Skip to main content

“The Great Resignation” is something you’ll no doubt have read about in the media and discussed in the workplace. 

Coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, it foreshadows a great exodus of employees from their current jobs. A number of factors fed Klotz’s prediction:

  • The rise in employee burnout.
  • Reevaluation of their lives during the pandemic.
  • Having to return to the office after enjoying their time working remotely. 

But is TGR a generational event to be concerned about or media sensationalism? Well, as always, probably a bit of both.

Let’s dig into some of the research behind the prediction, and look into ways that your organization can insulate against any possible mass resignation. 

The “Great” Resignation So Far

In April 2021, 2.7% of workers in the US left their job. This is up 1.1% compared to April 2020 and is the highest attrition rate since 2000. Worth taking note of, sure, but hardly a deluge. It can, by and large, be attributed to a buildup of employees looking to leave. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 6 million fewer resignations in 2020 than in 2019. The reasons for this was the high uncertainty of future job prospects and the length of the pandemic. From a recent edition of LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index:


April’s 2.7% is a twenty-year high, but still a lot lower than expectations. 

In one of the more notable studies related to the great resignation, “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?”, Microsoft found the following: 


When I’ve come across other articles on the great resignation, this number is brought up time and time again—it is an attention grabber. 

However, let’s look further into the wording—“likely to consider leaving” and “planning to make a major pivot or career transition.”

As we all know, what people say they’ll do, and what they actually do, can differ greatly. People considering leaving versus actually leaving are two very different things. The act of leaving a job is still a big commitment. 

What Employers Are Saying & Doing In Regards To TGR

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that how executives and employers view great resignation is markedly different from employees. 

While, according to the Microsoft study, a lot of employees are considering leaving their current employer over the next year, employers think that, when push comes to shove, this won’t happen.

TINYpulse did some extensive research into what leaders and HR professionals feel about the changing world of work. Here are some of the key takeaways from this study:

  • 68.15% of HR leaders cited that they believe their attrition will be 0%-9% after restrictions are fully lifted. 
  • An amazing 25.46% of people leaders predicted that 0% or no one will quit after COVID restrictions are fully lifted.
  • Most HR leaders think TGR will be more a “trickle than a tsunami” of turnover.

As you can see, there’s a yawning gap between the numbers of what leadership thinks vs what employees think. In the study itself, there are also further discrepancies between the two perceptions on a number of topics, like thriving at work, and those in favor of the return to work.

TinyPulse Predicted Attraction Percentage After Pandemic Graphic

If I were to wager, I’d say that attrition rates will be higher than what leaders are thinking. However, I don’t think it will be anywhere close to the rates of those employees who say they are considering leaving. 

What Should Your Organization Be Doing About The Great Resignation?

The Microsoft study indicates that a notable amount of employees are seriously considering leaving their jobs. However, we’ve also seen the vast majority of leaders feel that turnover will not be overly high. Really, nobody knows.

What we do know, however, is that moving forward most employees are looking for a hybrid approach that consists of the option of working at least three days a week remotely

That said, 68% of executives feel a typical employee should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain a distinct company culture.

How you approach flexible and remote work is going to be one of the key factors if you’re seeing higher levels of turnover. 

Returning to the TINYpulse survey:

TinyPulse Survey Graphic

If you’re aiming to keep attrition low, or you’re looking to attract talent, giving employees more flexibility will be advantageous.

This holds true across multiple industries. TINYpulse found that of all the industries they researched:

The finance and insurance industry was the least favorable about returning to work at 2.91 with 52.2% indicating that they felt unfavorable toward a return to work. 

This is a very interesting finding—finance and the insurance industries have not traditionally been known to be remote-friendly compared to tech, for example. 

With many employees likely getting the first taste of remote work—and liking it—it’s understandable why their aversion to returning to the office is higher compared to higher industries.

This creates a case of both challenges and opportunities. Flexible working can be a major reason for your organization having to deal with a higher attrition rate. Or, if you’re much more flexible in regards to remote work, you can find yourself having a much easier time finding new employees. 

As an organization, err on the side of caution. The more open you are to flexibility and remote work, the less likely you will be seeing an impact at your organization.

Further reading:

Join The Conversation

Have some stories and insights to share around leadership and workplace culture? Comment below, or...

The People Managing People blog, podcast, and community exist to help you become a better leader of people and catalyst for healthy company culture. 

Our community is a space for experienced people managers and culture creators to develop as leaders and connect with other like-minded individuals.

Learn more about the People Managing People community here.

You can also subscribe to the newsletter to get updates when we publish fresh articles and podcasts with the latest thinking from leadership and management experts from around the world.

Join us in the conversation on hybrid working, diversity and inclusion, gauging sentiment, employee feedback, the crucial role of managers, and future trends, here!