Surviving the great resignation wave – key learnings

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I'm sure we can all agree that 2020 will always be remembered as the year that crisis struck. However, for many businesses, 2021 has brought with it a whole new challenge.

While it’s normal for every industry to experience natural staff turnover, a study by Visier highlighted an annualised resignation rate of 25% compared to 22% in the same period in 2019, and just 18% during the pandemic-ridden period of January-August 2020. 

Contrary to media reports, it’s not just low level, low experience jobs that are affected either. Data shows unprecedented resignation rates across experienced employees aged between 40-45 years and also amongst women.

So, what’s behind this wave of resignations, and importantly, what can organisations do to mitigate their own risk of talent drain?

Employee resignations in 2021 are trending upwards – especially in tech and healthcare

One of the biggest explanations for the trending rise in resignations this year is that it’s two years’ worth condensed into one. In fact, looking at Visier Community data we assume that many of those quitting now have been wanting to leave their jobs since 2020 but fear and uncertainty prevented them from taking the leap.

With the world slowly opening up again and prospects looking much better, the same people have the confidence to follow through on their intent, leading to record volumes.

There are various reasons for employees wanting to quit their jobs but identifying the main/common drivers will help businesses craft more effective retention plans.


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More women are resigning than men, damaging workplace diversity

While women have been resigning at faster rates than men for many years, there has been a significant increase during 2021. With the benefits of workplace diversity and equal opportunities more apparent than ever before, this trend has the potential to be particularly damaging for many businesses.

One of the best ways to mitigate this is using people analytics, which can help businesses of all sizes home in on what women - and other groups within the organisation -may need or want to consider staying.

Analysis should drill into different cohorts within representative groups to avoid blanket solutions being applied, many of which tend to be irrelevant, or even alienating, to those they’re supposed to help. From an HR perspective, it’s about building and sustaining policies which suit everyone in the workforce, not just particular subsets.

The current situation is affecting all age groups, not just the young

Traditionally, younger workers have always seen the highest level of turnover as people jump around to advance/change their careers or boost their earnings.

In 2021 this was no different, with resignation rates amongst 20–25-year-olds just shy of 50%. But surprisingly, employees aged 30-35, 40-45, and 45-50 – typically much more stable brackets – have all increased their resignation rates by more than 38% as well, illustrating why this current wave has been so disruptive.

Older employees tend to hold more senior management roles and their sudden departure can leave teams rudderless, quickly impacting productivity.

Employees are the lifeblood of every business, regardless of sector, location, or size, which is why the current wave of resignations has the potential to be so damaging.

Each employee has their own individual needs and ambitions too, so one-size-fits-all approaches to employee satisfaction/retention are rarely effective. Instead, using data to understand key drivers behind turnover and which groups have the biggest exit risk can give HR and other leaders crucial insight into how best to reduce resignation risk

Daniel Mason is vice president and regional sales director EMEA at Visier