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5 min read

Employee Engagement Lessons to Be Learned From ‘the Great Resignation’

great resignation

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that people work and what they expect from their workplace, probably forever. And for an increasing number of employees, they’re leaving their jobs altogether. In a phenomenon that has been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation,’ millions of workers are quitting their jobs because they want something more than just a paycheck.


What is ‘The Great Resignation’ all about?

According to McKinsey, since April 2021, around 19 million Americans have quit their jobs. August 2021 was a record-breaking month in terms of employee resignations. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4.5 million employees – or 2.9% of the nation’s entire workforce – walked away from their jobs in that month alone.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to the USA – the trend has been emerging all over the world as workers have re-evaluated what is important to them in life.

The Great Resignation isn’t limited to just one industry or one cohort of employees. People are resigning for similar reasons, even if their individual experiences haven’t been the same:

  • Fast food, retail and restaurant workers are quitting en masse because they have been considered “essential workers” and have been dealing with people who refuse to wear masks in exchange for little pay. The pandemic for many of these workers has been the final straw after decades of deteriorating workplace conditions.
  • Many healthcare workers who have worked around the clock dealing with COVID-19 over its many waves are tired and are considering a career change.
  • Some office workers have felt isolated and alone working from home throughout the pandemic and don’t want to keep working remotely or in a hybrid model.
  • Other employees are not looking forward to being made to return to the corporate office, commuting, and losing their newly found flexible work options and work/life balance.
  • Many remote workers feel like working from home means they do more work, and they can’t escape the office because they literally live there now.
  • Some employees feel that their employer has compromised their health and safety during the pandemic and cannot forgive this.
  • Other employees are quitting because of vaccine mandates – they’d rather be without a job than get a jab.

What links all these resigning employees is engagement. They are dissatisfied with their workplaces. Many are burned out.

According to Gartner research, 85% of employees say they’ve experienced higher levels of burnout during the pandemic, with 40% saying their work-life balance has declined.


This is fleshed out further in a study from Adobe that found remote work for many employees is increasing pressure on them to be constantly contactable – three in five managers in the survey said they feel pressure to respond to emails and client issues outside of business hours. 

The Adobe study found that 35% of workers say they plan to change jobs in the next year, with 61% of that group saying they would do so in order to have more control over their schedules.


What is employee engagement and why is it important?

Engaged employees are those who are considered to be enthusiastic about and committed to their work and their employer. They’re more likely to have good relationships with their colleagues, are more productive, and are more likely to go above and beyond to help the company succeed.

Disengaged employees do the bare minimum, make more mistakes, contribute to low morale, are less productive, can cause relationship issues with customers, are more likely to be absent and are more likely to be looking for a new job.  High levels of employee turnover are one of the red flags that you have an employee engagement problem, and the Great Resignation is no exception.

There are many factors that contribute to employee engagement or disengagement. But if you have a poor workplace culture, it is likely that your people will be disengaged. This includes:

  • Employees feeling unsupported by their manager
  • Lack of flexibility and work/life balance
  • Poor internal communication
  • Lack of meaningful work
  • A toxic work environment
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Inefficient work processes
  • Lack of leadership
  • Stress and burnout.


What can you do to improve employee engagement?

The McKinsey study found that many executives are struggling to understand why their people are quitting. 

If this resonates in your company, it’s important to realize that you can’t fix what you don’t understand. There’s no point in deploying Band-Aid solutions – this isn’t going to stop rates of high attrition if it doesn’t address the issues. A modest pay rise, for example, is unlikely to make a burned-out employee want to stay.

This is what you can do.


1. Ask your employees… and listen

The best way to eliminate guesswork when determining your employee engagement pain points is to ask your employees directly. You can do this in many ways, such as face-to-face meetings and focus groups. But the quickest way to get results is to send a survey – whether you do an in-depth employee engagement survey or a pulse survey – you’ll be able to gauge the mood of the organization and then be able to take appropriate actions.  You should also carry out exit interviews so that you can determine why people are leaving.


2. Time to get tough on toxic managers

In many companies, senior executives turn a blind eye to bad managers because the managers get results in terms of sales or profits. But what is often ignored is the cost of achieving these sales and profits might be greater than any benefit. If a toxic manager has bullied several people and they quit and/or take out workers’ compensation claims because they’ve been overworked and stressed, where’s the benefit? It costs a lot to replace staff. And if your company has a poor reputation as a place to work, you’ll find it difficult to attract top talent. Managers need to have appropriate training and should then abide by an appropriate leadership code that sees they are acting in line with the values of your company.


3. Be genuine about work/life balance

Many companies say they have a flexible workplace and provide work/life balance initiatives that their employees can take advantage of. However, the reality for many employees who try to access flexibility is often not cut and dry. Understand that individual needs will vary and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all flexibility model. And let employees actually access it!


4. Focus on wellbeing

If your employees feel stressed and burned out, they need more than just a company yoga session once a week to help them. You need to get serious about addressing the issues that contribute to this burnout. 

Did you know that there is a law in France that companies with more than 50 workers aren’t allowed to email them outside of standard work hours?  

Take a leaf out of France’s book and implement a similar ban in your workplace. Have days or times where people are not allowed to have meetings. Provide access to an employee assistance program that offers counseling for employees to manage stress.


5. Improve internal communication

When communication is poor within your company, engagement is often low. Employees need information regularly so that they understand goals and priorities and can feel connected to the company. 

If you’re not regularly communicating, you need to start. And if you are communicating regularly, you need to assess if the tools and channels you are using are effective enough. 

Email, for example, is an unreliable medium: your burned-out employees who are getting too many emails around the clock might not even have time to read every single one they receive. Desktop pop-up notifications can be a great way to overcome this. 

Providing two-way communication opportunities is also recommended: let employees have their say and you can find out if there are any issues before they fester and become more problematic. Keep remote workers and non-office workers connected by using an employee app.

6. Provide a better digital workplace experience

In the Adobe study, 91% of workers said they want tools in the workplace that make their tasks and processes more efficient.

Around a third of employees’ time is spent on mundane and repetitive tasks. The study found half of the employees would change jobs if it meant they were given access to tools that make them more efficient and effective


7. Have “stay conversations”

Stay conversations are frequent, ongoing one-on-one discussions between an employee and their manager that are mutually beneficial. The manager can get a handle on what the employee’s goals and objectives are, how happy they are with the work they do, what barriers are impeding them, and get a handle on whether they are likely to stay with the organization. Many managers are blindsided when their employees leave because they had no idea the employee was unhappy. 

A Gallup study found that 52% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs said their manager could have done something to convince them to stay.



The Great Resignation is shaping up to be an issue that will cause enormous headaches for employers well into 2022 and even beyond. Understanding what employees want from their work and taking proactive steps to deliver it can help you to minimize your company’s exposure to this risk.


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