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Retaining Top Talent During a Volatile Job Landscape

I made a mistake. I’ve been allergic to everything outdoors for the better part of two decades, and yet I still managed to let my prescription allergy meds run out, leading me to a day without my meds. On top of that, I ran out the one day of the year almost everything was closed – Christmas. The following day, I called up to my preferred pharmacy to ask if I could get an emergency refill asap, only to hear the phone ring and ring and ring, the Christmas voicemail from the previous day before still playing in my ear. Google said they opened an hour ago (and of course Google’s word is always true), so I found that a little odd. I called again an hour later, and with yesterday’s same Christmas message still playing on repeat, I decided to just drive on over to the pharmacy. What’s a five-minute ride when you’re sneezing your head off? But to my utter astonishment, I walked up to the door and found the pharmacy closed, a sign taped to the door that simply said “No employees to work this location – for any emergency refills, call the location on 36th” with a telephone number. 

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. I knew some of my favorite local fast food joints were short-handed, and I’ve heard multiple teacher friends mention the struggle to find subs to cover classes. But I couldn’t believe the labor shortage had stretched to even my preferred national pharmacy chain. 

Chances are good that if you live within the United States, you’ve recently experienced the current labor shortage for yourself. Maybe it was the extra-long wait for a latte at your favorite cafe or the open position on your team that hasn’t had a single applicant. But it seems everyone lately is a little short-handed and The Great Resignation is to blame.

Defining The Great Resignation – the “What”

The Great Resignation, also sometimes called The Big Quit, refers to the mass voluntary resignation of employees from their jobs. Beginning in 2021 and still going on today, The Great Resignation has produced a truly unique climate for businesses. The number of jobless claims is currently lower than they have been in over 50 years. However, we also find ourselves with the most job openings readily available in over 20 years. 

So what does this mean for the workplace? In the past year, over 38 million Americans have voluntarily quit their jobs. The resignations do not seem to be constrained to a specific field, nor are they just contained with the United States. Bloomberg recently wrote about the Great Resignation and its impact around the world. China is another country with staggering impacts due to the Big Quit. There, it is referred to as the “lie flat” trend – pertaining to the large workforce of young professionals who are not interested in the overwhelming 996 style of work – working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. 

With millions of Americans leaving their jobs, including a record number of folks going on strike in October 2021 (now referred to as “Striketober”), that begs the question: why is this happening?

The Main Theories – the “Why”

While there is no single reason as to what is causing The Great Resignation, one thing is for certain – the effects will impact the state of the workplace and employee expectations for years to come. Currently, there are quite a few ideas on what is causing so many individuals to close down their laptops for good.

Wage Increases are Inconsistent with the Cost of Living

The first theory has been multiple years coming – the increase in demand for high-level employees to work long hours, without the increase in pay to compensate for the rising cost of living. It is theorized that millennials will be the first generation to not out-earn their parents. While salaries are higher, the cost of living is also increasing – but by a lot more. In the 1950s, the median home value in the United States was about $7,400, with a median household income of about $3,000. In 2010, the median household income grew about 16 times that number to around $50,000. However, the median cost of a home doubled its increase compared to its wage counterpart, about 30 times greater at a median cost of $221,000. 

While incomes have increased, the cost of living has risen further and much faster. With employees struggling to keep up, the dream of homeownership and financial stability seems to come at a great price. When the simple dream of having what your parents had seems out of the picture, many millennials and Gen Z workers are choosing to say “Well if I can’t make enough money with a job I don’t like, I might as well make some money with a job I love.” The resulting mass exodus of skilled workers to pursue dreams of art, photography, or starting their own businesses has been a huge component of the current economic climate.

Reverting to a Single Income Household

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, many dual-parent families found themselves struggling to balance two full-time jobs, as well as taking care of children who were out of school. The choice was simple but difficult to make. One parent would stay home and dedicate their time to watching children, while the other continued to work full time. But as schools stayed closed throughout much of the country, single-parent income families began to establish a large “new normal.” Families had already battled through the tough time period at the beginning to get used to their new roles and income. But as jobs opened back up, and some schools offered in-person classes for children, many families have chosen to keep one parent working in the home.

Long-term Negative Effects of COVID-19

Accounting for perhaps a smaller but steady percentage of the recent resignations are folks who have suffered long-term negative side effects or health issues as a result of COVID-19. The outcome of the virus may have left many unable to work, or no longer interested in working. However, the effects are not limited to just those who contracted the virus, but also family and loved ones who are now dedicating their lives to taking care of those individuals. Many individuals who were already close to retirement age chose to shut down their books for good, favoring more quality time with family or taking care of older loved ones who were affected by COVID. 

How to Retain your Employees – the “What’s Next”

It’s important to remember that the most powerful thing you can do during the Great Resignation is to retain the employees who currently work for you. The exact cost of losing an experienced employee and hiring/training an inexperienced newcomer isn’t certain, but economists estimate that it is tens of thousands of dollars. In order to retain top talent, it’s important to keep in mind that you must go above and beyond during this Great Resignation to remind employees that they are better off with you than without. 

Go Beyond Benefits 

If you’re able to offer benefits that go beyond the ordinary, do so. In today’s modern times, it is not only a necessity but a standard. Benefits packages often include exceptional medical, dental, and vision coverage, as well as a 401k matching. To go above and beyond, consider incorporating items like the following:

  • Exceptional mental health coverage (often lacking in many medical benefits programs) can be a game-changer for attracting and keeping millennial and gen z employees. Much light has been shed on the importance of mental health in the past few years, and offering exceptional coverage is a great way to care for your employees and help them to be the best version of themselves.
  • Higher percentage 401k matching is another great option to gain employees and retain them for the long haul. Most mid and large businesses offer about a 3-5% match for employee contribution. To get the upper hand, a 6-10% match is a very competitive number to work towards.
  • With an increasingly large number of companies offering unlimited PTO, skimping on the leave allotted to employees is a sure-fire way to have them looking elsewhere. While unlimited PTO may not be an attainable solution for smaller businesses, increasing PTO and offering additional PTO options for employees who meet safety or productivity goals is a good way to reward the employees who are doing a great job!


Find Balance in your Organization

More and more organizations are offering work from home solutions, the ability to travel while working, and a flexible schedule. The reality is that if you don’t offer your employees balance in the work-life mix, somebody else is waiting in line to do so. Here are some ways you can offer your employees the balance they need:

  • Working from home is no longer an extra perk that you can offer, but rather a standard business practice. Allow your employees who can work from home the opportunity to do so. 
  • The ability to work remote from anywhere is another increasingly common basic business practice, not only valued by the younger generation, but also by more tenured employees looking to take advantage of the opportunity to travel while working to be closer to children and grandchildren. Trust your team to use their time wisely and honestly, working from a hotel or AirBnb at their discretion. 
  • Flex Hours look like they are here to stay and offer many great opportunities for employees who have a life outside of work (which is to say, everyone). A lot of organizations may be client-based, in which a number of employees need to be working during the day. But allowing your workforce to stagger their hours throughout the week or weekend at their discretion can be a great way to retain your employees and offer a competitive advantage for potential applicants. For an organization that needs their workforce to be available for clients at least a few hours during the day, they might require employees to be online and available between 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM, five days a week. The remaining 15 hours of work could then be added into their week at their discretion. Schedules like that offer flexibility to your employees while still maintaining a solid presence for your clients.
  • For more tips on creating a solid work-life balance for yourself and your workforce, check out our blog here. 


While the Great Resignation has us all a little worried about attracting the top talent to our organizations, there are things we can do to make sure we not only offer a competitive advantage for the best of the best but also retain the top performers we currently have. Please feel free to drop a comment below with any trends you’ve noticed during this time, or any of your own tips for retaining your team. 

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