Home > Talent Insights Blog > The Great Resignation Wave: Now What Do We Do?

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Much is being made about the wave of employee resignations. Many have opined about its cause. Should all employers be worried?

It depends.  

Prior to the wave, most research on employee engagement and “intention to leave” indicated that about 40% of existing employees were thinking about leaving their employment for various reasons, mostly due to bad bosses but for a range of assorted reasons to include not being able to take their pets to work. Remember reading those stories? In changing times those stories seem to be more mainstream today.

In the practical world, most who fill out surveys and say they intend to leave do not leave. Why? It can be too much trouble or perhaps there are few attractive new opportunities. 

So, one group of people with the intention to leave are the “don’t likers.” Don’t like my boss. Don’t like my coworkers. Don’t like my workspace. Don’t like my department. Don’t like being controlled by others. Don’t like the company. Don’t like the policies. Don’t like the products and services the organization offers. Don’t feel like I fit in. Too much overtime. Too much work at home on weekends. Too much stress. Or, very common today, don’t want to have to come into an office. Worse yet (for employers), perhaps they just don’t like to work.

Are these likely to be your best employees? Top 10-percenters? Key contributors with great futures? It’s unlikely.

Why are they leaving now? The labor markets are in flux. There are millions of open jobs. Organizations are willing to allow people to work from home. Other organizations are paying more per pound of talent than before the pandemic. The don’t likers can now find what they believe is a greener pasture.

Are these the kind of people you really want to keep and develop for the future? Perhaps not this group. Let’s explore. 

In the short term, if you need 25 salespeople to cover a region or 25 staff to load trucks or to manage a data center and you have 19, that’s a problem. You will have to look harder, pay more, give in to considerations and make concessions to some policies and practices.

A Completely Different Group of “Intend to Leave” Employees

There is another cohort of employees who say they intend to leave. When asked, they say they don’t think the top management of the company is charting the right course, isn’t targeting the right market segments and/or didn’t respond agilely to the pandemic. These employees say they do not have a clear picture of their future at this organization. They report that developmental opportunities are lacking and that top management isn’t invested in developing people for the future. 

Do they leave? Yes. Why? Because they usually have more options than the “don’t likers”.  

Is this second group of employees likely to contain your best employees? Top 25 percenters? Key contributors? Great futures? Most often, yes. Are these the kind of people you really want to keep and develop for the future? Again, yes.

This group is Strategically Skeptical and they come in a few flavors.  

Flavor One: they are the earlier-in-career High Potentials who later will be in key positions at the top—hopefully at your place. They are more loyal to getting great things done than they are to any specific organization. They crave challenge and development. They will relocate or move within an organization’s structure to have developmental opportunities to get to the top. They represent about 5% of employees in most larger organizations.

Flavor Two: they are the Master Performers. They know how to “do stuff” better than others. They are key contributors, managers, and executives. They do great things, consistently and reliably. They are at or on their way to the top in their respective fields–operations, logistics, legal, finance, IT, or manufacturing. They love what they do. They intend to retire doing the same or similar work. They learn and grow with the times but stay in their lane.  Most larger companies have about 15% of these in their population. Organizations cannot flourish without these professionals.

Flavor Three: they are the Customer Relationship Specialists. They are good at interacting with various stakeholders like customers, investors, vendors, suppliers, regulators, the community, and the media. Most stakeholders know the organization through these customer contact specialists. Much repeat business comes from the work of these employees. Low conflict relationships and those founded on trust are due to the work of these people. When they leave, the organization and its brand suffers.

Should we worry about the resignation wave?  It depends.

Evaluating Your Turnover

Who is leaving?  (Fill in as you think about your organization.)

No A Few Some Mostly
Don’t Likers
High Potentials
Master Performers
Customer Relationship Specialists
  If it is the Don’t Likers, then you will need to:
  1. pay more, 
  2. make some policy changes,
  3. allow more remote work, and 
  4. make some practice concessions (“of course your dog can come to work!”). 
If it is the High Potentials, then you need to:
  1. have palpable development programs in place, supported by top management,
  2. listen more to this cohort,
  3. get them involved in strategic discussions and planning, and
  4. give them targeted and challenging assignments.

Loss from his cohort is serious business. They are hard to replace. These employees drive your future talent and business ROI, and they ultimately fill your (or someone else’s) executive suite.

If it is the Master Performers, then you need to:
  1. make sure they are publicly and loudly recognized for their great work,
  2. make sure they are paid well compared to equivalent positions in other organizations,
  3. ask for their viewpoints on important decisions impacting their areas, and
  4. put other early-in-career high potentials under them for wisdom development.

An organization will rarely perform well without these key players in place. 

If it is the Customer Relations Specialists, then you need to:
  1. make sure they are publicly and loudly recognized for their great work,
  2. make sure they are paid fairly compared to equivalent positions in other organizations,
  3. ask for their viewpoints on important decisions impacting customers they service, and
  4. make their workspaces comfortable and professionally effective.

An organization’s reputation depends upon this cohort.

Should we worry? It depends upon who’s leaving.

Talent Planning Actions

What should we do?

Don’t Likers, Whiners, & Complainers Wish them well. Replace with a likelihood you’ll end up with better employees.
High Potentials Fight for and invest to retain
Master Performers Assure them of their value
Customer Relations Specialists Assure them of their value

This Great Resignation Wave seems stronger because of the pressures of these times.    This too will pass.

Bob Eichinger and Roger Pearman are talent planning and management experts and the Co-Founders of TalentTelligent, LLC, a talent management consultancy and publisher of level-specific, physical and digital tools and development resources for use across any organization’s full talent lifecycle. Combined they have published more than 100 books, articles, research studies, assessment and development products and apps over distinguished careers that include serving 100s of the world’s most recognized and respected organizations. www.talenttelligent.com