How to Prepare for a Post-COVID-19 Resignation Surge

What will be the driving factors behind a post-pandemic resignation surge and how can your organization best prepare for it?

Labor market experts are predicting a workplace resignation boom in the wake of COVID-19, which is likely to be driven by a surging labor market, employee burnout, shifting priorities, and an unwillingness to return to pre-pandemic workplace life.

A recovering labor market will give workers confidence to quit their jobs

In a way, COVID-19 was a retention-booster. This is because the usual “churn” of employees who would have left their jobs under normal economic conditions chose to sit tight during the crisis and subsequent collapse of the labor market.

In other words, there may be a group of employees in every organization who are unhappy in their jobs and waiting patiently for the economy to recover before taking the plunge. That moment may be approaching fast. The U.S. added 706k jobs in June 2021 with a projected unemployment rate dropping to 5.6%, down from historic high of over 14% last year.

Employee burnout

The past year has been stressful, to say the least, with many employees having to contend with dramatic changes in their working lives. The shift to remote working, for example, left much of the workforce with no choice but to provide homeschooling or childcare alongside their full-time jobs. Working from home also blurred the line between people’s working and personal lives. Employees are more likely to start work early, finish late, and respond to emails out of office hours. 

Fears of being laid-off, the pressure to adapt to changing business priorities or take on additional responsibilities, longer hours, financial instability, and concerns over the health of loved ones all have the potential to contribute to employee burnout.

A survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that 75% of workers have experienced burnout with 40% saying this is a direct result of COVID-19.

It’s only now, as the dust begins to settle, that people have found time to reflect on the past year and acknowledge the toll it has taken on their mental health.

Shifting priorities

The pandemic has been a stark reminder of just how unpredictable and unfair the world can be, and so it’s no surprise that people are choosing to take stock of their lives, both professionally and personally.

For some, this will mean escaping a dead-end job and heading back to full-time education to re-skill or retrain, while others will be inspired to pursue new challenges, better compensation packages, or simply a change of scenery.

A newfound commitment to embracing the most important things in life will also drive people to leave the workforce for good. Despite the challenges associated with homeschooling and childcare, many parents have treasured the increased family time that the pandemic permitted. Younger employees with no dependants or commitments might seize the opportunity to travel or relocate.

Millennials and people with children are, in fact, the most likely to resign, with one-third of people from these groups expected to leave their current roles once the pandemic subsides. 

Reluctance to return to “normal” office life

Employees have enjoyed unprecedented flexibility in the past 18 months, and some will be wary of losing these freedoms as their workplaces return to normal. Remote working has enabled people to manage their own schedules, save time and money on their daily commute, and spend more time caring for their families. For many, a return to pre-pandemic office life is an unattractive prospect.

This is particularly true for working women, on whom the responsibility for raising children so often falls. The Washington Post reported that more than two million women had left the labor force as of October 2020, which leaves the lowest percentage of American working women since 1988.

Three ways to prepare for the post-COVID resignation boom

1. Retention

You’ll struggle to hold onto your top talent post-pandemic without a solid plan of action. 

What can you do to support those struggling with their mental health and wellbeing? Just 21% of employees responding to the FlexJobs and Mental Health America survey said they were able to have open and productive conversations about burnout with their HR departments, while 56% said their employer did not encourage conversations of this kind. After a period of such turmoil, it’s important that your workforce feels appreciated, valued, and supported.

In a similar vein, you’ll need to consider how to best connect your workforce and boost your company culture. This has been a lonely and isolating period for many, and so a bit of workplace camaraderie and fun (even it is through a computer screen) can go a long way to boosting employee happiness and satisfaction.

Transparent two-way communication is also extremely important. Employees will be keen to understand what you have planned for the return to “normal” working life, particularly with regards to flexible working. They’ll also value the opportunity to share their opinions and expectations. Do they want increased support for mental health, additional holidays, the option to work remotely, career progression, or training opportunities? Whatever their priorities, make sure you commit to engaging with your workforce and listening to their ideas.

2. Attraction

The silver lining to the looming resignation boom is that the job market will see an influx of talented candidates on the hunt for exciting new opportunities. Play your cards right, and you’ll have the luxury of being highly selective about your new hires.

If prospective candidates left their previous roles due to boredom, lack of career progression, burnout, or frustration at the lack of flexibility, how will you communicate the many benefits of working for your organization?

What employee perks do you offer, how are you supporting your workforce during this challenging time, have you implemented appropriate diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, do you have ambitious sustainability goals, and (despite the disruption in recent months) is there potential within your organization for career progression? Candidates will also want to know how your organization has been impacted by the pandemic, what are your long-term recovery strategies, and if there any plans to restructure or downsize their department.

To attract talent, make sure you’ve refreshed the careers page on your website and are regularly updating and posting on your social media channels. It might be worth thinking about re-training your talent acquisition team to ensure they are relaying accurate, up-to-date information about the company’s current status to prospective candidates. You could host a virtual career fair to give people an insight into life at your organization or host a Q&A session with existing employees or members of your leadership team.

3. Recruitment and onboarding processes

Now would be the right time to evaluate and refresh your existing recruitment and onboarding processes, leveraging the many technologies at your disposal that are designed to drive efficiency.

COVID-19 has paved the way for significantly more streamlined virtual recruitment processes including video interviewing. This makes it easier to schedule interviews (because candidates aren’t required to travel), reduces logistical stress, and drives hiring consistency. Virtual interviews are also typically more focussed and efficient, with interviewers adhering to pre-scripted questions.

Meanwhile, automation and AI can be used to screen applications, create candidate shortlists, conduct assessments, and communicate with applicants throughout the recruitment process.