Skip To Main Content

The Great Resignation or The Great Regret?

It’s such a simple but powerful strategy: get in front of your people, one at a time if possible, and ask them how they are doing and what they need to be happier, more productive, and less stressed out.
JUN 28, 2022

In case you hadn’t noticed, employers are treading a delicate watershed moment in talent management. 


On one hand, employers have been trying to navigate the “Great Resignation,” an unprecedented exodus of top talent who have been voluntary resigning their jobs in pursuit of greener pastures. That trend alone has put enormous stress on the people who have been left behind, many of whom have been asked to do more work with less support as their organizations scramble to fill holes in a tight global talent market.


On the other hand, we have the added pressure of the “Great Regret.” A spate of new polling information in Q1 2022 has clearly established a new trend where many new hires are re-evaluating their decision to jump jobs and are either leaving or thinking about leaving for yet another opportunity. These regrets are particularly high among younger workers.


If all that were not enough, we have an impending global recession to manage. Many economic forecasts suggest that by Q4, a combination of geo-political conflict and uncertainty, along with suffocating inflation, will push the world into an economic slowdown. That has raised the prospect of downsizing or right-sizing that could end up with a new wave of layoffs—the first time in nearly three years that employers have had to consider this strategy.


Put all these macro-forces together, and you have a perfect storm for workforce turmoil. Between burned-out stalwarts holding down the fort, to new hires that are gripped by regret about leaving their last jobs, this is already an incredibly stressful moment in time for any employer.


Good news can be found among the bad


I’m a firm believer there is always a ray of good news in every dark stormfront. In this instance, business organizations will benefit from the fact that HR professionals have strategies to minimize the impact of this perfect storm. All it takes is a senior leadership team that is ready to put those strategies into action. 


Talk to your people. It’s such a simple but powerful strategy: get in front of your people, one at a time if possible, and ask them how they are doing and what they need to be happier, more productive, and less stressed out. Prior to the current and impending perfect storm, HR professionals were already preaching the benefits of “meaningful conversations” with employees to check several boxes: mental and physical wellness; career pathing and development; engagement and retention.


On those last two points, HR professionals can attest to the enduring power of the “stay conversation,” where a manager has an opportunity to gauge an employee’s risk of voluntary separation. The hard truth is that far too many employers do not use this tool to measure potential turnover. And that’s too bad because opinion polls taken during the height of the Great Resignation showed that a solid majority of people who left a good job to take another good job felt their employers “could have done more” to retain them. Don’t let your best people walk because you were reluctant to engage them in a simple conversation.


Pay close attention to pay and benefits. Knowing where your salary and benefits rank among competitors and the global talent market has always been important. However, in the current environment, it’s inexcusable not to know if you’re paying people too little or too much.


The higher salaries and bonuses that have distinguished the Great Resignation have completely upset the compensation apple cart. Now, many employers have workforces where people doing more or less the same job are making significantly different salaries and benefits. Although that imbalance was created by the fierce competition for top talent, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that the compensation playing field is no longer level.


The best employers are being proactive about evaluating their compensation structure, to ensure that they are not only attracting top talent, but keeping what they already have.


Never burn a bridge with a former employee. Departing employees have been told for many years not to do or say anything that burns bridges with their former employers. The same now holds true for employers: don’t write someone off just because they left for a new opportunity. In fact, you might be surprised how many of those former employees might want to return.


One of the features of the Great Regret is that a number of the people who voluntarily resigned are looking for paths back to their own jobs. An LHH-Linkedin pulse poll taken this year showed that while 57 percent of people who voluntarily resigned jobs in the last year are happy in their new roles, 38 percent were either looking for a new job or strongly considering it. More importantly, 5 percent wanted to go back to their old jobs.


That might not seem like much, but if you think about five percent of the people that have voluntarily left your organization in the last couple of years, it starts to add up. Current conditions dictate that employers not only keep an open mind about taking a former employee back, but that they work their alumni networks to identify those who are looking to make a return appearance. These new-age boomerang employees are known quantities, will onboard and integrate with less support, and can help you plug key talent holes quickly.


The only consistent feature of the talent market right now is its inconsistency. Market and economic conditions are changing quickly and profoundly. For HR professionals, those conditions may require you to shift from recruiting skilled talent to managing a downsizing.


With all that turmoil to navigate, it’s increasingly important to lean heavily on best practices for engaging and managing talent. Even during all this volatility, there are best practices that can be a recipe for sustainable success.