Earlier this year, job search portal Joblist issued its Q2 2022 US Job Market Report. And the topic of “regret” featured highly. Out of the 15,000 job seekers surveyed, over a quarter (26%) said they regretted leaving their previous job.
Coming so soon after “The Great Resignation,” the results imply a link. And so, the phrase “The Great Regret” was born.
But why are so many of those who joined the mass exodus of the workplace during the pandemic having second thoughts? And what does it mean for HR and employers in general?
We need to take a look.
What is The Great Regret?
The Great Regret is a relatively new term. But one that’s already gained traction. It’s quickly become synonymous with employees who left a job post-COVID but wish they hadn’t.
The stats around the subject provide further insights.
According to Joblist, the biggest source of “remorse resignation” (40% of those questioned) is the difficulty of finding another job. Buoyed by a daring spirit, combined with a lively labor market, many employees resigned during COVID-19 without having a follow-up plan in place. And have found it harder than they thought to find another job.
The surprise here is that, according to the stats, there are plenty of open positions. So why is finding a new job so hard?
Research carried out by job search site Muse suggests that this could be down to the type of roles job seekers are looking for. According to its study of more than 2,500 employees, hospitality workers, who traditionally experience high competition for jobs, are the most likely (31%) to regret quitting their job. Whereas, those in the drastically understaffed healthcare industry (14%) are least likely to regret their move.
Of those who quit and landed a new job, 42% admit the new role hasn’t lived up to expectations, says Joblist. According to Muse, the figure could be even higher. It found that three-quarters (72%) felt “surprise or regret” that their new role was “very different” from what they had imagined.
Other factors linked to “remorse resignation”? Missing ex-colleagues and poor management culture in the new organization are other reasons cited.
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Does this mean we’re done with The Great Resignation?
It’s been given a proper name, so it must be a thing. But how big of a thing is The Great Regret? Has the scale of disappointment experienced by so many, dampened the enthusiasm of all those employees with itchy feet?
The short answer is “no.”
Although the unprecedented level of resignations (47 million in one year) experienced across the US in 2021 has yet to be met in 2022, the numbers have still been relentlessly high.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4 million Americans quit every month for 11 months up to April this year. And the pattern looks set to continue.
Hot on the heels of this report, PwC released the results of its Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey. One of the largest of its kind, the survey revealed that 1 in 5 of the 52,195 respondents plans to leave their job within a year. A survey by TalentLMS and Workable claims the figure’s even higher for IT workers, with a staggering 72% looking to change jobs in the next 12 months.
However you look at it, these figures paint a clear picture. The sentiments that sparked the landmark shift in the labor market during the pandemic are still very much felt by employees today.
At the time, COVID-19 heightened emotions and fueled burnout. It caused many to reevaluate their personal and professional lives. And it also opened the door to a new, more flexible, non-linear way of working.
These were all, initially, knee-jerk reactions to an unplanned emergency situation. But rather than fading away, these knee-jerk reactions have created a mental force that’s taken root, gathered power, and continued to grow.
The expectations and aspirations of employees have changed permanently. True, with a potential global recession looming, plus rising inflation and costs, workers may not resign quite so spontaneously moving forwards. But they will still resign as soon as the timing and conditions are right, particularly if those aspirations and expectations aren’t met. So what does that mean for HR teams and business owners?
How to navigate The Great Resignation and The Great Regret
The Great Resignation and The Great Regret have given employers and HR professionals lots to think about and learn from. And potentially lots to capitalize from. They’re now at a crossroads. To navigate a changing labor landscape and a shift in employee mindset, HR teams need to shift focus, too. But in what direction?
Let’s break it down.
The Great Retention (Or, The Great Resignation: Part II)
On the surface, “The Great Regret” seems to give employers a get-out clause. With so many workers bemoaning their exit, why waste time and efforts on retention tactics? The truth is, focusing on retention is always important because it saves money and secures talent where you need it most—with you! But, as we’ve seen from the stats, the case for retention couldn’t be clearer or more urgent—despite the Great Regret.
The message is: Work harder to keep employees now, or they’ll leave for something better tomorrow.
Gen Zers are key players in this. Making up almost a quarter of the workforce, Gen Zers have permanently itchy feet. In a Prosper Insights & Analytics survey carried out earlier this year, 29% of Gen Z said they planned to start a new job within the next 6 months. They also have quite specific demands from a prospective employer. They want to work for a company with a strong and ethical brand, and values that match their own. They also want good benefits, plus rich L&D and promotional opportunities. And, if you don’t provide them, they won’t hesitate to leave you in search of them elsewhere.
So, how to engage (and retain) employees? It’s true, different groups have slightly different engagement measures. But with Generation Z poised to dominate the workforce, the themes just outlined, plus insights gained from The Great Regret, provide a good general framework.
- Offer a package of care. Offering a more “human-centric” work model meets the criteria for most workers who’ve emerged from the pandemic with a more holistic outlook on life and work. This means offering greater flexibility around working patterns, supporting remote or hybrid options, and putting a realistic cap on working hours. Well-being initiatives and a meaningful package of benefits are other areas to focus on.
- Spend time well. Workplace standards are under the spotlight. To keep hold of good employees means giving them meaningful and impactful work to do, keeping meetings focused and purposeful, and making time for L&D and career progression.
- Ask questions and provide answers. After COVID, most companies made an extra effort, amid the turmoil, to survey their teams, particularly those returning to work. This is another tick in the engagement box. But listening to employees only goes so far. To truly leverage engagement, listening to needs must be followed by action. Or, at least followed by a convincing explanation of why action wasn’t taken or required.
- Bring people together. Research around The Great Regret revealed that 22% of resignees missed the people at their old company. Encouraging and facilitating meaningful interactions with colleagues and managers is a key driver of engagement. With the rise in hybrid and remote working, this takes a little extra effort and careful monitoring. But the tools are there, so there’s no excuse for not making the effort—your retention rates will thank you for it.
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To rehire or not rehire?
With so many experiencing great resignation regret, the question remains: What’s next? Should employers attempt to rehire ex-employees? And should those ex-employees accept? There are pros and cons to both.
From an employer’s point of view, rehiring costs a lot less than recruiting and onboarding a new employee. It’s also quicker because there’s little or no training involved and no long hiring process. The risk is lower and retention rates higher because rehires know exactly what’s on offer and how it works for them. Plus, they’ve explored the alternatives and found them lacking.
On the other hand, rehiring so-called boomerang employees could be missing an opportunity to find someone better or more qualified. A boomerang employee may be the safe bet, but are they the best bet? They may also be out of sync with changes since they left, less keen to adapt, and still susceptible to the frustrations that caused them to leave in the first place.
For ex-employees, the decision to return to a previous employer involves a range of factors. Familiarity, stability, long-standing friendships, and well-established working relationships all have their appeal. But going back to work for a company after resigning can also feel like a backward step. And sometimes comes with a stigma attached to it.
In the end, there’s no definite answer in either case. An employer’s decision to rehire and an employee’s decision to return both revolve around the unique circumstances of each situation. Knowing the wider context helps. But when it comes down to it, the best you can do is consider all of the different factors and take it from there.
Reaching The Great Recognition
Behind all of these buzzwords, there’s a simple truth: The more you value your employees, the more they’ll value you.
Yes, there are strategies you can use to demonstrate this. But it’s this sentiment that gives your engagement and retention strategy a clear purpose and, most importantly, heart. So, show your employees what a great job they’re doing. Chances are they’ll love you for it—and stick around for more.
As for regrets? In the words of Edith Piaf: “Non, je ne regrette rien!”
| Tags: Talent Retention