Why are you surprised with the Great Resignation?

Updated: Jan 26

The last several months have seen a tidal wave of resignations in the U.S. and around the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021. Resignations have remained abnormally high for the past year with a staggering 10.6 million open jobs at the end of November. How can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?


On a recent visit to a supplier, the Operations Manager was complaining about his struggle to hire people. He was surprised given that he’s offering an above-average hourly wage.


I was not.


Really, I was not


This is an organization where they talked about teamwork and treating the staff like family. Yet at the first announcement of Covid, the leader immediately laid off all employees – yes, all of them – without fully assessing the situation. As it turned out, their products and services were in high demand due to Covid, and management quickly begged the departed employees to return.


Staff did return, but only long enough until the next opportunity presented itself. Why?


Pay had not changed. Neither had workload, job location, nor the organization’s leadership. But when the organization reacted by laying off staff at the onset of Covid they also terminated any emotional attachment between the employees and the organization. The employees no longer felt committed to the organization's success and, in essence, became free agents.

In a different sector, at a restaurant, we witnessed a team that was totally engaged, enthusiastic, and having fun. What was the difference? This business, too, was affected by Covid. But when the restaurant had to close due to lockdowns, the owner gathered the team and assured them that they were all in this together. He asked what they could do as a team to survive. The team came up with the idea to temporarily convert the restaurant to a general store. They sold products from other local businesses. They reorganized their work hours. They survived. In fact, not only did they survive, they thrived. Today they have a bigger customer base and a happy team.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about teams that are especially relevant during this pandemic:


Never, ever scrimp on training

Make sure that your team is the best trained workforce it can be. You want your employees to be the envy of other organizations.


Keep in touch Even when people leave your organization, stay connected and show you care. You never know when you might cross paths again.


Stay committed Even if you have to temporarily innovate, you need to show commitment to your team. After World War II, Toyota pivoted from making weaving looms to automobiles. They did it again after the tsunami in 2011, when their supply chain was severely disrupted. In both instances Toyota did not lay anyone off.

If you are experiencing a mass resignation within your workforce, it’s time to think about how you think about your team. A lack of commitment will have your employees chasing the next opportunity that comes their way. But if you invest in your team and stay committed, we think there’s an opportunity to emerge from this pandemic in a position of real strength.

We do more than just blog. We're active Lean practitioners who would love to help you achieve your productivity goals.