Even When the ‘Great Resignation' Wanes, the Workplace Changes It Spurred Won't, Says Psychologist Who Predicted the Trend

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The latest data shows the so-called "Great Resignation" is still going strong.

More than 4.27 million Americans walked away from their jobs in May, slightly down from the 4.4 million who quit in April and the record 4.5 million who did so in November.

Yet even as the trend slows and concerns about a potential recession grow, the changes the Great Resignation brought about will stay ingrained in workplace culture, according to the organizational psychologist who coined the term.

"At the core of these changes is increased flexibility," said Anthony Klotz, a management professor at London's UCL School of Management. He predicted in May 2021 that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to pent-up resignations.

"In ways big and small, companies are giving workers more flexibility in their schedules and in how they do their work, so that employees can better balance their personal and professional lives, and can be more engaged in both domains," he added.

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Companies have also made adjustments in pay and benefits, and are addressing employee wellness, including mental and financial health.

The 'future of work' brought into the present

The changes may not have occurred for another 30 years if not for the crisis, Klotz explained.

"The pandemic brought the future of work into the present of work," he said.

"Because these work arrangements give us more flexibility and control over our lives, and more autonomy and freedom in how we structure our lives, I don't think most people are willing to go back to a traditional work environment," Klotz added.

To be sure, flexibility and wellness are key for workers these days. Some 63% of job seekers called work-life balance a top priority when picking a new job, according to LinkedIn's 2022 Global Talent Trends report.

Compensation and workplace culture also matter. Low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected were the top reasons why U.S. workers said "I quit" in 2021, according to a survey from Pew Research Center.

Those who walked away and are now employed elsewhere are more likely to have better pay, improved work-life balance and flexibility and more opportunities for advancement at their new job, the survey found.

Some people opted to retire instead of looking for new work, while others became their own bosses and started businesses. There was a surge in new business formation last year, with applications hitting 5.4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

'Resignations will slow'

It's inevitable that the quit rates will slow down. An economic downturn can cause a shift in the labor market., and more workers may opt to stick with their employers in the face of uncertainty.

However, the Great Resignation trend itself will also have an effect on the quits rate.

"Perhaps as impactful [if not more so], in terms of reducing the attrition we've seen over the past 15 months, will be the changes that many companies have made to the way that their employees work," Klotz said.

In other words, happy workers will stay put.

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