Are you at risk from the Great Resignation?


Pete Hamilton

Vice President and Managing Director, APAC

If firms don’t rework the employee experience for a hybrid working model, they could lose their best talent.

The world of work has been in flux. Employers have grappled with a continuously shifting public health crisis that has made it difficult to settle on permanent ways of working.

But as proportions of vaccinated people increase and some certainty returns, our 2021 Workforce Agility study reveals that the majority of firms (59%) are planning to adopt a hybrid working model in the long term.

In theory, it is a model that empowers employees by giving them a degree of flexibility that was almost unheard of pre-pandemic. And it promises companies a business advantage: over half of the executives we surveyed say the model will help them to achieve their business goals.

In practice, hybrid is a model that will only work if employers prioritize employee experience, not only for permanent talent but for their contingent workforce too.

Employees are taking matters into their own hands

In recent months, companies around the world have experienced waves of employees looking for the exit in what has been described as the ‘Great Resignation’. Early investigations found that these resignations most affected the sectors that were under greatest stress during the pandemic, but it is a trend that all industries should worry about.

In a Microsoft survey published in March, 41% of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries were considering leaving their current role within the next year, and 46% were planning a major career transition. With 60% of our own respondents saying that talent has never been more important as a source of competitive advantage, employees’ needs should come first.

So what can organizations do to counter this trend? How do they shift to hybrid working in a way that supports the wellbeing and productivity of their existing employees – and increases the organization’s appeal to talent in the wider market?

Hybrid working needs a plan

To optimize the employee experience for a hybrid working environment, organizations need a clear plan of action. But too many organizations haven’t started.

About a quarter of the firms we surveyed say they have no specific plan to help employees return to work post-pandemic, and no clear understanding of what employees want when they return to work. Of the ones that do have a plan, only a minority have taken steps to improve the employee experience: just 32% are introducing new technologies that facilitate collaboration, for example, and even fewer (27%) are implementing practices that support employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.

These steps are important. According to Tsedal Neeley of Harvard Business School, there is evidence that “people are experiencing some kind of culture shock when they’re getting back into the office,” and they are “entering spaces that don’t have the same kind of technology that they’ve now set up at their homes”.

Listen carefully

To build a robust plan, leaders need to listen to employees. The best-in-class organizations we identified in our study are far more likely to do this than others, by carrying out regular surveys internally to gauge the views of employees. All of them say that employee productivity and wellbeing improved during the pandemic, and they are also more likely to say that their annual revenue has increased over the past three years.

“We are capitalizing on learnings from the pandemic to optimize our employee experience, because we recognize that it will drive our competitive advantage,” says Heidi Gerhard, Head of Talent Strategy at BASF. “It opens us up to new talent, new perspectives and, ultimately, innovation, which delivers value for our customers.”

Make life easier for employees, not harder

Employees who worked at home during the pandemic have grown accustomed to completing tasks in a setting they are comfortable with – often, at a time that suits them. Companies that want to hold on to their workers should try to retain that flexibility.

One company that has done this is Google. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, made flexibility a core focus in a letter to employees in May. He explained that the transition to hybrid working would give them a split between working from home and from the office, more choice over the geographical location from which they work, and access to initiatives such as “reset days,” which would “help employees recharge”.

When it comes to employee experience, this kind of flexibility is crucial. Research by Owl Labs, a video conferencing provider, suggests that almost all (91%) of employees choose remote work as it offers a work-life balance, while around eight in 10 (79%) cite increased productivity and focus as a result of working from home. This kind of flexibility improves accessibility too: in a survey of 3,900 remote workers conducted by GitLab, a software firm, 83% of disabled respondents said that remote work would enable them to be a valuable part of the workforce and contribute to their organization.

Improve wellbeing initiatives – and make life more flexible

To avoid that burnout, employers will have to prioritize wellbeing initiatives. But just 27% of the firms in our Workforce Agility study say they are prioritizing the implementation of practices that support employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.

This is an oversight. According to research from 2020, 65% of people across Europe are “more likely to consider their health in day-to-day decision-making” as a result of Covid-19.

As well as things such as discounted gym memberships and easy access to mental health therapy, employers’ health considerations should include how much flexibility a role has. And when it comes to business outcomes, flexibility can help productivity.

When EY confirmed its shift to hybrid working in May 2021, it did so in the belief that by emphasizing flexibility, “the importance of productivity rather than presenteeism” would become apparent. The rise of presenteeism pre-Covid-19 led to overworked employees being at risk of mental health collapses, ultimately hindering the employee experience.

Make hybrid work

The success of hybrid working will depend on employee satisfaction. If employees feel like they are being taken advantage of by their companies, are not supported adequately or being offered the chance to balance work with the rest of their lives, a backlash is inevitable. And that backlash could be the Great Resignation. So do you know what your employees want, and are you giving it to them?


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