The Great Resignation: Fact or fiction

image showing staff member packing their desk contents into a box

The buzzword on all HR platforms in the last 12 months, other than Covid, is “the great resignation.”

Whilst the stories are startling, the reasons driving the statistics paint a different picture of why recruiting and retaining staff post-pandemic has become more challenging.

It’s obvious the pandemic suppressed regular job movements that would’ve happened in normal times. Since the unwinding of restrictions, there has been a bounce-back in employees looking to move but is that enough to explain the great resignation.

Furlough: An excellent reason to stay where you are

The unique nature of the pandemic meant that the number of jobs advertised fell by 67% compared to the period in 2019. In addition to fewer vacancies, the number of redundancies rose by 77% from March to October 2020. Furlough probably meant this rise was reduced however it also provided another disincentive to change jobs.

Understandable when changing jobs mid pandemic meant you would be ineligible for furlough payments if other lockdowns were announced.

Lower paid employees are resigning for better jobs

The great resignation has led to the idea that staff are leaving their current job for similar roles. That isn’t necessarily true. Staff in low paid industries, like catering, are often going to a different sector of the economy for better pay and conditions.

In catering, there was a recruitment crisis before the start of the pandemic because of European employees returning home after the UK formally left the EU on 31st January 2020. Whether this trend was accelerated because of Covid we will never know, however, what is true is that most of these workers haven’t returned. This is the main factor that has led to recruitment challenges in the catering industry.

This pattern has been repeated in most sectors where low paid and fluctuating working conditions prevail.

Employees aren’t looking for new jobs

During the pandemic, there was a massive drop in people looking for new vacancies from 5.5% of all UK employees to 4.6% of all UK employees, about a quarter of a million people. Since September 2021 there has been a sharp increase in workers looking for new jobs. However, employees looking for a new role haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels and is still under 5%.

This is in contrast to the number of roles that were advertised in December 2021 which was the highest in four years, 40% higher than in February 2020.

Higher rates of early retirement have led to greater vacancies

The first lockdown allowed time for many people to re-evaluate their priorities. For those coming up to retirement age, the transition from working life to retirement came sooner than in more stable economic times.

As a counterpoint, the number of younger people entering higher education hit record numbers. With the combination of a reduction in younger employees available and an increase in early retirements, the vacancy boards will have fewer employees available for the roles.

Great Resignation Conclusion

The term “great resignation” is probably a misnomer. However, there’s no doubt that it is the toughest recruitment environment in a number of years. The recruitment crisis has been caused by increased vacancies and fewer available employees.

The reality is there has been less job movement since lockdowns ended however the laws of supply and demand have changed the job market. Organisations that want to attract the best talent now have to offer a package that stands out to potential employees.

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