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From the “Great Resignation” to the Great Retention

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Overhead view of a woman with her head in her hand. She has her elbow resting on an open notebook. In front of her is a laptop and a planner. Photo courtesy of energepic from Pexels.
I just can't take this any more!

The Great Resignation.

Those of us in HR have been seeing this title splashed across a great many posts and articles in the last little while. With good reason—there is a veritable tsunami of employee movement happening in the world right now.

The Great Resignation refers to the record 9.2 million job openings created as droves of Americans quit their jobs. Employees across industries have been surveyed to find out why people are leaving their jobs:

· 48% of people have thought about changing careers in the last year

· 63% of people with bad managers are thinking of leaving in the next year

One of the key factors in their decisions is psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the belief you can be who you are at work, voice your opinions and concerns, and ask questions or admit mistakes. When people feel psychologically safe at work, they are comfortable being themselves. HR has talked a lot, over the past few years, about people feeling free to bring their whole selves to work. When they do, they feel safe.

Sadly, many people don’t feel that way. Looping it back to the points above, many people feel unsafe because of their managers.

If they pay attention to the stats above, people leaders should be pretty worried. If they don’t take action to change things, they’ll lose a big percentage of their teams. Research tells us that 73% of companies are currently hiring. There are lots of job options open to people who are looking to switch companies.

The Great Retention

Why are people so ready to leave their current jobs? The answer to that is the key to retaining them. And that key appears to be their managers. Of those people who said they had a bad manager, 63% are thinking of quitting in the next year.

So, what do people leaders need to do?

· Understand that burnout is real, and it’s contagious. A great number of managers are feeling burned out right now, and their people know it. 40% of workers admit to experiencing burnout, and 45% of them say their team members also seem burned out. Having a manager who’s burned out makes matters even worse.

With our current “always on” style of work, people aren’t shutting down at the end of the working day. In fact, there is no end to their working day. Many are also putting off vacations because the workload is huge. This can only be sustained for so long. Eventually, workers will come to a point where they can’t go on. And then they’ll quit. So, people leaders must learn to recognize the signs of burnout in their team members and in themselves. Once recognized, take steps to change that.

It’s tempting for managers to push through burnout. However, if there is an understanding of the ripple effect of burnout, managers must set the example. They also need to learn how to turn off at the end of the work day and book vacations.

· Think carefully through a hybrid work situation. Flexibility is the future of team management and workers are demanding it. This is so much more than having a hotel desk at the office. Managers must carefully consider why their reports need to come into an office. Is it really necessary to make the commute? If so, then make it worth while. This will mean managers have to move away from a “presenteeism” model (i.e. if I can’t see them then how will I know they’re working? And if they’re not always online or sending late night emails, then are they getting the work done?) and trust their people know when they need to be in the office or when they can get more done at home.

Different companies may have different ideas of what hybrid work means to them. Regardless of the method they use, there needs to be a strong structure put into place. Define best practices and communicate that to the team. Ensure there is a shared understanding of tasks, priorities, and mechanisms to identify issues. Also, there must be an understanding that, while 60% of employees work almost entirely on site, only 49% want to. That’s, potentially, quite a few team members who would be happier and more productive working from home. Imposing a return to the workplace may not sit well with a lot of employees.

· Communication is key. Most managers think they’re good communicators. I hear it all the time from managers who tell me they have regular one on one conversations with their team members (they don’t) and that they have clear and continuous communication with those who report to them (they don’t). Surveys tell us that communication is the skill that team members feel their managers lack the most. This skill is going to be even more important going forward, as managers will need to establish clear, consistent, and productive communication with their team members, regardless of where those team members are working.

The forced hybrid and remote work that came about from having to shelter in place from Covid-19 has opened employees’ eyes to the need for clear communication. When people are working remotely, it’s easy for them to feel out of the loop. My experience is that regular, frequent, and consistent one on one conversations with their team members is the best way for managers to develop relationships, help to solve problems, support and empower, and build trust. Keeping in touch with employees, either in person or via Zoom, is key to engagement and retention.

Here are 7 things managers can do to stop the Great Resignation, which all boil down to one big thing—treat them with RESPECT:

  1. Develop a Relationship with the people on their teams. This is best done through regular, frequent, and consistent one on one conversations.

  2. Have Empathy for those with whom they work. Understand that burnout is real and create that psychological safety that is so crucial to employee engagement.

  3. Support the members of their teams. Coach them to grow and thrive within the organization. Listen to their concerns and help them to solve problems.

  4. Promote the ideas of their team members and help them to realize that working remotely is not a stumbling block to future advancement.

  5. Empower their team members to be great on their own terms. Allow them to voice their opinions and offer dissenting points of view. Create an environment that encourages individuals to think and contribute without fear of retribution.

  6. Have Consideration for their feelings. People are going through a lot right now and everyone is feeling the effects of all the changes, globally and locally. A little consideration and understanding goes a long way to helping people feel safe at work.

  7. Trust them and be trustworthy in return. Employees want to do good work, and they want their managers to have faith in them to do it.

Managers play a key role in the Great Resignation—but they also play a key role in the Great Retention. How a manager helps their people to adjust to all these changes and new work styles is a crucial factor in whether employees quit or stay.

The key is listening and building relationships.


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9 out of 10 managers don’t really know how to be people leaders. They need training and support.

Manager training is what I do. Check out my programs at or speak to me about customized programs for your team.

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And check out my book for a resource on how you can become a better manager.


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