Leadership

8 Great Resignation Myths That Leaders Should Ignore

8 Great Resignation Myths That Leaders Should Ignore

You’ve seen the headlines. The Great Resignation has, since the spring of 2021 and its signaling of widespread COVID vaccine access, marked a wave of historic employee turnover. And it’s not over yet. With one in four employees having voluntarily left a job in 2021 already, there’s reason to think this ratio will increase even further before year’s end. 

But for all the commotion — and flat-out fear in employers — that talk of the Great Resignation has inspired, it’s also given way to its share of myths and misconceptions. Below, we heard from leaders in HR and other experts about the eight Great Resignation myths that need to be retired ASAP — including the idea it’s a new phenomenon in the first place. 

1. For workers who are part of the Great Resignation, it’s all about the money.

This is perhaps the most widespread misconception about the Great Resignation — and it’s also “the most dangerous,” Dan Close, CEO of We Buy Houses in Kentucky, said. 

“The truth is that a higher income alone may not be enough to keep staff on board; instead, these people are searching for more freedom, better treatment and more complete benefits,” Close said. “This may appear to be a more difficult challenge to tackle, but in reality, you can meet these objectives without causing a significant financial hit to your company — which benefits both you and your staff.”

2. Younger workers are driving it.

In fact, it’s not young workers with the highest voluntary quit rates this year but mid-career employees, as Steve Pogson, Founder of FirstPier, pointed out. 

“As a result, catering exclusively to younger employees is unlikely to be effective in reducing employee turnover,” Pogson said. “A better strategy is to ensure that employees of various ages, backgrounds and levels of experience are recognized as vital members of your team, regardless of their position.” 

Relatedly, another unhelpful myth at play is that younger workers are quitting at higher rates because they’re more susceptible to burnout, James Leversha, director of Top Notch I.T., said. 

“While studies demonstrate that younger workers are more likely to experience burnout than their older colleagues, there is more to the story,” Leversha said. “Older workers are significantly less likely than younger workers to confess to or discuss mental health difficulties. In fact, according to a recent survey, 62 percent of young workers are more likely than older workers to discuss mental health difficulties at work… Younger employees aren’t necessarily suffering more. They are simply more prepared to talk about it.” 

3. It’s just a fad.

While the Great Resignation is a trend, it’s best not to think of it simply as that, Tyler Martin here, Founder and Certified Business Coach at ThinkTyler, said. 

“The term ‘simply’ can lull you into a false sense of security,” he said. “It’s critical to understand what’s causing high resignation rates, whether they’re a result of a trend or not, so you can address and overcome them.”

And just because it’s a trend that started during the pandemic doesn’t mean we should think of it as being wholly tied to COVID-era conditions either, Melanie Haniph, a talent management expert and HR consultant, said. 

“A myth is that the Great Resignation is just a pandemic phenomenon,” she said. “While no one knows the future, most surveys point to the reality that there has been an almost permanent shift in how people view work-life balance and their need for flexibility — and their desire to leave an employer who doesn’t offer it. These preferences aren’t likely to suddenly go away once the pandemic ends.”

4. It’s about remote work.

The idea that the Great Resignation is mainly in response to office return mandates hardly captures the full picture, Diane Gayeski, a professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College, said. 

“The idea that people are quitting — especially younger workers — because they want to work from home is not universally true at all,” Gayeski said. “Many people don’t have homes that are well set-up for work, and especially for younger workers, the office is their major source of socialization, helping them meet new friends and get out of cramped apartments. Employees do, however, want more choice.” 

5. It’s happening because workers have found their true callings.

During the pandemic, It’s true that many of us have made new discoveries about what helps give our lives a sense of meaning, including at work. The idea that this turnover wave is driven primarily by people making drastic, emotion-led life changes, though, is likely an overinflated one. 

“People aren’t resigning en masse because they aren’t in their dream jobs,” Gergo Vari, CEO of recruitment company Lensa, said. “Employees are still as pragmatic as ever about their careers and financial stability. It’s that they see no reason to return to a workplace that won’t help them progress.”

Throughout COVID, companies have been laser-focused on keeping their firms afloat, and employee learning and development initiatives have often fallen by the wayside, Vari added. 

“People clearly desire the chance to advance in their careers, develop new skills, and take on more responsibility,” he said. “If their current employer can’t provide this, why not look for someone who can?”

6. It’s a new phenomenon.

Many companies are looking at this recent resignation wave as something driven by environmental factors that will, once the pandemic fades, similarly go away. The truth, however, is that rates of increased turnover precede the pandemic, Anna Papalia, CEO of Shift Profile and formerly a director of talent, said. 

“Companies are under the impression there isn’t anything they did wrong to contribute to the Great Resignation, and that they couldn’t have done anything to stop it,” she said. “We went into COVID with a shortage of top talent. In 2018 and 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was documenting the workforce shortage. It is not new. Employees have been opting out for a long time, and COVID just exacerbated it.”

7. Despite this turnover wave, employers are ultimately still the ones with the power.

In keeping with the idea that the Great Resignation is a trend that started, and will end with, the pandemic, some company leaders believe that employment power structures haven’t changed in the long run. According to Papalia, that couldn’t be further from the truth, though.

“Companies are losing the war on talent because they are operating on an outdated model of interviewing in a position of power,” she said. “Companies are no longer in a position of power. We once had hundreds of applicants for jobs — now, we might have 20 or 30. In order to change the dynamic, companies must take interviewing seriously, which means training internal recruiters and making them accountable.”

8. The Great Resignation will be the downfall of business as we know it.

In some ways, this one actually is true — although not in the way it’s been popularly talked about, James Green, Owner of Build A Head, said. 

“I think the myth that the Great Resignation is somehow going to be the downfall of business is one that should be corrected,” he said. “In America, we’ve been basically stalled on new businesses starting for the last 10 years or so. Now, that’s changing. Entrepreneurs drive innovation, and we can’t evolve as a society if we’re all staying in the same job we’ve had for the last 15 years. We need change, even if it is scary.”


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About the Author

As a writer, Liv McConnell is focused on driving conversations around workplace equity and the right we should all have to careers that see and support our humanity. Additionally, she writes on topics in the reproductive justice space and is training to become a doula.