Is It the Great Resignation or the Great Reckoning?

Image credit: iStockphoto/natasaadzic

The stark divide between what employees want and what employers offer is getting wider.

A vast swathe of the workforce is moving, resigning to move to better jobs, starting or joining startups, or simply staying at home. What is new is that this is happening at an accelerated rate involving a more significant number of employees.

In the U.S., where this Great Resignation trend is creating challenges for employers, Mercer’s 2021 Inside Employee Minds study showed that it is continuing despite employer best efforts.

But at the same time, the survey highlighted that we might have been wrong to call it the Great Resignation. Instead, it may be better to characterize it as the Great Reckoning as only certain groups of employees feel their employers are not delivering.

Only 28% of respondents reported they were considering leaving their current employer, which is consistent with historical patterns – typically, about 3 in 10 workers are considering leaving at any given point.

However, when you break it down to employer groups, you will see a major shift in job satisfaction. Where dissatisfaction is greatest is with the frontline, low-wage, minority, and lower-level employees. They are more likely to leave at rates significantly higher than historical norms.

“In many organizations, frontline and lower-level employees have been underinvested in and not considered a priority. Wages have historically stagnated behind inflation as employers competed to hire these workers at the lowest possible cost. But the pandemic has shown that this same group of workers not only kept business afloat but were critical in keeping our nation running,” said Melissa Swift, Mercer U.S.’s transformation leader. “Employers now need to think differently about frontline and lower-level workers and deliver a compelling value proposition that addresses their needs.”

The survey tried to understand what employees’ top concerns are, both inside and outside of work. The findings show that, among all demographics, concerns over the Delta variant have pushed physical health to the top of the list. The second was work-life balance and workload – employees say burnout is a crucial reason for them to consider leaving their employer behind pay and benefits. Finally, mental health is the third top concern amongst all demographics, but it is most pronounced amongst younger workers, women, low-wage workers, and Black and African American employees.

The survey, conducted in the U.S., showed that low-wage workers — employees making less than USD60,000 annually — are more worried about covering monthly expenses, physical and mental health, and financial wellness (retirement and debt). On the other hand, higher-wage workers are most concerned about their health, work/life balance, and personal fulfillment and purpose. In the survey, women were more likely to be low-wage workers than men (61% vs. 39%).

These findings demonstrate the divide in the workforce and how employees on the lower end of the wage spectrum have very different experiences at work and require different support to meet their individual needs.

The study offered employers four considerations when navigating the Great Reckoning.

Support your frontline and low-wage earners. Employers need to focus on enhancing the economic stability of their workforce and making frontline/hourly jobs more attractive — perks and other benefits won’t matter if these employees can’t address basic needs. Pay is one priority employers should consider, but other benefits such as affordable healthcare and resources to enhance their financial wellness such as retirement savings programs and budgeting tools matter.

Don’t undermine burnout. Mercer’s 2021 Health on Demand research found while 59% of U.S. employees say they feel some level of stress, one-quarter report being highly or extremely stressed. Offering a diverse set of well-being and mental health benefits will help manage several risks, including employee exhaustion, rising health costs, and employee turnover.

Don’t just attract diversity; make them thrive. The survey noted that organizations must move beyond attracting diverse talent to ensure their systems and structures enable them to succeed. It added that using data to understand where experience is falling short is a great place to start. Another powerful action is training and equipping managers to be strong allies to these employees. Managers who can confidently identify and stand up against workplace inequities and micro-aggressions are best positioned to increase inclusion and safety levels.

Focus on flexibility. Work flexibility is a top priority and a necessity for most employees. Employers who fail to embrace this new reality are likely to face continued challenges in attracting and retaining talent.

“Given the challenges that employees have faced on the front lines of this pandemic over the summer, and through the social unrest that we saw last year — employees are saying, in many cases due to what they are paid in low wage jobs, it’s just not worth it. And they are looking for more from their employer,” added Swift.

Image credit: iStockphoto/natasaadzic