The great resignation: Finding opportunity in the challenge

Over the last several months there have been countless help wanted signs and staff shortages in every sector… As a small business owner, it's crucial to learn why so many employees are resigning and what factors contribute to retaining good talent.

Over the last several months there have been countless help wanted signs and staff shortages in every sector… As a small business owner, it’s crucial to learn why so many employees are resigning and what factors contribute to retaining good talent.

By Erin Longmoon

Recently, a friend shared an article with me entitled, Americans Quit Their Jobs at a Record Rate in August. Shortly after, a headline from a New York Times email news update landed in my inbox with a subject that read, The Big Quit. Scrolling through social media, I find a Buzzfeed article detailing 15 Horrendous Bosses Who Definitely Played a Factor in ‘The Great Resignation.’

Even if you aren’t a news junkie, you would have to be living under a rock not to know about the challenges facing the current labor market—help wanted signs are everywhere, workers are burning out from skeleton crews, and businesses must alter their operations to accommodate a lack of staff.

Facing seemingly insurmountable difficulties, employees and employers are both pointing fingers at the other side. And the truth is, the Great Resignation and circumstances surrounding it are hard for everyone. Small businesses are especially struggling to operate, and they aren’t able to offer incentives like higher pay or enhanced benefits. I worry for small business employers who are not paying low wages just to line their own pockets but instead fear that raising prices to cover increased wages will drive their customers away. Workers are struggling to adjust to their “new normal” since the COVID-19 pandemic and aren’t feeling supported by their professions. 

At Zephyr Recruiting, we see all of their struggles every day. And while it pains me that our clients and candidates are suffering, I am more-or-less happy about this Great Resignation, seeing it as a prime opportunity to shift work culture in the United States to one that benefits everyone.

What’s going on?

According to the U.S Department of Labor, 4.3 million people left their jobs in August, nearly 3% of the labor force. In the same month, businesses had over 10 million job openings. This disparity has left many speculating on a variety of causes.

It is undeniable that the global pandemic is a factor, and it’s easy to blame the increased availability of federal unemployment benefits for labor market woes. But with that program ending, jobless claims have fallen to an all-time low since the beginning of the pandemic, hovering at 3.3 million as of the middle of October. As people are leaving their jobs, the simple answer is not that they are choosing unemployment benefits over working.

It is telling to look at the industries that are struggling the most. Over 890,000 people left jobs in restaurants, bars, and hotels, while 721,000 left retail positions. These are public-facing jobs, and workers may fear for their health and safety returning to work. These industries also experienced layoffs and furloughs during the beginning of the pandemic as many businesses were mandated to close. It is possible workers used that time off to go back to school or train to work in different industries. 

Working with employers and employees every day, as well as my own work experience, I see it as something much deeper. We are on the precipice of a revolution. I used to work in the hospitality industry, and it is riddled with toxicity—low pay, long hours, no benefits, and poor leadership—especially for women and people of color. I see workers who are worn out and looking for environments where they feel fulfilled and valued. And unlike some other potential factors, I don’t think this one is going to blow over without a major culture shift.

What’s the solution?

At Zephyr Recruiting, we spend a lot of time talking about toxic workplace culture, and we aren’t the only ones. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report for 2021 showed a 2% decrease in workplace engagement while stress levels increased from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2020, a record high. 

>> RELATED: How good company culture attracts and retains good talent

And even more troubling, a staggering 59% of U.S. employees believe businesses in our country are corrupt. No wonder workers have trouble connecting to their jobs! Good pay and benefits are wonderful, and certainly contribute to job satisfaction, but people want more. They want to love their job, work in a positive environment that fosters growth, and feel like they are contributing to a greater purpose. They are investing much of their lives in their employers, and they want to feel like their employer is investing back in them. The current climate has created a space for them not to settle for less. 

The power games in many industries are insidious and must change. What is needed is a fundamental shift in culture and mindset—a shift that allows employees to feel supported, acknowledged, and valued and for employers to get the best out of their team and ultimately be successful.

We know this shift is no small task, but it is an endeavor worth taking on and we are excited to be a part of it. At Zephyr Recruiting, our model helps to eliminate the stress that comes with hiring and retaining. To learn how you can improve employee culture and engagement at your business, feel free to reach out here.

Erin Longmoon is the CEO of Zephyr Connects, which she founded in response to her clients’ needs for help in with building effective and successful teams. Zephyr Connects serves the small business community—the mom-and-pop places that are the backbones of our communities and our economy.


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