Over the past year, we’ve watched with more than a little whiplash as LinkedIn profiles have swung from “Open to Work!” to “I’m Hiring!” in the blink of an eye.

A steady supply of talented workers has always been the backbone of business, but the pandemic has disrupted this dynamic in a manner that none of us could have anticipated.

Entire sectors – especially in the service industries – have been destabilized due to mass resignations. And long-time employees are questioning their commitment to their employers. At Namely, we examined 122,000 termination events across our clients and discovered some startling findings.

First, let’s look at some of the reasons why workers have voluntarily resigned. According to the researchers at the Leesman Index, “The grand home-working experiment has been more successful than most people thought: the average home has been found to provide a better workplace experience than the average office.”

Employers expected employees to come back to the office post-pandemic. Instead, having experienced better work/life balance, many employees started questioning why they were spending hours commuting each day when their productivity soared while working from home. Added were the ongoing concerns about health, Covid-19 variants, schooling and childcare, creating a perfect storm in which employees are willing to trade the social environment of an office for benefits across other aspects of their lives.

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That’s all very nice for so-called “knowledge workers” who can work anywhere; however, not every role lends itself to a work-from-home model. Nor is that the sole reason that employees leave their employers; it’s not that one-dimensional.

According to Namely’s research, in 2020, employees voluntarily left their jobs on average 9.6% less than in 2019, which makes perfect sense as the pandemic immobilized much of the world. Yet, in 2021, the rate of voluntary resignations has risen by 20.2% – and we’re not even through the entire year. Since not every role was impacted by the pandemic in the same manner, what’s behind this abrupt rise in voluntary attrition, and how can employers stem its shock?

As we looked further into our research, we saw that service workers were 18% more likely to leave their jobs willingly in 2020 than in 2019, and they continued to leave jobs in 2021 (43.8% more likely than in 2019). The most muted disparity was for sales workers, who demonstrated a voluntary attrition rate of 8.8% below the average increase. How much of this disparity is directly related to service workers’ collaborative work environment requirements versus sales reps as individual contributors? In our estimation, quite a bit – workers are putting safety first and even considering career moves rather returning to risky workplaces.

What will this mean going forward?

It’s difficult to dispute that the great resignation is underway, and the tremor it sends through workplaces is causing concern. Is holding onto the concept of the office as core to work causing this damage? Or are employees so burned out that they are willing to give up tenured roles for new adventures? One thing is for certain: the new workplace mantra of 2021 and beyond is flexibility.

Communicating their post-pandemic options and finding new ways to ensure employees can make the right choices for their circumstances – whether a hybrid workplace, flexible hours or revised benefits better suited to new work and compensation models – business leaders need to take the great resignation seriously and respond before the talent drain damage is done.

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