How To Position Your Company To Avoid The Great Resignation

Louis Montgomery Jr. leads JM Search’s Human Resources and Diversity Officer Executive Search Practice.

It’s no secret that U.S. workers are leaving their jobs in record numbers in what’s been dubbed ‘The Great Resignation.’ More than 11 million workers left their jobs between April and June of 2021 according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And a study by Adobe, the software and data analytics company, found more than half of the younger respondents ages 18-24, or Gen Z, reporting that they intend to leave their job within the next year. Of the Gen Z respondents, 59% reported dissatisfaction with their jobs and 52% were unhappy with work-life balance. 

The driving forces behind The Great Resignation are complex and varied, but not surprising. The pandemic has significantly altered not only how people work, but how they think about work. Employees are reconsidering their priorities when it comes to their jobs and are more open to new opportunities that better align with their values and needs. Stress, burnout, dissatisfaction with leadership and layoffs are among those factors pushing people to seek better work environments, whether in-person, work-from-home or hybrid. 

For knowledge workers, remote/hybrid work is no longer a job perk, but a requirement. People are realizing they can work very effectively without spending several hours per week commuting to an office. And work-from-home flexibility is a must for millions of families with school-aged children who might be sent home at any time to quarantine for several days due to a Covid exposure. In a pre-Covid era, this kind of disruption to a household’s routine would be untenable. 

It’s also easy to forget that prior to March 2020, the U.S. job market was thriving, companies were expanding, and the overall economic outlook was healthy. When the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt, that included hiring freezes. Many organizations now find themselves on the receding end of the pandemic with a pent-up demand to fill those same pre-pandemic open positions. In many cases they’re looking to fill newly vacant positions as well. 


Our workforce comprises four generations: Baby Boomers (aged 55+) Gen X (39-54) Millennials (23-38) and Gen Z (18-22). The composition is changing as some Boomers retire if they’re able to do so while Millennials and Gen Z have different expectations of the contract between employer/employee. These younger generations prioritize swift career advancement and want to feel that their work makes a difference. Younger workers have no qualms about job-hopping in pursuit of either. 

So how can your organization retain its top talent and avoid The Great Resignation?

1. Recognize that people are looking for meaning in their work. It’s important not to presume people are connecting the dots between the work they do and how it aligns with your organization’s mission, vision and values. Invest the time in ensuring people are as connected to your organization as they can be. There is a famous anecdote that illustrates this idea perfectly. Two men working in a rock quarry were asked about their work. One said he broke rocks for a living. The other said he helped to build churches. 

Opportunities to feel seen and heard through things like regular town halls and public recognition programs help to foster employee engagement. Clarify your company values if necessary and share them frequently, which allows people to connect their role in your company to the purpose of their work. 

2. Recognize that people want and need more flexibility around where, when and how they work. The last year and a half has proven employees don’t need an office setting to be productive and work can get done in any number of ways. Organizations should be very thoughtful about prescribing when people need to be in the office, and develop clear policies that are fair and equitable. 

Ask what’s really required to get the work done, and how you can offer employees flexibility when they need it. There’s no one-size-fits all when it comes to flexibility. Employee needs will be an ever-changing dynamic. Trust that your teams will be productive regardless of where they’re located. 

3. Recognize that the new generation entering the workforce are more diverse than any other in history. Company culture matters, and candidates are researching their potential employers, reading reviews and doing their due diligence before committing to a new organization. The expectation is that your organization is representative of our broader society, that there are opportunities for advancement, and that they’ll have the opportunity to work in an environment that reflects their experience and exposure. They expect a culture in which they can bring their complete selves to work. 

Part of The Great Resignation is that employees want more from their organizations: more flexibility, more connection, more acknowledgement and advancement, a more diverse and equitable environment. Companies that recognize this new workplace dynamic and take steps to address are better positioned to keep their top talent.

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