Delving Deeper into the Great Resignation

Over the course of the pandemic, employees have left their jobs in droves. But, as a new report from Slayton Search Partners shows, the phenomenon has been more nuanced than many people realize. Workers’ reasons for quitting have been particularly different in more recent months than the earlier days of the health crisis.

June 29, 2022 – By now, the term “Great Resignation” has reached cliché status, providing us with a caricatured vision of a great exodus of workers, boxed possessions in hand as they leave the building once and for all. But the sore truth is that millions of employees continue to re-evaluate their careers and seek new opportunities, leaving employers to redefine their retention initiatives.

However, when we dig deeper into the data, the Great Resignation is more nuanced than mere generalist headlines reveal, according to Richard Slayton, managing partner and chief executive officer of Slayton Search Partners, in a new report. “From our perspective, we have seen a subtle shift over time in the type of professionals resigning and their motivations for doing so. In particular, the earlier pandemic era (2020-2021) resulted in a record number of retirements and early retirements,” he said. “As time has gone on (2021-2022), we’re seeing more straight quits—professionals who are not leaving the workforce permanently but moving on to new opportunities.” It is an interesting evolution in the workforce, he said, but one that deserves deeper evaluation in order to genuinely address it within our own workplaces.

The Early Pandemic Era

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, media mainly focused on statistics like “40 percent of workers planning to quit in the next six months.” Soon after, resignation rates seemed to verify these claims, with millions of people leaving their jobs, hitting new records month after month, said the report. Even though the actual numbers of people resigning only reached three percent of workers, rather than the proposed 40 percent, this reality caused widespread concern among business leaders. The topic of employee retention quickly took center stage, while wages rose ever higher against the landscape of an increasingly competitive talent market.

These basic statistics, however, fail to paint the full picture. “The fact is, the oldest Baby Boomers became eligible for retirement benefits back in 2008,” said Slayton Search Partners. “By 2020, the pandemic was just the cherry on top, and the majority of this generation was ready to leave the workforce for good, even if it meant early retirement. As the pandemic continued to rage, more than half of the 5.25 million people who left the workforce by the fall of 2021 were retirees, resulting in a retirement rate double that of 2019.”

Richard Slayton joined Slayton Search Partners in 1990, and in 2005 took the helm as the company’s managing partner and chief executive officer. Professionally, he has conducted more than 600 search assignments for presidents/chief executive officers/general managers, chief marketing officers, chief human resource officers, chief supply chain officers, chief research & development officers, chief customer officers (sales) and chief financial officers. 

Early retirement was particularly attractive to more affluent older workers. Despite the dwindling economy, their stocks and home prices rose in their favor, paving the way for a more lucrative retirement path. The pandemic also created extra time for these professionals to reassess their values, goals, and desires, which for many helped cement the decision to retire.

“However, for those on the other end of the income spectrum, with fewer assets and less education, pandemic-induced layoffs forced many into retirement anyway, as job prospects for this generation were dim,” said the Slayton Search Partners report.

“Regardless of their motivation, the result was an extra 1.5 million people entering retirement than previous trends would have predicted,” the study said. “Of the remaining 2.25 million workers who resigned and left their jobs in the early pandemic, many were working mothers or caregivers as well as the immunocompromised whose circumstances all but forced them to resign.”

The Late Pandemic Era

Over the course of 2021 and extending into 2022, the focus abruptly shifted from the few million who had permanently left the workforce to the 47 million people who quit to move onto other opportunities. “These professionals typically fell into a few different categories,” said the report. “Some were leaving truly toxic situations and others simply wanted a change of scenery. About 20 percent of those who quit chose entrepreneurial pursuits, while a surprising 53 percent of employees actually switched jobs to an entirely different career path.”

Related: Retaining Your Employees During the Great Resignation

This mass exodus of employees indicates a strong job market and also creates a cyclical dynamic—openings are already sitting at record levels, prompting people to make a move and, in turn, create even more openings. “Interestingly, while the Great Resignation is a huge buzzword in the current landscape, the data shows that most workers are not just impulsively quitting,” said the report. “They are prepared and ready, usually with a new opportunity lined up before they even walk out the door.”

Consider This Before Joining the Great Resignation

If you’re thinking about joining the Great Resignation and quitting your job, you’re in good company. Resignations are at a 20-year high, and depending on what study you’re reading, one-third to one-half of all U.S. workers are considering leaving their jobs right now. This record number of resignations is fueled by a range of factors, from the understanding that better pay and opportunities may be readily available, to a desire to work for an organization that is more values-aligned, to the desire to have more flexibility about when and where work is done.

“Burnout is also a significant factor that’s driving employees to seek other opportunities,” said Molly Brennan in a new report from Diversified Search Group | Koya Partners. “If you recognize yourself in any of these factors and are considering taking action, you’re likely to find yourself in a good position. The number of open opportunities has created stiff competition for talent, driving up salaries and giving candidates an advantage when it comes to negotiations.”

It’s also interesting to note that many workplace experts are attempting to re-label the Great Resignation with terms such as the Great Reflection or the Great Reprioritization. “In essence, the feeling is that this trend isn’t just about work and career choices,” said Slayton Search Partners. “It’s bigger than that. We’ve entered a period of time, triggered by the pandemic, where a majority of people are re-evaluating their life purpose, values, relationships, and choices. Their decision to quit their current roles and employers is just one outcome of this shift.”

Responding to the Great Resignation

Regardless of whether your business is most impacted by retirements or resignations, this trend is forcing many companies to get creative in their recruiting and retention efforts—not to mention their succession planning strategies. “Compensation is just one piece of the puzzle,” said the report. “Benefits and perks, learning and development, and flexibility and work-life balance are also critical, and employers must find unique and compelling ways to implement these initiatives. There’s also the bigger picture of company culture and work environment—what type of culture and environment will attract and retain the best employees? How will leaders align their company values and purpose with those of their top performers?”

“This shift has significant implications on how we optimize our workplaces and lead from a place of resiliency,” said Slayton Search Partners. “If anything, this evolution in the workplace tells us that no cookie-cutter solution is ever enough to address generalized trends. As business leaders, we must tune into the nuances of our own workforce, seeking to understand the motivations of our workers and respond accordingly.”

Established in 1985, Chicago-based Slayton Search Partners focuses on finding executive talent in the consumer, retail, financial services, insurance, industrial, and private equity sectors. The firm said that its network of industry leaders invariably leads it to opportunities outside of its core practice areas. Evolving markets, emerging technologies, and changing consumer habits have impacted all industries, said the search firm, and that the need for strong executive talent is far-reaching.

Professional services firm The Judge Group recently acquired Slayton Search Partners. The Judge Group is a provider of consulting, learning, and talent services with over 50 years of experience. The acquisition of Slayton Search Partners brings a retained executive search capabilities to Judge’s broad portfolio, the company said. “The acquisition of Slayton combines two leading providers of search services with decades of experience and expertise,” said Marty Judge, CEO. “Slayton’s reach, depth and expertise in executive search coupled with a dedication to creating impactful client experiences make them an ideal partner. Together, we will leverage our collective expertise to build new business relationships, develop deeper partnerships with existing clients, and grow into untapped markets.”

Related: How to Prepare Candidates for a Successful Resignation

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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