The great resignation and missing million – what’s culture got to do with it?

The great resignation and missing million – what’s culture got to do with it?

A signpost pointing in different directions, with a sunset background


There has been much talk of ‘The Great Resignation’ 

It certainly seems to have materialised in the United States. Over 47m American workers left their jobs voluntarily in 2021, the highest number ever according to the US’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The UK hasn’t seen such significant shifts as yet. However, recent research by Ipsos suggests that it may still be coming: in the last three months, 47% of British workers have either thought about quitting their job, looked for another job, applied for another job and / or spoken to their employer about resigning.  


What’s causing the Great Resignation? 

The pandemic has clearly thrown a scrutinising spotlight on work, and how, why, where (and in some cases, whether) we do it. The uncertainty has posed an existential challenge for some, encouraging them to re-consider how they want to spend their time and what matters most in their lives. And at the same time, the pandemic has also provided some unexpected opportunities, such as the shift to remote and hybrid working which has expanded (or removed entirely) previous geographic commuting catchment areas for some roles.  

Recent research from the US has identified three other insights about what’s driving people to change their jobs or step back from the labour market there. The insights reveal there are multiple reasons: 

  • Well-being is a key factor, according to survey data; particularly concerns around work life balance (65%) and mental health (46%), 
  • According to analysis of social media conversations, pay, childcare, and discrimination are also driving resignations, 
  • Whilst data from search engines suggests that people expect remote work options and better benefits. 

Impact for organisations 

From our perspective, working with organisations to create cultures where people love to
work and customers love to do business, the impact is already being felt. Some sectors have been experiencing a recruitment and retention crisis for months. This article argues there’s a “missing million” – a gap of 1m people in the UK workforce. It explains the various factors at play, including the significant proportion of people that have withdrawn from the labour market altogether. 

Our clients are confirming the impact is real. A large digital services firm we’re working with are struggling to recruit into key leadership roles, constraining their ability to deliver strategic change at pace and putting more strain on other staff. Our clients in hospitality and those with call centres are finding it difficult to attract and retain people into operational roles. 

What has culture got to do with it? 

Various factors can attract and retain great talent: for example, competitive pay, interesting jobs, supportive and fair managers, and clear strategic direction from leaders. These are all important.  

But we think the single biggest differentiator is organisational culture. Culture is the difference between attracting and retaining great talent at all levels (and therefore best enabling your organisation to achieve its performance goals) – or not. 

It’s not just an HR or workforce management imperative. It’s an organisational imperative. 

Our advice? Take culture seriously.  

  • Make it a Board matter.  
  • Listen to your people: find out what they like and love about the culture at the moment, and what they’d like to be different.  
  • Identify a small number of key processes and behaviours that differentiate your organisation and its intended culture (we call them ‘signature ways of working’) and prioritise embedding them across the business. 
  • Celebrate and promote great cultural practice, wherever it’s found.
  • Develop your leaders and managers to feel confident engaging, coaching and developing their teams in a hybrid world.
  • Promote and cultivate a diverse and inclusive culture.

 If you’re not sure how to get started, or if it feels overwhelming, you don’t need to do it alone. Get in touch to find out how we can help you make your organisational culture a strategic advantage, and a key part of your talent and retention approach. 

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