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The Great Resignation... or the Great Opportunity?

Much has been made of The Great Resignation headline since it began swirling in the news last year. With a record number of 4.4 million Americans leaving their jobs last September, the phenomenon continues around the world.


Stories abound of workers who simply had enough – say, the burnt-out warehouse worker who turned a passion project into a small business, or the overworked doctor who quit to recharge, indulge in hobbies, and spend time with family. Or to just “find” oneself.


But those anecdotes, don’t seem add up to much of a trend in Canada – at least, not yet. There is little evidence to suggest that people here are resigning by the thousands. Instead, it appears that Canadians are exercising some caution as the economy recovers from the worst shock in generations.


Among the newly jobless who left work, dissatisfaction is now more common than it was early in the pandemic – but again, it hasn’t soared beyond 2019 levels. As is often the case with Canadian economic data, there are gaps that complicate the picture. For instance, Canada doesn’t have a dedicated employer survey on labour turnover, like the U.S. does. StatCan's Labour Force Survey allows respondents to indicate they were “dissatisfied” with the jobs they left.


Reading the news of late and hearing of businesses challenged in finding and recruiting workers has been interpreted as we’re in a record-breaking trend of young, able-bodied people rejecting work altogether.

But it's pretty clear that, at least for the vast majority, that's not the case. People are not outright rejecting consumerism, moving off the grid, and living off the land in a van by the river. Most still need money.


Some of those quitting are older workers deciding to retire early in large part because their finances have been buoyed by surging stock and housing markets. Others are secondary earners who have stayed home because they have had to take care of kids while schools have closed due to COVID-19 — or because, more simply, working face to face during a pandemic sucks.


Regardless for the demographic, one major driver appears to be that many workers are no longer willing to put up with the pay and/or working conditions they (perhaps grudgingly) accepted prior to the pandemic. “I certainly think that the pandemic has led many people to re-evaluate their work and their priorities and what they want to do,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute said in a statement to Business Insider.


Most that are quitting their jobs merely seem to be aiming to get better jobs. While we are living in a bizarre pandemic economy with countless strange trends, this isn't necessarily one of them; it's pretty standard to see a swell of workers quitting their jobs for greener pastures when the job market is strong and there are lots of shiny opportunities available. But the pandemic really inspired many more than usual to look for better pay, perks, flexibility, culture, development, and treatment.

And this brings us to our view of this phenomenon is really The Great Opportunity. If anything, the pandemic has provided a huge reveal of where people “were” in their prior jobs, and the degree to which they had become complacent in their wants.


Essentially, the comfort and convenience of existing patterns (same drive to the office, same building, same coffee, same people, same hours, same trip home) had blurred their view of what they didn’t like, and haven’t liked for some time (low pay, bad boss, inconsistent culture, same environs, no growth, etc.) which gnawed at many, daily. And working from home for awhile shook up those existing patterns and provided a taste of possibilities.


While each demographic in the working world right now has different motivators for working or not working or hunting for a different hunting group entirely, our view at HC2advantage is that company culture has never been more important than it’s ever been at this point. Company culture affects all demographics in different ways, but there are four elements of culture that resonates for all of them, and the fine folks at Meta captured them perfectly, recently, they are:


1) Fulfillment and empowerment – Am I Happy? How happy workers are within their current role: whether their individual contribution supports the organization’s purpose and the extent to which they have autonomy to make decisions and recommend new ideas or ways of working.


2) Trust in leadership – Am I Respected? The degree to which front line workers feel their leadership teams listen to and respect them and the trust the front line has in leadership in return.


3) Learning and growth – Am I Growing? The training and career development opportunities provided to front line workers and whether the education and skills provided by employers within the job are relevant and sufficient.


4) Well-being and safety – Am I Safe? A holistic view of front line employees’ well-being, including how employers consider and support their physical and mental health

That said, some important points in establishing or refreshing a company culture for this new working environment, is for organizations to identify those behaviours, abilities, and rules where they cannot and will not compromise. These needs for consistencies in performance and quality in the workplace, are just as important as the expectations are of employees in the consistencies in performance and quality, when it comes to management and leadership.


Not all industries and their clients are the same, nor should their workplaces be identical either.

For example, working from home has been a magical gift for many, and something worth quitting over, if lost. But that workplace flexibility is not possible or preferred for some industries and their clients. The guiding principle will be to provide flexibility where possible and reasonable. And for those people unable to adapt to the realities of that industry or client need, are best to find a role elsewhere with a better fit.


So, what are employers doing these days to cope with this shift? Some have already responded with higher wages, and increasing flexible opportunities, but it will be important to view these current responses as temporary tactics. Valuable, but temporary.


The real solutions to The Great (or small) Resignation phenomenon are found in those leadership actions that are meaningful and sustainable, not just attractive. Culture has never been more important, than it is right now….


And that’s The Great Opportunity.

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