The Great Resignation is a Lesson in Disguise

The Great Resignation marks the massive voluntary departure of people from their jobs. But what can leaders learn from it? It might not be what you think.

Why are people tired of their jobs?

During the past two years, people quit their jobs at record levels - over 47.8 million workers in 2021, an average of 4 million per month. And even more people are still looking for the perfect job switch.

Come to be known as the “Great Resignation,” this phenomenon is especially popular among millennials and older Gen Z-ers. They’re popping champagne and throwing parties to celebrate their resignation from “toxic” corporate jobs, leaving for other opportunities.

But the question becomes, how did we get to this point? And what can leaders do to help employees feel valued and love their jobs again?

What is the Great Resignation?

The ‘Great Resignation’ refers to the global trend of the mass voluntary departure of employees from their job positions. A Pew Research survey concluded that the most common explanation for this massive exit is due to low pay, lack of opportunities for position advancement, and feeling disrespected at work. A quarter of participants also stated that limited working flexibility and poor benefits were also major reasons for quitting.

How did the Great Resignation come to be?

Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and the man behind the term “Great Resignation,” contends that the initial wave of quits was a “backlog of resignations” because people weren’t leaving their jobs during the height of the pandemic. Despite feeling burnt out and unhappy, people stayed for job security.

However, since the pandemic kept us inside and working from home, people had a lot of time to reevaluate what was (and still is) important to them. They realized that their jobs were taking away valuable time from family, communities, and self-care.

What you’re getting wrong about the Great Resignation

You might be thinking, “Okay, we’re at the tail end of the pandemic (🤞), things will naturally swing back in favor of organizations and employers.”


The Great Resignation changed the expectations around employment by bringing new work methods to the front stage. People are searching for employers and management styles that support ongoing learning, personal and professional goals, and fair wages in exchange for knowledge work and relevant experience. For companies, that means implementing a new organizational structure, like agile methods, cross-functional teams, flexible hours, and human-centric offices (just to name a few!). These issues are no longer compromisable, and the Great Resignation made that crystal clear.

Lessons learned from the Great Resignation

The rapid transformation of work triggered by the Great Resignation has provided both employers and employees with some key learnings that will pave the way for the future of work.

Lesson 1: Mutual respect is the foundation of positive work relationships

Great work goes hand-in-hand with respect. Employers and employees need to embody a certain degree of care and empathy towards one another for the relationship to be mutually beneficial. For organizations, that means valuing employees by supporting fair policies, compensation, and workloads, as well as providing feedback, recognition, and prospects to advance.

Of course, employees shouldn’t take advantage of an organization’s support and understanding. But when you exhibit respect to workers, they are more likely to be content with their positions. In some cases, they’ll display organizational citizenship behavior, where people voluntarily engage in positive actions in the workplace because they feel valued by the organization.

The Great Resignation has proven that respect between employers and employees is fundamental in creating an environment that advances the organization and encourages personal growth and development in workers. Respect is a win-win!

Lesson 2: Collaboration is a necessary component to work, for everyone

The way we understand collaboration has significantly changed through the Great Resignation. Since modern work has changed to incorporate an equilibrium between hybrid work, flexible hours, and work-life balance, collaboration is different from traditional whiteboard brainstorms and back-and-forth emails. Teams are starting to work asynchronously from different cities, countries, and time zones (or maybe just working from home!). Online virtual collaboration tools like Collato, Slack, and Figma are helping to get teams on the same page, no matter where they’re working.

Organizations should be supportive of this alternative communication style and provide teams with the necessary tools to collaborate effectively in this new environment. While it might be daunting to embarge change, leaders must recognize that Employees can be efficacious and exceed performance expectations through alternative working arrangements based on their schedules, productivity peaks, and lifestyle choices.

Lesson 3: Leaders need to empower, not dictate

Companies that experienced the consequences of the Great Resignation realized quickly that delegation of tasks is not a bad thing. Actually, it’s a step towards empowering employees. When work is distributed, employees can get a taste for something new and feel proud of their accomplishments when the task is completed. Empowering team members to step outside their comfort zone sparks creativity, problem-solving, and encourages greater engagement in tasks which leads to a better system of work. Empowerment can take different forms:

  • Setting individual, team, leadership, and company goals
  • Applauding a learn-by-doing mentality
  • Ensuring that all team members have the tools and resources they need
  • Giving feedback
  • Listening and implementing ideas from your team
  • Recognizing employees for doing good work

In all, company culture and leadership styles that are built on trust and responsibility naturally empower employees and improve working dynamics within the organization.

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Challenging the Great Resignation

While there’s no knowing how long the Great Resignation will last, there are a few ways to prepare for it within your organization. Debbie Cohan and Kate Roeske-Zummer from the Harvard Business Review podcast, IdeaCast, have an interesting take on fighting the Great Resignation: Re-recruit your current employees.

Training leaders and managers to value your current workforce is far cheaper than losing employees that report to them. So how do you prevent your leader-employee relationship from going sideways?

According to Cohan and Zummer, companies should see employees as customers. If you spend more time on the people who are at the foundation of your organization, you’ll spend less energy and money on the hiring process altogether because employees are content with their working conditions.

The first step towards this change of mindset is for leaders and managers to find ways to invest and retain employees through quality interactions. For example, look at the “cadence of interactions” with employees; maybe that’s through 1-on-1s or team meetings. The content of these conversations should be more than “doing” the work, but is also a time to reflect on goals, expand duties, create new roles, and grow and evolve personally and professionally. If leaders maintain a healthy relationship with teammates, value is added to the work being done.

It takes two to tango

To sum it all up, the Great Resignation has shown that people want their leaders to trust and respect their expertise and ideas. In doing so, employees feel satisfied and proud of the work they contributed and are further motivated to achieve overarching personal, team, and company goals. While the (not so) Great Resignation brought about many initial problems for organizations, the lessons learned are far more valuable. But where we go from here involves both leaders and employees working in unison to create an organizational system that benefits both parties. Because in the end, it takes two to tango. 💃🕺

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