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Change has been one of the few reliable constants during the pandemic. The global workforce is an example of how industries of all kinds are being forced to evolve. We’re on the brink of an overhaul as serious as 2020’s sudden shift to remote work.

There is a mounting move towards hybrid work, a flexible model where some people are returning to onsite workplaces, others are sticking with remote work, and some are doing a mix of both. Above all, many are prioritizing health and happiness over being thankful they have a job at all.

While remote work has created new opportunities and improved work-life balance for some, teams have also become more siloed. Digital exhaustion is a threat worth taking seriously. Meanwhile, old news alert: whether remote or onsite, turns out many employers are over-demanding and dangerously out of touch with their teams.

But if Microsoft’s recent 2021 Work Trend Index is any indication, employers’ wishes are beside the point these days. Come what may, the talent landscape has shifted in fundamental and irreversible ways, and flexible work arrangements are here to stay.

What’s the moral of the story? If you want to make it through this ongoing transition intact, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work—and human work—is crucial to attracting and retaining diverse talent.

What is The Great Resignation?

four million people quit their jobs in April alone, including 650,000 retail workers. This mass event kickstarted what’s now commonly referred to as “The Great Resignation.” Although the focus has often been on white-collar jobs, this mass departure is happening at all levels. It has also taken a special hold of low-wage yet ‘essential‘ jobs in hospitality and retail.

Microsoft’s research shows that 37% of the global workforce currently feel their companies are asking too much of them. And over 40% are considering leaving their current employers this year. And before you get overly focused on pay, know that money actually has little to do with it.

Some employees are realizing how much time they spend commuting. They want to keep working remotely so they can spend more time with their families. Others have reached peak digital burnout and are vying for more human connection. Still, others have reached a point where they’re no longer willing to put up with less than respectful treatment at their jobs, to put it lightly.

One way or another, all these roads lead to an unshakeable desire for change. And employees are finally taking to the road.

How employers drove workers to quit

The reasons employees are quitting en masse vary about as much as people’s opinions of these reasons. Some people like to place blame on millennials and Gen Z for wanting “instant gratification.” Some like to pass judgement on those who wish to continue benefiting from pandemic relief programs which pay them better than their jobs ever did.

But there’s a lot more to this than the idea that people are lazy or over-entitled. It’s important to break it down just a bit further and look at the specific role employers have played in all this. Because really, all the pandemic did was shift an existing sentiment into overdrive.

Whether it’s a reduction in benefits, a deteriorating work-life balance, or a toxic workplace culture, the reasons behind the employee exodus can be boiled down to how employers have (or haven’t) treated their people during the pandemic.

Many essential frontline workers saw the same low wages as usual, but with longer hours, understaffing, negligible safety measures, and no paid sick leave. That’s a recipe for rapid burnout. Employees who were already thinking about quitting pre-pandemic were easily pushed over the edge.

Unsurprisingly, many companies that already had a toxic work culture kept right on making unsupportive choices like laying people off, and companies that already had a positive work culture have generally continued to treat employees well. Throughout all this, employees have stayed with companies that offered meaningful support while running like hell from those that didn’t. Can you blame them?

Then there’s the fact that many companies are telling employees to come back to the office this fall. This, in spite of the fact that as many as 1 in 3 employees’ productivity is out of touch.

As employees demand more flexible work arrangements, 62.8% of HR leaders who actually heed these demands find that hybrid work optimizes employee performance. Forcing people to go back sends the message that you care more about “how it’s always been done” than about what works best, both for your employees and for business.

Although people have always cared about the quality of their workplaces, the pandemic made them want to be more proactive in their careers. The life-and-death nature of the pandemic brought our most human fears to the forefront. You know, those concerned with our health, our kids’ health, and our ability to cover our basic needs financially.

When we’re worried about the quality of our humanity, guess what? We’re less likely to be hyper-productive. Employees expected their employers to take a supportive, human approach and address their concerns in whatever ways they could. Companies that didn’t respond appropriately have had to watch as many of their employees leave for jobs where they’re valued as human beings rather than just workers.

What’s next?

As the pandemic loses intensity in the western world, people nonetheless continue to expect more from their workplaces.

In spite of the fact that Covid put millions out of their jobs, businesses are struggling to fill open positions. Although many retailers are offering incentives in the form of higher wages and hiring bonuses, 94% are still having difficulty finding willing workers.

The crux of the matter is that while financial incentives are a good start, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Many employees in retail and hospitality are departing for positions with better benefits, opportunities for promotion, and, you know, human compassion. And many will favor these elements, even over higher pay.

To add to the punch, with so many employers trying to fill positions, the power of choice really has shifted to employees. Companies that have had success in the past based on their past reputation or because their employees have no better option are receiving a rude awakening. To succeed in today’s job market, it’s necessary to offer truly meaningful incentives.

To add to all this, HR hires have recently exploded. This makes sense, since so many employers need help finding and retaining talent. But the approach to finding talent is changing. Employers willing to take a more relaxed and creative approach to talent development are finding top talent in unexpected places.

Many are hiring people from non-traditional backgrounds who they would previously have dismissed based on their official qualifications. Many are also beginning to hire remote talent based in other parts of the world. Both new approaches are proving to be a great source of fresh talent.

At the same time, ‘employee retention’ is losing its stronghold as the ultimate goal. Many younger employees average about 2 years with their companies, preferring to switch jobs as a way of gaining new experiences and growing their careers.

That said, if you can offer quality training and compelling opportunities for advancement, they might just hang around longer than expected.

Bottom line

Investing in higher wages, more meaningful opportunities, and authentic wellbeing isn’t just the right thing to do anymore. It also happens to be the best way forward for your business!

If you’re looking to add some structure to the chaos, PurelyHR can help. Its powerful modular software is here to support your everyday HR needs.

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Written by The Sherweb Team Collaborators @ Sherweb