The Great Resignation: what does it mean for employers and workers?

6 min read
Mélanie Bernier

As we move into the post-pandemic era, you may be wondering what effects the “Great Resignation” may have on you as an employee, an employer, or a business owner in 2022.

If you haven’t heard of it, the Great Resignation (aka the Big Quit) describes the trend of corporate employees ditching their traditional nine-to-fives in favour of more flexible, entrepreneurial, remote or hybrid work arrangements.

What is the Big Quit?

The effects of the Great Resignation have been felt on all sides of the employment equation:

  • A great number of companies are struggling to fill the gaps in their dwindling workforces
  • The employees who used to fill these positions are moving on from burnout and lockdowns and onto new (or modified) career paths

Be that as it may, simply up and leaving one’s career for a more flexible job is not realistic for everyone — family commitments, financial needs and a lack of education and experience are all limiting factors.

For this reason and others, many are having to come up with their own version of the Great Resignation. The same goes for employers — finding and securing a sustainable workforce in 2022 may mean adjusting their business structure and “hiring outside the box.”

How are workers changing their careers?

As Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet Inc., has theorized, the Great Resignation may be more of a reprioritization than a mass quitting event.

I think it’s the great reshuffle. And people are reflecting on what do they want and how do they want to work and how do they want to live their life.

Overhead view of people working in a warehouse

Work serves a different purpose for different people. For some it’s a means to an end, a way to support themselves and their families and nothing more.

To others, work is their life’s passion.

Regardless, work-life balance is universally sought-after and the need for symmetry between the two has never been more evident than during COVID-19.

The Great Resignation may look different for everyone, depending on their:

  • Industry
  • Personality
  • Lifestyle
  • Family situation
  • Location

Let’s take a look at a few ways employees are adjusting their professional lives post-pandemic.

Related: Find balance with these work-from-home careers

Entering the business world

Although owning a business can arguably be more stressful than working a typical nine-to-five or shift work, it can afford one a lot of freedom once the business is established.

Two million Canadians made the leap into entrepreneurship during the pandemic, some out of necessity.

In addition, a great number of existing entrepreneurs were forced to pivot or entirely relaunch their businesses on an e-commerce platform, which proved to be a huge (but not impossible) learning curve for brick-and-mortar operations.

Redefining their side hustle

“Side hustles” have long been a launching pad for full-fledged businesses. For some, the pandemic has accelerated a transition from micro-business to full-time gig with the goal of replacing a nine-to-five.

Examples of this are freelance graphic designers starting their own design firms, hobby farms moving into online product sales, and crafters taking their Etsy business to full e-commerce site.

ToddlerFinding remote-only or hybrid positions

What was meant to be a temporary solution has given workers a taste of working from home.  Many have found that the pros outweigh the cons for their lifestyle.

Whether it’s due to the lack of commute, the flexibility to travel and relocate, or the ability to be there for their children, workers are favouring remote and/or hybrid work opportunities.

Pursuing online education

The pandemic was a major pivot point for the post-secondary education sector, with institutions increasing their online course offerings to accommodate lockdowns and COVID outbreaks.

The result has been a more accessible university and college education system, with programs pivoting to online and becoming a viable option for full-time workers and mature students.

Whether they’re looking to complete a Bachelor’s degree in a new field or earn a continuing education certificate for their current profession, workers are now able to pursue their educational goals on evenings and weekends rather than having to sacrifice the jobs that put food on their tables.

Adding a side hustle to their newly remote full-time job

Working from home can allow an employee to compress their workday by eliminating commute time and unnecessary lag time.

The last two years have been a perfect time for workers to launch a new side business during the hours they would typically spend in the car or in the lunchroom.

The much coveted “multiple streams of income” lifestyle is now a possibility for many former office workers. It can even be argued that a side hustle may almost be necessary to compensate for inflation and high cost of living.

What can employers do to bridge the gaps?

Here are a few steps business owners can take to ensure their workforce remains happy and fulfilled, no matter what the Great Resignation means for them:

1. Allow for remote or hybrid work schedules (if possible)

Factory worker cleaning sweet potatoes

With so many companies now offering fully remote or hybrid work options, employees chained to in-person jobs may have wandering eyes.

If your employees don’t truly need to be in the office 100% of the time, giving them the option to work from home at least a couple of days per week could boost morale and improve retention rates.

If your brick-and-mortar business requires employees to be present on-site, perhaps this is a great time to consider a shortened work week and extended shifts.

No matter the change you’re considering, don’t forget to include your employees in the discussion!

2. Be positive and encouraging to employees with side gigs

 Employees who start a side hustle may feel guilty or reserved in revealing their new passion project. Be open and encourage them to talk about it — after all, an employee who feels supported and true to themselves in their job is more likely to stay.

3. Allow flexibility for family and education

Whether your employees work remotely or on-site, consider whether they absolutely need to work 8-to-4 or 9-to-5.

Giving them the flexibility to break up their workday or choose their own hours can be an absolute gift for employees with children or other life priorities.

Your business may even become more productive as workers will be free to adjust their hours to their natural “peak” focus hours. 

4. Hire outside the box

Having trouble finding and retaining workers? Consider restructuring your vacancies to part-time, contract and remote positions.

For example, your:

  • In-house accounting position could very well be filled by a part-time employee who works from home
  • Web and graphic design needs could be filled by a contractor
Woman working at a wooden table

Of course, the goal shouldn’t be to replace the loyal employees who make up the backbone of your company, but rather to find solutions for staffing gaps as needed.

Turn the Great Resignation to your advantage

The Big Quit certainly presents a challenge for both employees and employers, but it also constitutes an opportunity for realignment like we’ve never seen before.

Whether you’re an employer, a business owner or an employee, it can be beneficial to have an open conversation on work/life balance and employment arrangements with your entire team.