The Great Resignation: How Employee Exodus Can Spark Opportunity

By Ryan Wong

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today’s employee exodus is costly. Here’s why it can be an opportunity. 

Businesses around the world are grappling with record high resignations, but I can’t help but feel one point has been overlooked—this moment isn’t a crisis.

Certainly, there are many downsides to people quitting: it’s costly for employers, it can be a stressful change for workers, and as we’re seeing in the pandemic, it’s disrupting whole industries. With such a crunch on hiring, many organizations can’t onboard people fast enough to keep up with those who are leaving, causing added workload for those left behind.

But my caution is we shouldn’t conceive of this resignation wave as a net negative. Rather, it’s an opportunity for much-needed change. Employees, employers. and even whole industries can benefit from this enormous shift – but only if we stop treating it as a crisis and seize it as the opportunity it is. 

What’s in it for an employee? 

The benefits for the employees who leave are clear – they’re the ones resigning, after all. But there are also perks for workers who stay. 

Data shows this latest trend of employees calling it quits is different. Less tenured groups usually lead the rates but now we’re seeing mid-tenured groups affected. Employees in typically more stable age groups between 30-50 have increased their resignation rates by more than 38 percent.

The vacant roles left behind can be career-changing opportunities for more junior employees. A position that no longer fits one worker may be the moment someone else has been waiting for

I know this firsthand because I’ve lived it. While working at a leading business intelligence company in Vancouver, I arrived at work one day to find most of the executives had quit after a large merger. Suddenly, I was one of the most senior employees in the west. This shot at career growth helped convince me to stay put, and it will do the same for others.

A sudden turnover can also bring about an important cultural shift. There’s a saying, “People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers.” Someone leaving can be a welcome reset for their department. 

For employees, all of these resignations can mean a long-awaited chance at redefining their job, an upward trajectory and, equally exciting, a healthier work environment. 

Why realignment is a good thing for many companies

There’s a lot of worried employers right now and, certainly, the headlines aren’t helping. But leaders must understand this employee scarcity is temporary. It’s OK to mourn the loss of valued workers, but there’s an opportunity to rethink talent strategy and build a better business. Indeed, it’s far more costly to do nothing. 

Often we forget that the employer-employee relationship is a contract. We slip into complacency and are shocked when people leave. Employment is not a lifelong commitment and shouldn’t be treated as such. 

My own company has seen some resignations. We recently lost a few people from one department, which felt like a tremendous loss at first. We soon realized it was an opportunity to refocus our efforts. These resignations gave us the chance to outsource specialized roles and keep the rest of our team focused on promoting our core competencies.

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More departures can spark realignments like these. Headcount at many companies does not reflect the efficiencies introduced by years of digital transformation, which was accelerated during the pandemic. 

Lastly, panicking about people quitting overlooks a significant silver lining: businesses can bring in fresh, new perspectives. There’s a big, experienced talent pool to tap into and organizations will benefit. 

Some industries needed a good reset

As much as the pandemic has transformed the way we work across the board, it has highlighted gaps, particularly in fields with low-paying, people-facing jobs. But here, too, there’s an opportunity for change. 

Take food and beverage — the industry felt the impact of lockdowns and capacity restrictions. But when things started reopening, employers couldn’t get people to come back. In the US alone, there are 1.7 million fewer jobs filled in that industry than prior to the pandemic.

Employees are taking a stand. In response, some food and beverage companies are increasing wages and providing benefits. Best case scenario, we’ll see a more sustainable employment model emerge in an industry that’s had problems for decades.

Across all industries, the pandemic’s disruption forced companies to become more flexible and transparent, and overall, that’s been a good thing. 

This resignation wave is the culmination of many collective awakenings about the way we work. But it won’t last forever. It’s a structural change in the workforce and will ultimately lead to a new equilibrium. This is a law of nature. 

While it can be challenging to experience high turnover, it’s an opportunity to level up the business — whatever the costs of losing an employee, it’s far more costly to stubbornly stick with the status quo. 

Ryan Wong is an engineer turned CEO of Visier, a people analytics company.


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