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How will the Great Resignation impact the future of work?

Millions of people around the globe are hanging up their boots in what is now known as the Great Resignation, the Great Rethink or the Big Quit. What does this big shift mean for employers, employees, and the future of the workplace?

The numbers tell the story. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, more than 47.8 million people in the US left their jobs for reasons other than layoffs and discharges last year. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly the entire population of Spain or Argentina.

Since July last year, America has seen an average of 4 million people quit their jobs every month. The sectors most impacted by this are government services, healthcare, retail, IT, banking and insurance. It appears that this trend may continue for a while.

A 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association found that stress during the day is directly linked with the likelihood of employees seeking job opportunities within the next year.

Projects are more difficult because, without clear prioritisation from senior leaders, they all look urgent and are done on top of the day-to-day activities.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, author and professor in project management and the project economy

The survey also revealed that two in every five people intended to seek employment outside their company in the year ahead, compared with 1 in 3 people in 2019. Low salaries were a top factor for stress followed by long hours, lack of opportunity for growth and advancement.

“One of the biggest problems is that the number of projects companies are launching and implementing has grown exponentially in the past few years. Projects are more difficult because, without clear prioritisation from senior leaders, they all look urgent and are done on top of the day-to-day activities. Interestingly, I come across many organisations where they have more projects than the number of employees,” says Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, noted author and professor in project management and the project economy. 

The big rethink

“This is one of the reasons why people say, ’I cannot do this anymore. I have to do my day-to-day job, I have five projects where I need to participate, I need to lead that project, I don't know the priorities, there’s a deadline every week and I'm just fed up,’” he adds.

America is not alone. The Great Resignation wave has transcended borders and a similar trend, although not as dramatic, is underway Europe and parts of Asia, too. 

Employees want to be free, have autonomy and lead their own job. But then, they can also feel more stressed and alone.

Teija Sarajärvi, EVP, Human Resources at Wärtsilä.

“People may have had concerns about their safety, financials, and just the workload in general – we have always had this. But it became different when the work became virtual,” points out Teija Sarajärvi, EVP, Human Resources at Wärtsilä.

“That’s what got people who were perhaps on the borderline to start thinking: ’Is this what I want to do, would I like to work differently, am I happy?’ And from an employer's point of view, I think it puts us in a different position, we have to rethink how we keep the people in the middle of their careers,” she adds.

But the great resignation is also part of a great reshuffle and perhaps the start of what could be the great rehiring. Last year, America had a 20% increase in new business applications that touched 5.4 million – up from 4.4 million in 2020. According to LinkedIn, since November last year month-on-month hiring in the US has risen to 8.1% – from 5.6% in November last year.

A changed world order

So, how are employees rethinking what their work should be? A recent survey of more than 13,000 employees in the US by Gallup revealed that, along with a significant increase in income or benefits and the ability to do what they do best, employees seeking new jobs are looking for greater work-life balance, greater stability/job security and a diverse and inclusive work culture. Employers have also made the switch and are now offering a hybrid-work culture, reskilling, much better salaries and more flexibility.

Nieto-Rodriguez explains, “There's nothing more engaging for employees and managers than working in a project with a higher purpose, an ambitious goal and clear deadlines. Projects are what drives change, value creation, financial impact and social sustainability.”

Automation and connectivity have helped transform the way we work. But this new world also has a new set of challenges that are soft in nature but equally important.

There's nothing more engaging for employees and managers than working in a project with a higher purpose, an ambitious goal and clear deadlines.

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, author and professor in project management and the project economy

“Employees want to be free, have autonomy and lead their own job. But then, they can also feel more stressed and alone. It's not easy to create a sense of belonging when we work in hybrid. The key criterion for workplaces is to enable communities to meet and work together to innovate. That's how we have to create workplaces,” explains Sarajärvi. 

As employers look to make work a more meaningful experience, they also have to take a long, hard look at the purpose of their organisations. Experts say that employees are increasingly looking to work for purpose-driven organisations that they can align their own values with.

Purpose and employee wellbeing are strongly linked. According to McKinsey, leaders that link their own purpose to that of their organisation and help employees do the same create stronger relationships over time. After all, people who live their purpose at work are healthier, more productive, and more resilient.

In short, if employees do what they love, they won’t have to work a day.

Written by

Payal Bhattar