The Great Resignation it’s just a symptom. What is actual disease?

Board with the lettering that reads "Enough is Enough"
Photo by Suzi Kim @ Unsplash

You open the news and there it is, in every channel, every social media platform, everywhere: the GREAT RESIGNATION and how companies are dealing with it.

Now, you must be wondering what it is and does it regard your company or your country?

According to The Washington Post China, Vietnam, Latin America, UK and so many others are also feeling the pain of a shortage in skill labor due to individuals quitting in mass their jobs (

What is the Great Resignation?

If you go to google and type “Great Resignation” you will find more detail than in here but basically, professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University proposed the concept of the Great Resignation, which forecasts a high number of individuals quitting their professions once the COVID pandemic is over and society returns to “normal.”

From spring 2021 to the present, the Great Resignation, sometimes known as the Big Quit, is an ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs, particularly in the United States. In July 2021, 4 million Americans resigned their jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many experts and publications comment on the phenomenon and attribute it to different things such as:

Regardless of the drivers, the fact is that this is the beginning of a massive shift making leaders reflect on the WHY and do some soul searching.

We are witnessing some strategies of companies trying to deal with this phenomenon:

  1. Some are investing in flexi — work arrangements and new policies to ensure a better life balance;
  2. Others are revising pay to provide better conditions;
  3. Some are even suggesting re recruiting current employees to see if skill still matches current positions and create a re-training mechanism to close the gaps found

But do these measures address the root causes of the great resignation? Or are we curing the disease or addressing the symptom only? The above measures are great but with time, will be like changing a light bulb that keeps going out without understanding WHY it goes out in the first place to prevent it from recurring.

If an employee is quitting, regardless of doing so before, during or “after” the pandemic, chances are that the individual is not job fulfilled and that moves him/her to look elsewhere. What’s more, during the pandemic lockdown, some of these workers were forced to be doing an unfulfilling role but from home, avoiding the three hour commute (now used to spend quality time with family), being reminded that life is short by witnessing loved ones or people dying vulnerably (just by checking the news). These types of events tend to make people rethink priorities.

Now, if you are a business leader or owner, or you are an entrepreneur trying to think of ways to avoid these type of problems in your brand new start up business, here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Job fulfilment is different to aiming only for “happy at work”

Seriously, more money, better conditions, flexi-work arrangements are great as a measure for happy at work but job fulfillment is where a company should be aiming to understand why they are missing the mark.

Back in 2008 when I was transitioning from automotive to the banking sector and had just embraced a new role as an efficiency advisor to the C level of Operations. As I was being toured by the Head of Ops, I was shown outstanding office areas, great breakout sofas, amazing work conditions. I was briefed on how it was the company’s policy to have the employee’s happiness as a number one priority. During this tour we stopped close to a desk in an open space covered in plants that you could hardly see the keyboard, let alone the screen. My puzzled face must have caught the executive’s attention since he quickly started justifying that in this bank they have a policy to allow an employee to bring their all self at work, to allow employee happiness. That was so intriguing since that lady didn’t seem happy at all… Some days passed and I couldn’t shake off the curiosity to meet this lady so I approached and learnt her name was Lorraine, she was 17 years in the bank, she loved working at the bank but the job was a bit boring: her role was to open envelopes… that’s right! Open envelopes! All I could think is that there are machines that would replace her role. Why on earth would that be a role? What was the purpose? How long was she doing this role for? You go home after a long day at work and your grandson asks “How was your day?”…What do you talk about? I had a paper cut? So I imagine Lorraine, in lockdown, having to be doing that same boring job (that I hope changed since then!) but now being reminded that life is short and there is more to Lorraine than to do that job for the rest of her professional life.

2. How sharp are your employee lifecycle alert mechanisms?

A new employee gets recruited, inducted and then what? Compliance training only? If a person gets promoted to a leadership role, do they get him/her trained on how to succeed by developing the direct reports assigned to this new leader?

Reality is that quite often people move to different positions within an organization with little to no training on the new role. An expectation is set to their ability to perform the new role but the investment in higher pay doesn’t necessarily mean they will succeed on their own without guidance.

How are these gaps in aptitude testing and training needs (that enable an employee to do their job properly), flagged to you?

What about growing out of a current position and not being promoted or recognized for that growth? How is that alerted? Documented? Where is the career progression plan that shows that employee that he/she is on a progress journey, followed and documented and the rules to progress are very well designed, explained and executed by the company?

3. How clear are you internal communication channels?

An employee working day in, day out behind a computer as another resource in your company, often dealing with grumpy clients or not even relating that the product or service he/she is processing will be bringing joy or solve a problem to a potential client, may lose sight of the point. If that employee’s day is filled with useless meetings, processing screens and dealing with frustrations, often the question pops up: WHY?

So, is the WHY being well documented, measured, communicated internally? Do you celebrate great stories? Do you reward and recognize often?

4. How clear is your company’s purpose?

More and more employees look for purpose driven companies. Companies that include in their strategy the “giving back to the society / communities and environment” agenda. So the question is: does your company have a corporate social responsibility strategy or continues just making things or offering services that every competitor already offers? What is differentiating you from your competitors that will make any employee feel they belong to a meaningful purpose?

And if the strategy is there, how often is it communicated internally? How often are employees invited to participate so they feel regarded and that they belong?

Perhaps some of these mentioned aspects are already being considered, perhaps some are new. However, regardless of how this is affecting you directly or indirectly, may this be a great opportunity to rethink some processes, policies and structure and change how businesses are and should regard human resources in the future.

If you don’t know where to start, a suggestion would be to go where the customer experience is and ask lots of questions. Check these tips on where to start from my latest article here.

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.

I also write about my own professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.