The US workforce has seen a wild surge of resignations across industries over the past several months. The mass exodus of workers was dubbed The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit. And it hasn’t just been retail and entry-level workers, but employees of all backgrounds and levels have been part of the movement. This exodus has compromised organizational structures and caused a significant disruption in leadership pipelines. The Great Resignation has left people wondering what this means for leadership development. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record four million Americans quit their job in April alone, setting a 20-year record. By the end of August, the number rose to 4.3 million, increasing the quits rate, as the Labor Department calls it, to 2.9%. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found 41% of global workers were considering a job change. But, according to Monster’s latest Future of Work report, that number is closer to 95%. Both numbers mean a significant number of employees, maybe most, are seriously considering other career opportunities. It’s a worrisome thought for any company. 

Key Factors Fueling the Great Resignation

One of the top reasons behind the record-breaking wave of resignations is the move of companies back towards the 9-to-5 in office structure. Outside of personal health and safety concerns, employees have come to enjoy their flexible work situations and schedules. They have little to no commute for work and can spend more time with their family while proving they can still work effectively from home. For many workers, a return to office life looks like an unnecessary downgrade to their work conditions.

Another reason for the spike in voluntary turnover is that the pandemic has forced workers to rethink their career goals. Given the time to assess their work condition, treatment, and opportunities, many workers have found their situation wanting and realized they could do better. US workers are actively seeking new career advancement opportunities and alternative career paths to provide them with a more fulfilling employment experience. 

Partly the impetus for this has been COVID-related stress and burnout. Employees have experienced a collective feeling of not being heard by employers, with companies regularly putting corporate interests and production above employee well-being. Feeling mistreated, workers reassessed their condition and its effect on their physical and mental health. Weighing their work against COVID health and safety concerns, loss of childcare solutions, teleworking adjustments, and all the other daily struggles of the pandemic, employees found their job to be too much of a stressor in an already stressful environment. 

Mid-Career Workers Account for Most Resignations

The most devastating of The Great Resignation’s effect on companies is that mid-career workers have accounted for the most resignations. A recent Visier resignation study found mid-career workers are most likely to leave their jobs. Employees aged 30-45 accounted for 66% of all August 2019-2020 resignations.

Men and women of every age found their current workplace conditions and culture unattractive enough that they would instead leave to pursue other career opportunities or follow their dreams. After reevaluating their career goals and employer relationships, many workers, particularly millennials, decided to try their luck as entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, freelancers, and other opportunities in the gig economy, as the New York Times reported in April. 

As a generation, Millennials have experienced two major US recessions before turning 40. One effect this experience has had on Millennial workers is that they are less motivated by money than other generations. Many instead have placed a higher value on their time than their compensation. With only so many hours in a day, many millennials don’t want to spend their time sitting in traffic or a cubicle under fluorescent lights. They want more free time to be with family and friends, travel, and enjoy leisure activities. These mid-career workers want to “work to live,” not “live to work.” This desire for a better work-life balance, agitated by COVID, has encouraged many mid-career workers to choose a new career path and resign. 

COVID Circumstances Harsher for Career Women

Before the pandemic, many career women already shouldered a heavier load as the primary provider of housework and childcare in their homes. COVID added more stress to the juggling of everyday responsibilities by removing many support systems and asked more of people when it came to home and child care. 

These factors lead to a higher rate of burnout for career women. According to the Lean In Women in the Workplace 2020 study, significantly more women than men put their careers on hold to support their families. The study found that 3 in 10 working mothers thought about downshifting their career or exiting the workforce altogether due to burnout and the need to support their families. 

The Great Resignation has created a significant problem for companies of all sizes and industries. Leadership pipelines are leaking talent from all levels, especially middle management and women. According to Visier’s study, a third of female managers are thinking about leaving the workforce altogether. Women managers are faced with the heightened stress and burnout of COVID coupled with a history of companies providing fewer avenues of career advancement for them, with even fewer leadership development opportunities.

Fewer Leadership Development Opportunities for Women

Right now, organizations are experiencing difficulty retaining talent and finding new talent to fill the suddenly vacant positions in their leadership pipeline. But, even in this situation, many companies still don’t treat women as equal candidates for leadership positions and training. The latest Vaya Vision study, which surveyed over 1,000 US professionals, found organizations formally assess 39% more men than women for leadership development programs, and managers select 35% more male than female candidates for enrollment.

The study also found 63% of emerging leader candidates were chosen using subjective, informal, and biased criteria. No surprise that less than 25% of the men and women of color surveyed felt managers were objective when choosing employees for promotion. And, with one-third of women managers considering exiting the workforce, we can expect these numbers to skew even more heavily towards men in the near future. Leading to a possibility that corporate leadership could backslide towards the old boy’s club, undoing efforts toward gender equity in leadership.

The Great Resignation affords you and your company a golden opportunity through leadership development if you are willing to seize it. 

The Road to Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.”

Sir Richard Branson

This simple advice can be help protect your organization against the high voluntary turnover rate of The Great Resignation. How you treat your employees is everything. If you treat them well, provide them favorable work conditions, offer fair learning and development opportunities, and build inclusive leadership at all organizational levels, your organization will become a beacon for the top talent that is now looking for a career change, and you’ll have a much easier time retaining your top talent.

Fail to heed the simple advice, and you may continue to experience high turnover and leaky leadership pipelines. If your company is just offering a paycheck, you won’t stand out from thousands of other companies trying to attract the available talent or poach your top talent. To succeed and stand apart from the competition, you must focus on job seekers’ values and needs and find ways to meet them. 

How does your company differ from others in terms of working conditions, culture, management, engagement, and employer-employee relationships? If you’re unable to stand out from your competitors in these areas, or worse, be behind the curve, it’s time to make changes and implement new policies. Offering career development programs for women to equip and empower female leaders at all levels of your organization is one way to drive positive change and make your company alluring to great talent that feels overlooked by most companies. 

People Don’t Quit Jobs; They Quit Managers!

We see the adage rings true in The Great Resignation. When workers were pushed by external stress, the US workplace culture made it too easy for people to quit their jobs and never look back. Keep the adage top of mind when investing in leadership development, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty. Building a high-quality leadership pipeline will supercharge your recruitment and employee retention success, in addition to improving organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

Use your leadership development programs to create leaders who will empower your workers, bring creative and innovative ideas and solutions to the table, and ensure people will listen and implement them. Their contributions are paramount to your company’s success, so make sure their work is meaningful.

Offer your employees a clear career trajectory that will make them want to stay. Provide technical or skill-based training, of course, but focus more on soft skills and the leadership traits, like those below, necessary for success and advancement because those are the critical criteria for retaining top talent.

  • Effective Communication
  • Team Building
  • Coaching
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Conflict Resolution

Use role-play, hypothetical problem-solving scenarios, and mentoring that offers hands-on experience. Supplement those methods with traditional classroom training and reading resources, and you’ll develop great leaders that will plug the leaks in your leadership pipeline before you know it.

Shift Your Mindset from One-Time Training to Ongoing Development

One-time training programs aren’t enough to develop the quality and volume of leadership many organizations need to address the effects of The Great Resignation. To create and strengthen a successful leadership pipeline, you need to sharpen the sword. That requires continual upkeep, which is where ongoing development comes in.

Make leadership development an initiative, put someone in charge of it, and have them develop an effective ongoing process. Help create the next generation of female business leaders through the best emerging leaders program for your company. Sponsor a bright, young woman in the EWF Emerging Leaders Program to gain the skills needed to move from an individual contributor to a leader. Empower your female executives through our Executive Peer Advisory Forums to sharpen their strategic decision-making and elevate their careers. 

Implement DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) into your hiring and leadership development processes, and make a public statement about it to ensure accountability. EWF International offers innovative corporate leadership development programs to build a diverse leadership pipeline, develop ERGs, and provide emotional intelligence training.

Explore all EWF International’s leadership development ecosystem today to find the best program for your employees’ needs that will supercharge your recruitment and retention. You’re one step closer to building robust and diverse leadership that will hone your organization’s competitive edge to gaining and retaining talent. Fortify your company against the effects of The Great Resignation and use the opportunity to strengthen your leadership pipeline by developing the best available talent on the market.