With the health crisis, millions of employees have questioned their relationship to work and quit their jobs. This multifactorial phenomenon, which is making the news and that the media call ‘the great resignation’, has taken root in the United States and could spread to Europe. As the job market becomes increasingly complex, it is more important than ever for companies to retain their talents.
What is the big resignation?
Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at the Mays Business School (Texas A&M University), coined the term ‘Great Resignation’ to describe the massive surge of quitting he observed among Americans during the health crisis.
When asked about the origins of this phenomenon, he identifies four main trends:
- Some employees who wished to resign from their jobs during the pandemic have had to delay their plans due to the circumstances hence concentrating the number of resignations at a time when the economy is improving with the development of vaccination and the recovery of economic activity.
- Other employees, exhausted by this period of crisis, are leaving their jobs because of burnout, especially ‘frontline’ workers and senior managers.
- Also, some employees see the global crisis as an opportunity to change their professional life and decide to retrain or start their own business, for example.
- Finally, there are those who simply do not want to return to the office after months of teleworking.
For the latter, this trend is not expected to slow down: ‘It’s not just a matter of looking for another job or leaving your company, it’s a matter of taking control of your work and your personal life by making a big decision: quitting. This trend of worker empowerment will continue into 2022.’
US figures, a global trend?
The figures in the United States are striking: in 2021, ‘an average of more than 3.95 million workers quit their jobs each month’. It’s clear that the pandemic has profoundly changed the relationship to work around the world. However, this questioning could be translated differently in each country, its culture and labour market.
Jerónimo Maillo, Professor of European Law at the CEU San Pablo University in Madrid, explains: ‘In the United States, for example, it is much easier to make the decision to quit because it is relatively easy to find another job.’ According to Elvira González, an expert on labour market and employment policies at the European Centre of Expertise, this is not the case in the European Union where ‘labour market institutions, including collective bargaining between unions and employers, as well as tools such as demonstrations and strikes, help to raise this feeling.’ However, some figures still point to a large, albeit smaller, resignations trend, even in European countries.
It is also interesting to note that some sectors and professions have been particularly affected by this phenomenon because of the pressure experienced during the pandemic and the working conditions: health, hotels and restaurants, personal services, etc. This trend could also affect the purchasing function, which has been particularly challenged during this period of crisis, between product shortages and tensions in the supply chain. As such, 50% of employees under 40 in procurement and supply chain said they intend to stay in their current job, according to a study by Gartner.
Through this great resignation that is shaking up the whole world, people are above all looking for meaning and a better balance between their professional and personal lives. Now, they wish to experiment with new ways of working and managing within companies, which will revolutionise the working world.
What levers can be used to stem the tide of resignation?
In view of this situation, the challenge for companies today is to retain their employees and build loyalty. As the working world undergoes profound changes, they must now adapt and transform themselves. According to a survey by Central Test, maintaining employee motivation and commitment is seen as one of the main challenges for the coming years by one in two companies.
To achieve this, it is crucial to implement a genuine policy of quality of working life (QWL), an essential component of Corporate Social Responsibility. Several actions promoting well-being and mental health at work are widely supported by companies, such as the regular implementation of satisfaction surveys, the training of managers in the detection and prevention of psychosocial risks, and the development of a friendly managerial culture through the organisation of team buildings, at a time when employees need to reconnect with each other.
Another challenge for employee retention is flexibility in working practices. This is one of the main skills that purchasing managers will have to master in the coming years. These include flexible working hours, teleworking and office design. These profound changes imply new challenges for companies where everything is done remotely, particularly in terms of crisis and team management.
Finally, talent development is also a key lever. Whether through career development, training or coaching, companies must support their employees and invest in their development. For the purchasing function, this will be reflected in the acquisition of new skills such as innovation sourcing and the implementation of a sustainable procurement policy, for example.
It is important to emphasise that the development of employees, and particularly of the purchasing function, is a crucial component of Corporate Social Responsibility, through the development of human capital and the deployment of a responsible purchasing approach.
Accelerated by the pandemic, this social phenomenon, which has been dubbed ‘the great resignation’, is disrupting companies. Today, companies should not wait for the trend to spread across the Atlantic to work on the development of their employees, in the service of their own competitiveness.
 shrm.org, “How Historic Has the Great Resignation Been?”, 2022
 Euronews.com, The Great Resignation: Is the American workplace revolution coming to Europe?, 2022
 Central Test, 2021 trends in talent assessment and development, 2021