to give. Now is not the time to utter the phrase “We’ve got to do more with less” around people whose backs you don’t want to be watching walk out the door.

If you haven’t done a salary study since The Before Times, do it. Now. And then pay your stars what they’re worth — and maybe a little more.


Lesson #2: Respect Changing Values

The pandemic reshuffled the priorities of millions of workers whose lives were changed by the deaths of their loved ones, the threats posed to them and their children, and the newfound recognition of the fragility of the workplace and our society.

“Work-Life Balance” is no longer something to which you can pay lip-service. Smart employers will respect the increased importance of an actual balance, and really smart employers will actively promote it by:

  1. Modeling it through the behavior of leadership.
  2. Providing work-life balance perks to those they need to keep around.

Remember, the cost of hiring and training a new mid-manager, depending on the industry, stretches into the tens of thousands of dollars. Would you rather absorb that cost or pay for your star employees to go get a massage once a month or maybe be a little more loose with your clock-watching?

This is not to suggest that employers need to diminish standards for quality work. It most definitely is to suggest that employers need to get over this paternalistic hang-up American workplaces seem to have and treat their stars like adults. Yes, expect the same great quality of work from them. But don’t expect them to work your desires for their schedule and location. Where you can give flexibility, give it. Encourage it. And don’t tolerate (or participate in) passive-aggressive backbiting against those who take you up on the offer.


Lesson #3: Overstaff

I have never understood managers who run such lean operations that the departure of one employee slams the brakes on the momentum of important company initiatives. Yet I have worked in place after place after place where something as unexpected as a long-term illness sets the company back on achieving its goals.

Efficiency is a great thing. But if you look around your organization and can identify people whose departure would create a significant delay in the march toward where you need to be as a company, you need to be actively recruiting another rock star or two to join them before they go.

Again, it comes down to preventative expenses. Sure, you’re going to spend more in salary and benefits for that second employee who might not initially have as full of a plate as you’d like. The expense of lost revenue and those of hiring and training your lone star’s replacement will far exceed that. And this isn’t even taking into account the lost edge vs. the competition, which is moving full-steam ahead with the added benefit of your former employee while you’re trying to get back up to speed.


In the end, this isn’t revolutionary stuff. It comes down to treating your people well. Pay them what they’re worth in today’s marketplace. Respect that they have a life outside of their job, and do that by giving them more than enough help, which — oh, by the way — happens to protect you in the event of an offer they can’t refuse or an unfortunate life event.

Smart employers recognize they don’t have the luxury of being angry about The Great Resignation. Bitter pills are best swallowed fast. Tomorrow’s success stories are being written today by companies who are taking advantage of workforce mobility to snap up the brightest stars available.


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