'The Great Resignation' - How to beat the HR nightmare

Noorain Manjoo
Executive Assistant – Human Resources
April 17, 2023
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The pandemic has added many new buzzwords and phrases to our lingo: “sanitising”, “social distancing”, “quarantine“, and “flattening the curve”.

Another term which has rapidly gained global attention is “The Great Resignation”, a phenomenon all too familiar for those involved in the hiring process.

The term “Great Resignation” was coined by Dr Anthony Klotz, a professor of organisational behaviour. The term refers to the significant number of employees expected to leave their current roles during or towards the end of the pandemic.

Klotz believes that pandemic-related “epiphanies” about “family time, remote work, commuting, passion projects, life and death” have changed how employees think about work. Inspired by the changing working circumstances of COVID-19 and a reassessment of their lives, workers are leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers.

Labour analysts, employers and the media have paid much attention to high worker turnover statistics in the United States, UK and Europe alike, where the return to the post-lockdown workplace was met with a staggering number of voluntary resignations.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 over 47 million Americans have voluntarily quit their jobs.

South Africa is most certainly not exempt from the woes of the “Great Resignation”. Our unemployment rate has reached a historical height, with an estimated  35.5% unemployment rate (since the last quarter of 2021).

Vacancies are opening up faster than there are potential employees in the market. (Photo: Eric Prouzet)

The volatility of our economy has led to inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis fuels the fire that is ‘The Great Resignation’. More individuals seek employment that allows them to feel financially secure in times of uncertainty, while others cannot afford to work due to the rise in fuel costs.

An added factor, which is fast surfacing, is managing an emerging millennial workforce. The “Great Resignation” has seen workers of all ages and expertise leave their jobs.

However, millennials are seemingly impulsive about their employment decisions. This is chalked down to the cultural differences young people experience in the workplace. According to a recent study, the average millennial will hold 15 or 16 different jobs during their career. This contrasts with previous generations, who tended to stay with the same company for their entire careers.

So, what does this crisis mean for HR professionals?

I have often found myself in an overwhelming sense of panic with each new resignation that would land on my desk.

However, after consulting with professionals across various industries, I have realised that this trend is not unique to any firm or industry. This causes a ripple effect for all HR professionals, placing untold amounts of pressure on our departments.

Of course, internal factors would be conversations around salary increases, individual development plans/promotions and enhanced company culture.

However, truth be told, it has proven to be more and more challenging to strike a comfortable balance between individual employee needs and what makes business sense.

 Given the current global state of affairs and the many crippling issues businesses are having to manoeuvre through, in my opinion, there should be a shift in focus from retention (which has proved to be an arduous task at present) to continuous recruitment being built into the core business model, as it is now expected that individuals will leave a firm.

Unfortunately, loyalty to a firm is no longer essential to individuals, especially when weighed against short-term quick “fixes” in an equally quickly changing economy and generation of thought.