The numbers are staggering. In a survey conducted by, 53% of employers – across several countries including Canada – are experiencing turnover at an all-time high.

Perhaps more concerning is that 36% of survey respondents who’ve quit their jobs in the last six months did so without a new job lined up.

What we’re witnessing is “The Great Resignation,” “The Turnover Tsunami,” “The Big Quit.” Whatever you call it, it’s the movement driven by the massive shift in employee needs and it’s picking up momentum as the pandemic impacts lessen.

Given the magnitude of this employee exodus, HR professionals will need to understand why workers are quitting and what they can do to turn the Great Resignation into the Great Retention. 

Reason #1 for The Great Resignation: Burnout

It’s possible that many people delayed leaving their jobs in 2020 due to the uncertainty of the pandemic and that this sudden upswing in turnovers is as a result of a year’s worth of long overdue resignations.

But it’s also possible workers are quitting because of burnout. Many industries faced extreme increases in demand since the pandemic, especially frontline workers. People are feeling overworked and overloaded as a result. 

That’s compounded with the other traumas that emerged with greater frequency last year like economic shutdowns, social injustices, loneliness and depression. 

To say the effects of the pandemic has taken a deep toll on mental health is an understatement.

The Great Retention Opportunity for HR: Care for Employees

Yes, the rising workload is a cause for concern but it’s far from the only reason employees are leaving. At the end of the day, employees want to feel supported. Walk the talk and ensure your organization actually cares about its employees.

Some examples of what top employers are doing to support employees:

  • Introducing care packages that are delivered to employees’ homes
  • Having open and honest one-on-ones to understand what are the mental health impacts affecting your employees
  • Promoting well-being like encouraging employees to use vacation time
  • Including mental health supports in your Total Rewards packages, maternity leave packages, other workplace policies etc.
  • Mental health newsletters with resources for combatting anxiety and stress
  • Mental health workshops, training and related activities for staff (e.g. virtual yoga classes, meditation sessions)
  • “Mental Escape Days” or “Mental Health Weeks” – a dedicated time employees can take off work and recharge
  • No internal meetings on a specific day of the week

Catch the “Return to the Workplace: Part 1 – Prioritizing Employee Mental Health in Transitioning Back to the Workplace” webinar on October 26th for more on this topic. Click here to register.

Reason #2 for The Great Resignation: Poor Culture

It’s almost cliché to say that people don’t leave bad jobs, people leave bad bosses. But, for many people who’ve recently quit their jobs, that old adage rings true.

Culture matters. Good leadership matters. After all, culture, or the values and beliefs that set “the vibe” of the organization, largely influence how employees experience the workplace and what kind of leaders show up.

When an organization has a positive, transparent and respectful culture, they are more likely to attract and retain engaged employees. But when an organization has a poor work culture, one riddled with gossip, bad managers and inefficiency, employers are likely to have disconnected workers and increased turnover rates.

The Great Retention Opportunity for HR: Transform Culture

Great Place to Work, the global authority on company culture, identified six elements of a positive company culture:

  1. Community, team-building and a sense of belonging
  2. Fairness, which includes fair compensation and recognition, fair Total Rewards packages
  3. Trustworthy, credible and personable management
  4. Innovative organizations
  5. Trust, which includes trusting your employees to work flexible hours or remotely
  6. Mental health supports

HR professionals are the best advocates for their people and can use internal data, exit interviews, regular pulse surveys, workshops and meetings to identify which elements of culture need your attention.

Don’t miss the HRPA 2021 Fall Conference’s (November 16-18) special keynote on “Culture Transformation” hosted by Carolyn Byer, Head of HR at Microsoft Canada, and Naomi Titleman Colla, Co-Founder of future foHRward, to learn more about workplace culture.

Check out our other articles on enhancing workplace culture:

Tackling a Toxic Work Culture
5 Tips for Upgrading Your Attraction and Retention Strategies
4 Tips for Creating a Culture of Appreciation

Reason #3 for The Great Resignation: No Flexibility

Pre-pandemic, many workers were tethered to the office. In fact, before 2020, there were a large number of employers that didn’t think it was possible for employees to successfully work from home. But the last year-and-a-half has shattered these misconceptions. Employers understand that remote work models can help employees thrive.

At the same time, many employees are enjoying the benefits of a remote work environment. Even as businesses are reopening, recent research from Statistics Canada, shows that “90% of employees feel as productive or even more productive than they did in the physical workplace.”

The Great Retention Opportunity for HR: Be Flexible

The remote work model will be one of the most enduring changes of the pandemic. That means HR professionals and employers will need to work together to determine the extent employees can work remotely. Can employees work completely remote? Will there be an ad hoc choice of remote or on-site work at any given time or more fixed hybrid schedules?

HR professionals will also have to expand their definition of a flexible workplace. Meaning it’s no longer just about where employees can work but when employees can work. Can employees set their own time/hours? Can your staff create personalized work schedules that work for them?

Reason #4 for The Great Resignation: Lack of Meaning & Growth 

Today’s employees are questioning the meaning of the daily grind. What’s the point of what I’m doing? Is it all worth it?

In fact, one of the top reasons driven, ambitious and hard-working employees are quitting is because they don’t feel connected to the company. They quit if their careers aren’t infused with meaning and purpose.

If there are little to no opportunities to refine their skills, challenge themselves or move up the ranks, they may search for another company that will allow them to flourish in these ways.

The Great Retention Opportunity for HR: Elevate Your Employees

Nurturing and developing talent can help employees stay at your company longer, attain job satisfaction and perform at their highest-level.

Here are some ways HR can help facilitate employee training and development:

  • Help employees apply for open positions within the company when they express interest
  • Understand your employees’ goals
  • Ditch the “one-size-fits-all” plans. Encourage the use of individualized training plans for employees to meet your employees’ long-term goals and career aspirations
  • Develop your managers into coaches to support employees’ development needs
  • Encourage cross-collaboration between different departments so employees can develop new skills
  • Make training programs and resources widely available in your organization

For more information on employee training and development, check out our hub of e-learning and resources.

Bottomline: The pandemic acted as a reset button for many employees. It was the opportunity for employees to reevaluate their work experience, reflect on what’s working and make the necessary changes to improve what’s not.

But the pandemic has also acted as a reset button for HR professionals.

And those willing to reframe the Great Resignation from a challenge to an opportunity will be able to retain top talent and attract valuable people this year and beyond.