“The Great Resignation” isn’t over, but it is changing shape.
When the U.S. Department of Labor reported almost 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in February 2022, employers across industries were already scrambling to fill vacancies.
But as resignations continue to hold steady, new research suggests a significant chunk of these workers won’t return to similar roles or work environments when re-entering the workforce.
Simply put, American workers want more.
Enter “The Great Reshuffle”—a period where things like work-life balance, role fit, and company culture weigh more heavily for workers than ever before.
To thrive in this landscape, the most forward-thinking organizations are shifting from being recruitment-focused to retention-focused.
The Great Reshuffle: Origins and future implications
People have always left jobs in search of better opportunities, but the pandemic gave many workers something they’ve historically lacked: leverage.
For office folks who went remote, it came from proving they could successfully do the work without sharing physical space. For workers whose duties demanded in-person contact, it came from the knowledge that showing up for work also meant putting their health at risk.
Then there are the underlying reasons people leave jobs in the first place: better growth opportunities, more meaningful work, and the feeling that their organization appreciates their efforts.
The pandemic didn’t give birth to these reasons, but it certainly agitated them.
Citing research from four recent workforce studies, Forbes summarized several factors influencing The Great Reshuffle:
The trickle-down effect of toxic work culture
In its analysis of 34 million workers who left their jobs for any reason, MIT found that company culture issues, the decision-making or priorities of management, and the unpredictability of work schedules were among the top reasons for quitting, with the highest quit rates found in frontline customer-facing industries like apparel retail and fast food.
The limits on what people will give
It’s no longer enough to serve free breakfast on Fridays.
The 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index found that people’s attitudes and expectations around work-related rewards and sacrifices have significantly changed. Microsoft dubs this “The Employee Worth It Equation”—and it’s tipping in favor of putting their personal lives first.
Almost half of the respondents said they were more likely to put family and personal life before work than they were pre-pandemic, and more than half said they were more likely to prioritize their health and well-being than before.
The shift from “blue collar work” to “new collar work”
Forbes also cited research from management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
Oliver Wyman found a notable trend among American employees who quit their jobs in warehouses, manufacturing, hospitality, and other hourly positions during the pandemic: more than a tenth pursued training for new jobs and changed their occupations.
For these workers, completing advanced trainings and certifications translated into more flexible and better-paying jobs in software and tech-related roles—and once you’ve made that kind of transition, there’s no turning back.
Wildly unpredictable scheduling is no longer acceptable
An unpredictable work schedule isn’t merely an inconvenience; it’s a largely unnecessary disruption to a person’s well-being, whether they’re full-time or hourly.
According to research from Paychex and Executive Networks (as reported by Forbes), almost 40 percent of respondents reported feeling “burned out” due to unpredictable schedules and the emotional and financial distress they cause, with Gen Z and Millennials admitting the highest levels of burnout.
As more states enact fair scheduling laws that require businesses to offer “predictability pay” to workers for last-minute scheduling changes, it’s the ideal time to iron out those scheduling needs once and for all.
4 ways to manage for employee retention
While some turnover is inevitable, too much can signal deeper organizational issues that higher salaries or increased hourly rates won’t fix.
That’s good news for small business owners and managers who may not have the resources to offer ultra-competitive salaries or invest in expansive employee wellness programs.
Here are four practices your team can adopt to make employees feel valued (and therefore more likely to stick around):
1. Provide real growth and development opportunities
You may not have the budget to offer professional development stipends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to support your team.
Take inventory of their career-related interests and see if you can map them to business needs, whether to support your team or another at the organization.
If someone enjoys video editing, for example, you might co-create a project where they produce product walkthroughs or how-to videos for customers.
This will admittedly require more effort on management’s part, but allowing people the freedom to work on projects that interest them is an underutilized job perk almost guaranteed to boost employee happiness.
2. Optimize scheduling for predictability and exploration
Scheduling is often one of the most challenging aspects of managing a team, especially when your business is sensitive to seasonal spikes.
If a customer service team is routinely understaffed during busy periods, for example, burnout, absenteeism, and low morale will typically follow. Allow these conditions to continue unchecked for too long and the team will eventually shrink, putting an even bigger burden on those who remain.
The solution here isn’t necessarily simple—you’ll need to collect relevant data around business needs to make a valid business case for building better schedules.
Since this usually means hiring more aggressively (which can get costly), investing in outside support may make more sense in the short term.
From freelancers and temps to multichannel virtual receptionists, investing in outside support can not only help managers build more predictability into scheduling, it can also enable employees to work on projects that fulfill their need for professional development.
3. Promote proper work/life balance
For some organizations, there’s an inherent expectation to be “on call” outside of work hours.
This is especially true for anyone in a customer-facing role where business needs frequently trump pre-existing schedules. It’s an unfortunate dynamic that can leave managers feeling helpless and workers feeling underappreciated.
One of the first things you can do is forbid any calls or emails outside of work hours. This shouldn’t be too difficult once you’ve mastered predictable scheduling.
You may also want to make a habit of enforcing sick and vacation time. Yes, it could potentially lead to some staffing issues—and yes, it’s an added layer of responsibility—but it’s one that promotes self-care in addition to showing appreciation.
4. Make it safe for people to share honest feedback
People shy away from being honest with their bosses for a variety of reasons, most of which stem from fear.
According to HBR, these workers aren’t just worried about how their managers might respond. They’re worried about the costs of speaking up in general. Most of the time, they determine it’s not worth it.
As a manager, one of your top priorities is to empower your team members to improve things—and that includes any conditions that might impact their ability to do their best work.
Beyond setting up anonymous feedback mechanisms or building rapport through team meetings and weekly one-on-ones, evaluate the culture at your organization. Does it feel safe for you to provide upward feedback?
If it doesn’t, you’ll have a harder time translating team feedback into tangible changes. If it does, figure out how to co-create a similar dynamic with members of your own team.
Staying grounded amid the reshuffle
Big companies have the luxury of being able to throw money at problems. Small businesses are usually forced to get crafty.
This is a great asset when the problem is employee retention—not because today’s workforce doesn’t care about perks like unlimited PTO, gym memberships, and kombucha on-tap—but because none of those trappings is enough to make them stick around.
What is enough is what most small companies already keep at the core of their business: heart.