Why the great resignation may be a lot of hot air

Great predictions from surveys and public sentiments don’t always translate to reality.  And this is why the great resignation may be a lot of hot air.

The unwinnable May 2019 Federal election for the Liberal party is one of the greatest examples of this. Labour was a shoo-in based on opinion polls and forecasts. But that didn’t eventuate with Sportsbet paying out $5.2M early on a Bill Shorten win.

And now it’s been forecasted with an almost fait accompli that by April 2022 circa 41% of Australians will resign from their jobs. Branded the ‘great resignation’ it’s an outstanding conjecture without a bookmaker in sight.

Coinciding with the predicted onslaught of resignations are widespread candidate shortages impacting most sectors.  

The great resignation and job vacancy conundrum

It does seem a bit of a contradiction of issues and if 41% of workers staff resign, it would be absolutely cataclysmic given the rate of new jobs advertised.  But fear not!   Such conundrums can drive opportunity and solutions. However, success requires a deeper understanding of talent attraction psychology and human motivations.

There are many factors and behavioural issues around why people stay and leave jobs.  Part of the paradox and insight may be found in the rarely discussed condition of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome. More on that later.

Candidate and talent shortfalls have many causes including border closures, stalled immigration, trust and flexibility issues, and entrenched ageism combined with conscious and unconscious biases.   

Biases will have either culled top applicants at the front application end or dissuaded skilled candidates from applying in the first place.  Fear of rejection is real and justifiable even for the most highly credentialed across all levels and roles.

Hence I don’t buy into the seemingly frenzied resignation hyperbole. 

Nor do I buy fully into the rhetoric of talent shortages being at the helm of external factors.

What is the Great Resignation

 The term Great Resignation was coined early this year by Professor Anthony Klotz a management academic in Texas.   Known also as the ‘big quit’ it originated in response to the trend of voluntary resignations in the USA due to COVID-19.

Microsoft (owners of LinkedIn) in March released their study on hybrid work and disruption  reporting that over 40% of the global workforce would be considering leaving their employer.  McKinsey & Co published that more than 15M USA workers have already left their jobs since April 2021.

In Australia a survey of 1000 workers conducted by a HR service platform found 40% of workers plan to look for a new job in the next 6 months with 15% looking currently.  Gartner Australia also reported 3 in 5 Aussies could be looking to move in early 2022.

Talk vs action 

Talk is easy but actions much harder.  Merely considering a move or a desire to resign is poles apart from actually taking action and jumping. 

Yes there has been movement already as seen in the USA. Workplace flexibility and working from home has seen national shifts in Australia.

Humans often comment or vote in the moment based on a range of factors that don’t translate to action.   Peoples natural personality style and level of risk aversion rarely changes during any  crises but amplified

Bleats  of dissatisfaction and complaints about work and managers  is a natural part of the human condition at the best of times.  And after two years of hell emotions are running high.  

The nuances of decisions

Career and lifestyle naval gazing has been a constant during the pandemic for millions. Reflections on the meaning of happiness, family, success and career fulfilment reigned.

Pandemic pressures and working from home changed the world for most.  For many, light bulb moments shone brightly empowering new decisions, actions and goals. 

But for just as many, confusion and stagnation spiralled gnawing away at confidence and energy levels.   Not all is linear as stability and risk aversion often trumped change.

Motivations to change jobs can spring from toxic management, poor workplace culture, lack of recognition and rewards and little or no learning and promotional opportunities.  Money is rarely a key reason to jump. Flexibility and hybrid environments can and will be a key factor now.  But not all preferences and decisions will coincide. .

Reluctance and fear to change jobs and careers has so many variables.  Some are totally unrelated to the job itself but can be connected to other lifestyle issues and family influences.

Reasons why resigning can be difficult

Competent people choose to stay in unhealthy workplace environments for a range of personal reasons, some of which they don’t understand themselves.  There are many other reasons why professionals find it difficult to leave jobs

Apart from fear of rejection, ageism and other biases other reasons include a love of the role itself and a desire to protect their staff. Seduction of  top salaries, influence, important responsibilities and even a lack of market worth awareness feature regularly.  And its the latter lack of market worth that really bites.

 Corporate Stockholm syndrome

Before I dive into the perils of Corporate Stockholm Syndrome it’s important to clarify its origins of Stockholm Syndrome.

Stockholm Syndrome was coined in 1973 by Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist Nils Bejerot to describe psychological responses of captivity and abuse of kidnappings and bank robberies.   Positive feelings are developed towards captors as coping mechanisms along with often negative feelings towards police, family and friends who try to assist in escaping.

Corporate Stockholm Syndrome (CSS) is when employees identify and remain loyal to employers who mistreat them.   Psychology Today  reported a rapidly increasing problem of employees experiencing Corporate Stockholm Syndrome.

CSS is displayed by employees being emotionally attached to the employer at the detriment of their own emotional health.  Employees will rationalize and justify the poor treatment to themselves and others often with an overarch of PTSD.

Confidence is eroded under cultures of hostility, unreasonable demands, over work, excessive compliance, micromanagement and embedded approval seeking. Promotions are stifled with targets believing problems and abuse will rectify themselves despite evidence to the contrary.  

Like any abusive relationship, targets believe it’s their responsibility to do better to win approval and peace.   One of the issues that flames CSS is the over identification with work and professional persona’s.  We gain so much self esteem from our work and invest considerable time and effort to keep the mirage alive.

Many are oblivious to the reality of CSS but friends and family will see the manifestation clearly.  Urging loved ones to seek support and resign can become frustrating when met with inaction.

Final thoughts

For individuals 

Naming and claiming issues sets the wheel of growth in motion. If you identify with the signposts of CSS you must reach out for professional help.   If stuck in jobs that do not serve you well, consider the why behind your fear and reach for career and lifestyle support so you can process the issues so you can move forward to a healthier workplace and role.

For recruiters and hiring managers

Given the volume of jobs unfilled there are some real opportunities to embrace.  Whilst I don’t believe professional sectors will see the great 41% resignation, I do believe all organisations must hire differently.

You need to address the reasons why talented professionals are not being swayed to move and factor in CSS in marketing and inspirational employer brand choice communications.   It is about building a platform of applicant confidence and eradicating biases and poor recruitment processes.

Hiring campaigns that creatively address objections and headhunting activities that understand human risk foibles will achieve greater outcomes.

I would wager a bet that the great resignation won’t manifest as is touted. Similarly, I would bet that understanding CSS, candidate hesitancy and applying fresh hiring strategies without ageism and bias will have a positive social, workplace and economic impact.


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