A young woman working at desk in a dark office alone. She is surrounded by empty desks, symbolising the great resignation.
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Great resignation: Leaders cannot neglect the staff that stay

27 Jan 2022

When it comes to the great resignation, leaders must consider the employees who stay behind while they replace the ones who left, writes Jenny Darmody.

One of the many knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a phenomenon known as ‘the great resignation’, with employees in the US resigning from their jobs in droves.

A Workhuman survey in September 2021 indicated that Ireland could be heading for the same fate, with 42pc of Irish respondents saying they planned to resign within the next 12 months – double the number from a 2019 survey.

There is a cocktail of reasons why so many employees are quitting at the moment, from wanting more flexibility and higher wages to seeking a greater sense of purpose and better job satisfaction.

But while leaders and recruiters rush to plug the gaps being created and worry about who might next be in line to hand in their notice, there is another cohort within the workplace that is in danger of being neglected: the ones who stay behind.

Earlier this month, Business Insider dubbed this ‘the hidden resignation’ – these are the employees who don’t necessarily resign but become so disengaged from work or completely burnt out that they are no longer interested in performing the way they once were.

However, because they’re still physically sitting at their desk and have not expressed any desire to look elsewhere – yet – managers are not paying attention to them. By the time they do, it may be too late.

Shouldering the burden

A 2020 Aon survey of 550 employees in Ireland found that only 37pc of respondents were engaged with their job, lagging significantly behind wider European levels of around 60pc.

As we know from other reports around the great resignation, better benefits and salaries are important factors when workers are seeking to move jobs.

But for those who stay behind, these issues may not be the problem – at least not at first. When a number of other team members start to leave, it invariably means the ones who remain are left to pick up the slack.

And while managers are scrambling to bring in new recruits, who have to be trained in before they can fully replace those who left, they’re ignoring the ones who are shouldering the burden created by those resignations.

This extra work coupled with feeling unappreciated is what can lead to burnout and disillusionment in a job.

Suddenly your star players are no longer performing at their top level and, over time, those who are part of the so-called hidden resignation join the rest in the great resignation, and a vicious cycle ensues.

Couple all of this with ongoing talent shortages and the fact that retaining new employees is becoming its own challenge, and you’ve got a major staff problem on your hands.

Leaders need to be empathetic

These are very murky waters for leaders and mangers to navigate while their focus is being pulled in many different directions.

They do have to focus on replacing staff who leave before the problem gets worse. They do have to delegate the extra work that is left behind. They do have to talk to the employees who have their eye on the door. They also have to think about the new staff they bring in and they have to consider the workers who have stayed put throughout.

But while their team takes on extra work or sudden changes to responsibilities, leaders have to shoulder the extra burden of taking care of their staff’s wellbeing the right way.

Last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said leaders need to step up in the current climate to “create and keep the continuity of the connection” and that empathy in managers is probably at the highest demand.

“Flexibility is what people desire but you need to be able to discern that flexibility and then be able to really be in touch with the people that you lead so that would be care. Care is the new currency,” he said.

Managers need to check in with their staff regularly and meaningfully. This means it cannot be a tick-box meeting stuffed in at the end of every month. It means familiarising yourself with each team member’s strengths, weaknesses and current challenges.

Find out what would help them day to day. Do they need more time to work on bigger projects? A chance to upskill? Do they simply find themselves overworking and not disconnecting at the end of the day?

This is how you can help your employees feel listened to and appreciated and could help re-engage them with work and keep them from becoming part of the great resignation wave.

Finally, it’s important to remember that we are all still working in a pandemic. The circumstances might have changed and we all may have become somewhat used to it, but it’s still an exceptional situation to be working through.

Continue to factor this in every time you speak to your employees and show empathy, flexibility and understanding.

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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