Judith has been an ally for over a decade, ever since I placed her at the company where she’s since risen to the position of human resources manager. While I am pretty sure mine is the only company she contacts when she has an opening to fill, just as often she will be in touch to tap my mind on what she calls “the view from the other side.”
As I am in ongoing conversations with many other human resources and recruiting managers, as well as fellow business CEOs, her questions will go beyond staffing issues, including what I’ve been seeing in the marketplace on benefits and personnel policies. A recent call from Judith concerned the latter.
“I’ve just had another out-of-the-blue resignation,” she reported.
“She’s an engineering supervisor who’s been here over 7 years. I haven’t done the exit interview yet, but I didn’t have the impression that she has another gig lined up. Management has been on me to beef up employee retention efforts. With our government contracts, we are under a lot of pressure to show greater diversity, particularly in professional and management ranks.”
After sharing with Judith that I’ve heard an increasing number of similar reports lately, I informed her of the hard data: 1-in-4 women are now considering quitting their jobs to stay home; the quit rate for women is about 1% greater than for men; 1-in-3 women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce, up from 1-in-4 mulling those options last year.
“Why is this ‘Great Resignation’ happening more with women?” Judith wanted to know.
The surveys indicate the following:
- School Uncertainty: While many schools are now strongly committed to in-person learning with full masking, small cohorts, and twice-weekly testing, the need for occasional class quarantines due to COVID exposure or contraction by classmates results in a sudden switch to remote learning that requires adult presence and involvement. How to advance a demanding career with that level of uncertainty? The burden has typically fallen on women in traditional households, 2 to 1, no matter the agreements to split responsibilities evenly. This is due, according to the data, to women being raised to be “service-oriented,” perhaps unconsciously volunteering to assume that role. In single-parent women-led homes, there is usually no option about who oversees their children when schools revert to remote learning.
- Virus Exposure: Returning to the workplace adds family exposure risk from those who remain unvaccinated and break-through contractions by those vaccinated. The school can control these exposures, including required masking by all, much better than the workplace can do. Passing along COVID to children, now even as a breakthrough infection, is a horrifying consequence. Women who are (most likely) also involved with the care of aging parents (“welcome to the sandwich generation!”), worry about passing along a breakthrough infection, or even a cold, to an immunocompromised parent.
- Advancement Opportunities: While many employers have been great about accommodating parenting needs, and are willing to consider requests to remain a remote worker, a woman might fear that her opportunity to advance her position will be affected by her ongoing lack of impromptu face-to-face access to senior management, those who need to be comfortable with her to recommend her advancement. Her request for special permission to work from home might also subconsciously mark her as less than a team player in her superiors’ eyes, even though her company is committed to closing the gender gap among management.
- Workplace Microaggressions: The recent advent of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements have resulted in greater consciousness about subtle sexual and racial prejudices that women, particularly women of color, regularly face. Coupled with the strong demand for workers, and for employees that increase diversity in the workplace (whether for contract obligations and/or social consciousness and/or to create a more successful work environment), an impetus is created to move to a situation where such hostilities are less likely to occur.
- Diminished Financial Pressure: Both men and women have benefitted from the pandemic-related government’s subsidies, stock market value increases, and reduced opportunities to spend money (particularly on vacations) that have resulted in a significant rise in personal savings. Both double- and single-income families now have a financial cushion to afford to take some time off between jobs. Some workers are even pursuing a career “gap year.” Most report that they are more confident of finding a job that likely is more accommodating and pays better when they are ready to return to the world of work, whether to continue their career or switch to a new one.
“That’s maybe what’s going on with my recent resignation,” Judith replied, reacting to my last two points. She has experience with handling those concerns with multiple strategies to make her company a unique place to work and not easily replicated by other firms in her industry. Paying at the high end of the personnel market helped, too, in what Judith referred to as “golden handcuffs.” I used that observation to suggest some other strategies that might further differentiate Judith’s company and retain employees, particularly women employees, at this strange convergence of a pandemic and a hot labor market:
- “Work from anywhere” mentality, where in-person interaction was not vital to operations (or advancement).
- Greater flexibility in regular work schedules, including possibly working four longer days a week.
- Partnering or teaming as needed, so that someone would have a ready backup if they needed to suddenly be at home, and they could offer that to their partner/teammates, too.
- Cohort approach to isolating employees during virus surges, to limit transmission between the unvaccinated to the vaccinated, and between associates who are each other’s back-ups.
Judith was in touch again a week later and could share that the insights she received from the exit interview were much more helpful thanks to my input. In fact, she was considering a new industry practice of having “exit interviews” with employees likely most at risk to be considering resigning based on these five factors, to identify their concerns and avert an eventual departure. Meanwhile, we needed to discuss the skill and experience requirements for the replacement employee Abel Personnel now needed to identify for to Judith hire.
CNBC, “Women are leading the way in the ‘Great Resignation.’ Here’s what it means for employers and job seekers,” Michelle Fox, November 17, 2021
Money Watch, “Americans are quitting their jobs — and women are leading “the Great Resignation,” Aimee Picchi, October 13, 2021.