The Great Resignation of 2021: How Resignations Impact Company Culture and What Employers Can Do

You’ve heard it on the news. Workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Last month, over 4 million workers resigned - up 2% from the previous month. The US Labor Department says the increase in the number of workers quitting is the highest on record since 2000. Industries most impacted include healthcare, tech, retail, and hospitality1, but it’s affecting most industries, genders, and levels of experience. Potentially even worse, a recent Gallup poll found that well over 50% of workers who describe themselves as actively engaged in their jobs, are currently considering quitting the workforce outright - at least temporarily - or are looking for another position2

What could be going on? And perhaps even more importantly, how do resignations affect the employees who choose to stay? And what can be done to counter The Great Resignation? We explore some of these questions and end with a list of steps to minimize the effects of The Great Resignation at your own organization.

Multiple factors are contributing to The Great Resignation

Theories abound over why so many are quitting. But the reality is that multiple issues have gotten us to this place, and these include:

  • Burnout, particularly among frontline workers in health care, food service, and retail3

  • An aversion to returning to offices after a year or more of experiencing the benefits of working remotely4

  • Fear of getting sick with COVID-19

  • Evaluations made around the ‘true economics’ of a two-income household, resulting in a determination that the benefits may no longer outweigh the costs5

  • Reaching a breaking point after months (or years) of high workloads, hiring freezes, underpay, and other pressures, causing workers to rethink their work and life goals6

Whatever the reasons, so many resignations can be devastating to those left behind - from both the organization’s perspective as well as to the employees who stay.

How do resignations impact those left behind?

The cost of employee turnover is high. To organizations, the documented factors that contribute to the costs of losing an employee include things like onboarding costs, lost engagement, customer service, and errors, training costs, cultural impact, and lost productivity7. To that last point alone, a HubSpot report found that lost productivity costs U.S. businesses $1.8 trillion dollars every year8.

From an employee perspective, there’s a powerful psychological effect of seeing your peers leave, which can motivate you to start wondering if the grass is greener on their side. As with so much of human behavior, turnover is socially influenced: people take their cues from others. Experts say that workplace social signals are intensified if the exiting employee is openly criticizing managers, the department, or the organization, or bragging about their new job. And a demoralized and unengaged workforce is one that’s likely to be looking around for new opportunities9

What can be done to minimize The Great Resignation in your organization? 

In short, don’t take your employees for granted, and don't assume they are happy. They can and will make evaluations as to whether the cost to their mental health of things like lower pay, feeling unappreciated, toxic workplace culture, long hours, or arbitrary requirements for in-office work is worth the perceived stability of holding their current position. And the first step to determine the true feelings of your team is to solicit regular feedback - whether that comes from informal one-on-one conversations, formal (and anonymous) surveys, or exit interviews.

Other tips, according to experts, include:

  • Evaluating (really evaluating) diversity and inclusion, and adjusting policies, training and attitudes if something is lacking

  • Providing staff with transparency - and a say - into company decisions and strategy10

  • Reducing reliance on “wacky office perks” (mini-bars, pool tables, an infinite supply of energy drinks, etc.) - according to a recent survey, workers prefer substance over superficial perks11

  • Regularly and visibly recognizing the contributions of each employee - and this means acknowledging not just what they are doing, but why it matters12

  • “Re-recruiting” your staff, i.e., spending time to understand their motivations and ambitions again and making adjustments if needed13

  • Offering high-quality, effective stress management programs - to help employees when times are tough (because we can’t make things 100% perfect)

The takeaway

James Hewitt Ph.D., human performance scientist and Chief Commercial & Innovation Officer at OPTIVIO, says, “The Great Resignation is real. While it may not show up in employee’s productivity, workers are looking more closely than ever at their work-life balance. Many are saying “we can do better”, and this is catching many employers by surprise. Smart companies are acting now to reverse this trend.”

An optimistic way to look at this is that it's a long-overdue opportunity to set better employee-centered foundations for the future of the workplace. Making sure workers are engaged and feeling good about their contributions at work makes for a more successful company in the long run.

Optivio is an enterprise-level stress management and performance optimization platform that can help your workforce better manage stress. Learn more about it here: 


1. Visier, Trends in Employee Resignations, 2021.
2. Gallup, The 'Great Resignation' Is Really the 'Great Discontent', Jul 2021.
3. Miller, Karla, The Washington Post, During the ‘Great Resignation,’ workers refuse to accept the unacceptable, Sep 30, 2021
4. Miller, Karla, The Washington Post, During the ‘Great Resignation,’ workers refuse to accept the unacceptable, Sep 30, 2021
5. LinkedIn, The Great Resignation is Here
6. Cook, Ian, Harvard Business Review, Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?, Aug 2021
7. Berson, Josh, Deloitte, Employee retention: The real cost of losing an employee
8. Hubspot, How to Stop the Most Common Productivity Prohibitors
9. Ro, Christine, BBC Worklife, Turnover contagion: the domino effect of one resignation, Sep 16, 2021
10. Cohen, Debbie, Harvard Business Review, With So Many People Quitting, Don’t Overlook Those Who Stay, Oct 2021.
Fast Company, RIP ping-pong: the era of wacky perks is dead, Jul 2021.
12. Cohen, Debbie, Harvard Business Review, With So Many People Quitting, Don’t Overlook Those Who Stay, Oct 2021.
13. Ibid.

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