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During the pandemic 130,000 people have left the workforce, meaning they have opted to stop working and are no longer seeking employment, according to Statistics Canada.
Popularized by associate professor at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, Anthony Klotz, “the great resignation” comes as a result of employees who had contemplated an exit but had mostly held off. Now as workplaces are in the throes of change and there’s a better sense of what the next phase of work looks like, that pent-up attrition is set to begin and build.
Whether it’s because of a pent-up desire to change company, burnout, the lack of flexibility, family care, or the desire to reskill and make a career change, there is a looming sense that a tidal wave of resignations will soon hit the desk of managers across the world.
Why is it happening?
As vaccination rates increase and pandemic restrictions ease, companies are beginning to ask their employees to return to the office in some capacity. And it’s predicted that a workplace exodus is beginning to take shape. An accumulation of stalled resignations, realizations about work-life balance, career advancement, and newfound passion projects are a few of the drivers of this forecast, but not all.
Klotz predicts that as employees are nudged back to the office and back into the reality of commuting every day, a nine-to-six job and working in a cubicle, many will start heading out the door. In times of uncertainty and insecurity – like during a global pandemic – people behave conservatively and stay put. But once things normalize, we can expect employees to head for the exits. In fact, a BNN Bloomberg study this year revealed that 1 in 3 workers would seek a new job if asked to return to the office full-time. Another survey conducted by Prudential Financial in 2021 revealed that nearly half (42%) of current remote workers say if their current company doesn’t continue to offer long-term remote work options, they’ll look for a company that does.
COVID revealed just how unnecessary office spaces are and emphasized the convenience and feasibility of working remotely. Many employees are just as productive – if not more – than they were in an office, and now they have the freedom to pursue hobbies and spend more time with their family at home.
Employees want a return to the office to be flexible. In a survey of 10,000 office workers from the US, UK, France and Australia, over half prefer a hybrid mix of working in the office and from home. But if they’re forced back to the office without being fully on board, they’ll not hesitate to seek a position that meets their needs as a remote worker.
Not a balanced ordeal
Although working from home seems like a sweet mix of convenience and flexibility for many of us, it’s not as sweet for minorities and women.
Of the 130,000 Canadian workers that left the workforce during the pandemic, women have left at higher rates, primarily as a result of their roles as caretakers. Additionally, U.S. Census data shows that Black households have 20% more people and Hispanic households have 80% more people compared to White households, which can result in cramped quarters and concerns about background noise and distractions.
Having limited access to technology has made remote work particularly difficult for members of low-income families as well. In the U.S., 82% of White adults reported owning a desktop or laptop computer compared with 58% of Blacks and 57% of Hispanic respondents who participated in a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. Roughly 66% of Black and 61% of Hispanic respondents also reported having broadband internet, versus 79% of White adults. So, going into the office can be beneficial for those without the necessary tools or space at home. But this can present its own Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) challenges as well, and feed into some form of workplace exodus.
Derek Avery, a University of Houston professor in industrial/organizational psychology worries that workplaces could create a divide between the “haves” who can leverage job-hopping and the “have-nots” who are less likely to be able to move employers to gain new skills, money, and flexibility.
“The notion of jumping ship to get other offers and increase your market value tends to work better for members of dominant groups” including white men, but less so for women and minorities, Avery says.
The financial stress caused by the pandemic has made these work-related expenditures and decisions an even greater challenge for members of non-dominate groups. All this to say a return to office isn’t a simple matter, so involving employees in future decisions and keeping them a part of the current remote work culture is important in reducing workplace exodus.
What to do about it
Organizations that haven’t prioritized employee engagement may have more challenges than those that have, and while it is never too late to start, a more rapid and targeted approach maybe in order. For those that have prioritized engagement, nobody is immune or at least should ignore this potential risk to their organization.