Critical thinking

Why the great resignation can be stopped with a great conversation

Everyone who knows me, knows I reject ‘The Great Resignation’ – it’s a million-dollar catch-phrase, but it’s quite dangerously misleading.

This is not a great resignation – which suggests that people have made a sudden decision to do something dramatic that we didn’t see coming.  Most of the labour market movement we have seen in the last 6 months were a culmination of trends that have been forming for years.  Covid is merely a convenient excuse – we should have seen it coming.  

  • Retirement: we’ve known for some time that this decade in Australia was going to see the last of the baby boomers and first of Gen X retiring, taking large tranches of experienced workers, with proven resilience out of the workforce.
  • Resilience: we knew that resilience was at its lowest ever recorded in 2018, and since the pandemic 85% of people have said that their wellbeing and resilience has got worse.  Here in Australia, burn-out is the worst in the world.  This did not happen overnight.
  • Work anywhere: regional capitals have been re-inventing themselves as destinations for mid-career professionals very successfully over the past decade.  Covid may have forced remote work into the mainstream, but the pattern was already established, and invested in.
  • Work anytime: flexible work has been on the HR agenda for almost six years!  Again, Covid was merely an accelerant to the existing trend.  Which is why the battle to ‘return to office’ is going to be so hard-fought and so highly questioned. 
  • Resignation: there’s no escaping that there has been a bump in resignations in the first half of this calendar year.  We all know it’s there.  But – it’s always there at this time of year, and it’ll happen again after bonuses are paid. The difference with this year is that we are making up for almost two years of market stagnation – and it’s already easing back to normal.

The problem is, we’ve been ignoring these trends, and many of us would like to continue doing so – blaming Covid is far more comfortable than accepting responsibility for ignoring the signs.

The way to tackle ‘the great resignation’ is with great conversation.  And spoiler alert – great conversations make you a great leader, greatly improve engagement and motivation and get great results so resignation or not, a practice worth putting in place. 

Don’t make any assumptions.  The world has changed, and expectations have changed significantly.  Without a discussion, you won’t pick up on the differences and as a result you’ll make poor, out of date decisions that will impact your performance.

PWC research recently highlighted a fast-growing gap between what workers want and what their executive thing they want.  Leaders used to be pretty accurate – and now we’re not.  Instead, start asking lots of questions and be prepared to hear the answer, such as do your people value what they used to, and if not, what?  Has culture got worse, or has our tolerance worsened, exposing not-so-great cultures?

Your conversations can centre on all the trends above – and this time you definitely can use Covid as your excuse! Ask how have things changed for you since Covid?

  • Has it changed your long-term life plan? Employment Hero research shows that 60% of people no longer rate their career as important as they used to.  What does that mean for your employee?  Do they feel like travelling, going part time, retiring early?
  • Has it changed your energy levels and sense of resilience? (Tip: just talking about resilience builds resilience – so don’t feel you need the answers to ask the question).
  • Has it made you rethink where and when you live and work?
  • Do you think we, your employer, can help solve these things for you?  Do you think I, your manager, can help? 

If you can’t have these great conversations yourself (hint: you should), then make sure your mid-level leaders can.  At BoldHRTM we call them the B-Suite – and you’re going to need to empower and enable them to operate like the C-Suite when it comes to having these conversations and sharing the results – openly and without risk – back to you.


Written by Rebecca Houghton.
Have you read?
Your Team May be Healthy and Talented, but is It Right for Where You’re Going by Matt Hulett.
Despite What You May Think, The Leadership Hierarchy You Think You Want is Ineffective by Larry Yatch.
The Middle Ground Between Milton Friedman and ESG Standards by Lisa Gable.
Said Shiripour: Building An 8 Figure Business With The Vision Of Empowering Entrepreneurs .
Joe Soltis: Driven by Purpose – Growing and Nurturing a Purpose-Oriented Business.

Rebecca Houghton
Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’ ($29.95), is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level. Her passion is helping to evolve how leaders think, take action and relate to others, working with leaders and leadership teams to achieve greater impact.


Rebecca Houghton is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.