The great resignation, a term coined by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, describes the phenomenon of record numbers of people leaving their jobs after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and life returns to some sense of “normal”.

When there’s uncertainty, Professor Klotz said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, people tend to stay put, so there are pent-up resignations that have not happened yet. He predicted that the numbers will be multiplied by the many pandemic-related epiphanies – about family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death, and what it all means.

Why do people want to leave?
New research suggests evidence of the global ‘great resignation’ is emerging in South Africa too, as overworked employees quit their jobs for reasons that include longer working hours, fewer opportunities to take leave, and toxic workplace culture.

Because many of the people leaving are at mid-career level, the impact on a business can be harmful, given the dearth of skills in certain sectors. That’s why we need to understand why people are leaving and what can be done to prevent the great resignation.

Gallup research shows that it is not an industry, role or pay issue. It’s a workplace issue – because the majority of people who are resigning are disengaged and discontent.

While the old adage is still true that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”, managers and leaders can adopt and implement a number of employee-focused interventions to enhance their experience, drive engagement and ultimately plug the outflow. However, no amount of effort from a manager will achieve anything if their teams are unwilling participants.

How do we create an employee experience that retains workers?

Focus on learning
People are no longer happy to remain in jobs that don’t align with their values, purpose, and career goals. To engage workers, managers have to provide opportunities for them to learn and grow.

The payoff is that engaged employees are happier and they perform better. In addition to boosting retention, this also helps to drive loyalty. Engaged employees are less likely to leave the workplace because they feel valued and personally fulfilled.

Managers need help too
Managers may need help to learn how to cultivate engagement and wellbeing. To get the best from their teams, they must know how to have meaningful conversations, set expectations, and manage performance according to each individual. These elements all form part of an approach that aims to get the best out of people.

Money isn’t everything
Pay is important, but it’s not the solution. Well-paid people are among the most disengaged, according to Gallup, and disengaged white-collar workers are slightly more likely than others to be looking for a job.

Gallup found that it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers. Fair pay, as well as individualised incentives, should form part of a greater commitment to keeping employees engaged.

Evaluate your workplace culture with a special focus on learning, play a proactive role in employee development, create conditions for learning, and understand that professional growth is not just about promotions, but also about developing new skills and capabilities.

Recognising that the pandemic has changed the way people work and how they view work, inspiring employees, motivating them to perform, and giving them a sense of purpose will be fundamental in keeping them engaged and giving them reasons to stay.