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Great Resignation or Great Regret?

Great Resignation or Great Regret?

March 2023


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Slow and steady wins the race. The old adage is an essential element of long-term professional success. It also rings particularly true in an era defined by instant gratification and impulsive decision-making.

Coming out of the pandemic, many workers wanted to use the impetuous shake-up in their work lives to “find greener pastures.” They quit for nearly any reason and held out on employers as they searched for more meaningful or higher-paying work.

The only issue? Most of these decisions were made in an acute state of temporal myopia. Distant (at the time) ramifications were eschewed in favor of current rewards—and the natural results that come with that kind of behavior are starting to show up.

Great Resignation or Great Regret?

In 2021, a record-breaking 47 million Americans turned in their two-week notice. In fact, many didn’t even go as far as to honor that timeline, simply opting not to show up to work. In 2022, the number actually rose to a peak of 50.5 million employees quitting their current jobs in hopes of finding better work, pay, and overall satisfaction.

Much of the push came from cultural trends. Pop songs infatuated workers with the idea of ditching the rat race. Social posts and online forums idolized and glamorized the idea of a dramatic quitting story.

These exacerbated the general feeling of discomfort and unrest that had already been created as the fallout from the pandemic reverberated throughout society. All of these hot-button issues were layered on top of simmering discontent stemming from the rising cost of living and stagnant wages (which predated the pandemic). Put it all together, and it’s no surprise that people were willing to quit their jobs.

At the end of the day, though, the results weren’t what many of these ex-employees were hoping for.

According to a new poll from the payroll service Paychex, 80% of those who quit with high expectations ended up disappointed in the end. They regretted leaving their jobs under less-than-optimal circumstances.

Inexperienced Gen Zers were the most regretful, with 89% of the younger generation having second thoughts about how their job swapping panned out. The survey also found that 68% of those who quit tried to get their old jobs back, but only 27% of employers have rehired them (even though an additional 43% say they are willing to do so).

Paychex summed up the findings by retooling the term “Great Resignation” to “Great Regret.” It’s a fitting exercise of editorial judgment.

A Glass-Half-Full Perspective of the Great Resignation

While many have been unhappy with their circumstances coming out of the great resignation, it’s worth pointing out that it isn’t all bad news. Many employers who had stubbornly or unreasonably kept wages low adjusted their business models during the crisis.

In addition, many employers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to accept significant wage increases looked for alternatives. All the way back in November of 2021, Forbes was already listing a plethora of companies exploring the use of robotics and automation in key labor-intensive sectors like agriculture and food service. The publication explained the trend as “retaliation” for the Great Resignation, but was the shift toward machines really a surprise?

The Paychex report also highlighted millennials as the group that regretted the Great Resignation the least, with only 77% reporting disappointing outcomes. This could very well be due to the fact that this middle-aged group is currently ascending in the workplace. The disruption to the status quo likely opened many doors that helped them move up the corporate ladder.

Lessons from the “Great Regret”

So what are the takeaways for leaders? What lessons can we learn from all of this?

One big one that comes to mind is that you want a steady hand at the tiller. Emotions have their place in the C-suite, but they shouldn’t overly influence decision-making. Leaders who have responded to the Great Resignation in stride are now being rewarded with a growing talent pool of willing workers less than two years later.

It’s also worthwhile to look for quiet quitters in your current workforce. Taking steps to address their grievances before they turn passive quitting into active departure is better for all parties involved.

For those struggling with openings created by departed members of their leadership team, it’s important to remember the soft skills and qualities that matter most when hiring executives. Ethics, adaptability, loyalty, and the ability to lead under pressure are all key characteristics that can bolster an executive team against whatever troubles may come next.

“It’s important to remember the soft skills and qualities that matter most when hiring executives.”

That last item is where it all starts. If you want to retain your employees, you have to start with a solid leadership team that you can count on to stick around when things change, challenges arise, or in the latest example, quitting simply becomes a trend.

If you’re trying to fill gaps in your C-suite created by the last two years of cascading resignations, our team at Stanton Chase can help. Let us put our network, recruitment tools, and hiring experience to work to help you identify the perfect candidates to shore up the upper echelons of your organization. That way, the next time you come under pressure from excessive resignations or something similar, you know you can count on your leadership team to fix (rather than add to) the problem.

About the Author

William Brewer, CCP, is a Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. He is also Stanton Chase’s Global Human Resources Practice Leader. Prior to moving into executive search, Bill had 25 years of experience in corporate human resources. In addition to his executive search career, Bill is an adjunct Professor at the University of Redlands. Bill also serves as a mentor for the MBA program at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and has been a mentor with the School of Business at the University of Redlands.

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