The Great Resignation – we need a refocus on employee retention

Have you heard of ‘The Great Resignation’? It’s a term dubbed in the US where COVID-19 has led millions of people, from frontline workers to CEOs, to quit their jobs. People are looking for new opportunities, and we will most likely see a mass exodus akin to the one in the US in other parts of the world in the coming months. Brace yourself for a substantial shift in your workforce!

Data shows that resignations in the US are at an all-time high. In the period from April to June alone, 11.5 million workers quit their jobs and research shows that 48% of employees are actively looking to make a change. This is a significant and sharp movement of talent, and the trend is likely to be felt in Australia in the first quarter of 2022.

I am working with a senior HR leader (let’s call her Trish) in the IT industry here in Australia, and the topic ‘The Big Resignation’ came up in a conversation last week. The organisation has teams all around the world and the US business has experienced a significant increase in resignations recently, especially in middle management. Trish asked me: ‘We are not seeing an influx in people quitting in Australia right now, but I know that many of our employees are exhausted from extended lockdowns and increasing workloads. We want to avoid a high number of resignations. What can we do right now?’

Why is the Big Resignation happening?

There are many reasons why people leave their jobs, but according to research, 57% of employees leave because of their manager or management. Gallup calls it the ‘The Great Discontent’.

I talk to hundreds of leaders all around the world. Most of them are saying that their workload and pressure are constantly increasing and there is no end in sight. I also hear about a lack of adaption to new work structures with a promise for increased flexibility but no action and a lack of leadership and follow through to make these models work. Others mention that they feel isolated working from home with no chance to connect with stakeholders to seek internal growth opportunities. So, they quit and accept one of many new jobs that offered are from the outside.

People are downsizing their careers

Many people are also considering their life choices and have realised that they want to spend more time with their family and are seeking part-time roles or job-shares. I spoke with an old friend in Germany the other day who is now on a 4-day working week and is even considering 3.5 days. Salary has become less important in recent months. People are downsizing their careers, and as employers we have to tune into this notion to consider flexible solutions. Often employees quit their jobs without having explored opportunities in their current organisations.

‘The Great Side Hustle’?

The rise of the part-time entrepreneur is here. Many people are considering ‘making their hobby a business’ and run it while working their corporate job. When I first started my coaching practice Intact Teams in 2013, it was very much a side business. I was always open with my manager about it, and she was in full support – as long as I was performing in my sales role and hit targets there was no issue. This support and trust didn’t make me work less in my fulltime role; it encouraged me to work harder and demonstrate that I could perform while growing the practice.

‘People are calling it ‘The Great Resignation’. It’s not an industry, role or pay issue. It’s a workplace issue.’ – Gallup

Focus on your employees and refocus on retention

Advice to leaders is to focus on employees before the Big Resignation happens. According to Gartner, we are most likely to see changes in attrition in Australia in March 2022. Despite a positive economic outlook, employees might be disappointed about lower bonuses than they hoped for or being overlooked for opportunities within the organisation. Or they are burnt out and feel a lack of support.

There has never been a better time to focus on retention.

I helped Trish to come up with some strategies to tackle retention. They are mainly focused on engagement across the organisation, and start with investing in senior and middle management. Gallup research found that employee engagement reduces turnover by 36 percentage points in high-turnover roles. We are running a series of leadership development programs with Trish’s team before the end of the year to equip leaders with skills to engage their people. Trish’s organisation is investing in developing key leaders now to show them they are valued and supported as well as giving them the tools they need to create workplace cultures where employees are happy AND productive.

Employee retention strategies demand people management skills. And leaders need help right now to find the balance of setting expectations and asking for accountability with creating cultures of resilience and wellbeing. Leaders need to take a more individual approach to have meaningful conversations and focus on what their team members need to feel safe and stay motivated at the same time.

Here are some other employee retention strategies:


01 Lead with Emotional Intelligence

Teach your leaders to lead with empathy, ask open questions and develop and apply listening skills. Leaders should ask ‘What do you need right now? How can I support you?’ Emotional Intelligence is the very first session we are facilitating in the program for Trish’s team.

02 Coach as a Leader

Make sure all your people leaders apply coaching approaches. Too often, team leaders focus all their energy on underperformers, and they neglect high performers. Coaching your ‘superstars’ keeps them engaged and retaining them will pay our highest return. Coaching skills are part of session 2 in our leadership program with Trish.

03 Give employees autonomy

Focus on outputs rather than tasks. This is increasingly important in hybrid and remote teams. Leaders build a foundation for autonomy among employees by creating a team-level direction, mission and objectives. Then build a support system around the foundation.

04 Offer flexibility, have the conversation

Most organisations are rethinking their workplace structures to offer greater flexibility across the board, but it’s up to the team leaders to make it work for their teams and individuals. Lynda Gratton published a practical Work Arrangement model that helps leaders to look at critical drivers of productivity. Check out my earlier blog where explain the model.

05 Reward and recognition

In times where employees might feel they are not receiving the pay increase or bonus they deserve, employee engagement becomes more important than ever. Have meaningful reward and recognition programs in place to support your leaders in their quest to show people that they are valued.

06 Communication is key

This is not new; transparency and consistent communication on all levels of the organisation will keep employees informed and engaged. I see too many leaders who miss cascading crucial information to their teams and have conversations about how organisational changes impact individuals and stakeholders. It’s the team leader’s responsibility to translate talk into action.

07 Take a data-driven approach

If you already experience a higher number of resignations, Ian Cook offers up these strategies for retention in his recent HBR article:

  • Quantify the problem
  • Identify the root causes
  • Develop tailored retention programs

People are changing how they view work and what a quality job feels like. And many are willing to look for alternatives in a quest to find one. Avoiding The Great Resignation means investing in the people who already work for you, and it’s upon your managers and team leaders to care for them, inspire them and support them. It’s about the human-to-human relationship to fix the Great Discontent.

Do you want to chat about how you can refocus on employee retention? Email me on to chat about how we can work together.

Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

If you would like to find out more about Jessica and Intact Teams:

  1. Subscribe to our newsletter to get Jessica’s insightful, practical leadership and self-improvement tips straight to your inbox every week.
  2. Pre-order Jessica’s book, Lead the Future, the 12 skills to lead in a fast changing, ambiguous world.
  3. Get our online program, Lead the Future, and learn the leadership skills you need to lead in a fast changing, ambiguous world.
  4. Contact Jessica to find out more about her tailored leadership programs.
Jessica Schubert