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The great resignation: Why employees are no longer unconditionally compliant

By October 1, 2021October 2nd, 2021No Comments

Finally, a seismic shift of power that has employers quaking, writes Aoife Geary

All over the world people are reconsidering their career options. 

In the US, four million people quit their jobs in April alone. According to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, 40 percent of people want to change jobs this year while similar numbers have been reported in Ireland and the UK. 


It’s a phenomenon that’s been coined ‘the great resignation’ and frankly, it’s about time. For too long, employers have determined working conditions and employees have simply complied.

Afterall, the fear of being unemployed is a significant one. It can keep you in a situation that is at best unfulfilling and at worst seriously detrimental to your health. Why? The memories of 2008 and the post Celtic tiger economy linger on. This fear of deep recession, mass unemployment, and widespread hardship has undoubtedly affected our outlook.

That all changed when the pandemic hit. Our lifestyles and priorities were transformed.

People lost jobs and faced indefinite financial hardship.

While initially terrifying, having these fears realised can actually be a relief. You build resilience. You develop a new perspective. And you can conclude that losing your job isn’t the worst thing that can happen. In fact, being stuck in a job that makes you miserable is a far more damaging prospect. 

Inevitably, you begin to question things which you had previously just accepted.

Why can’t there be more flexible working days and hours? How much longer do I need to wait for that salary increase? Why am I expected to show deference to an inept manager? Instead of being dutifully grateful to have a job, shouldn’t my employer be grateful to have employees too? 

For Jill*, 27, the decision to look for a new job is not just about being paid her worth, it’s about recognising hard work too.  

“My friends and I have been talking a lot more openly about salary in the last few months, and it’s made me realise that I’m on far less money than all of them, for very similar jobs. This is probably the main reason I’m looking for a new job. My company doesn’t really appreciate hard work and they never really reward us.

There are no real benefits in my work package, things like pensions, health insurance, good maternity leave. These are all things that are important to me now, that might not have been when I started there in my early 20s. Now I realise we get the bare minimum in terms of support, and it’s not really good enough.”

Jane*, 39, says lockdown exposed a lot of structural and leadership issues in her organisation, resulting in the resignation of her entire team. 

“There was a complete lack of process and support for the team, with expectations of staff well above their pay grade. The same feedback given to management in 2016 was still not being dealt with. If you are going to ask your staff what they want, listen or you’ll lose them. I’ve seen a lot of staff surveys in the last 18 months. But they’ve just been a box-ticking exercise.

The pandemic made me ask myself harder questions about my career and where I was headed in life. I considered what I was willing to accept financially and in terms of work-life balance.

It took me seven months to land the role I wanted. My salary needed to reflect my education, experience and living in a capital city. I also wanted to work in a culture that genuinely supported career development. I always had huge anxiety around finding a new job, and to be honest it was probably one of my most feared activities. For me, it helped to just take it in stages. 

Jamie*, 33 decided to make the move when they realised that work negativity was bleeding into their home life. 

“I’m very interested in the idea of work identity, I think when you can feel work changing you in a negative way, it’s time to reassess. I’ve seen negativity grow in a team I’ve worked closely with for two years. They don’t feel listened to. They’re unfulfilled in their roles. There’s a general feeling that now’s the time to make the move. 

My advice to someone unhappy in their role is to weigh up the pros and cons. What do you gain from staying? And what’s holding you back from moving on and looking for better opportunities? I fear people who stay in a job they’re unhappy with can leave with their confidence bruised; don’t ever let that happen.”

So what can employers do to retain their employees?


Not being listened to is extremely frustrating. Jamie says that employers need to listen more and encourage feedback from the whole team, not just a select few. 

“Actively engage your team. Give people the opportunity to contribute so they feel involved and invested in what’s going on in the business,” they said.

Acknowledge good work

A lot of businesses have suffered during the pandemic and won’t be in the position to offer higher salaries, but recognition doesn’t have to be financial. Jill believes just acknowledging quality work can be a good motivator. 

Even if it’s not with a promotion or a bonus, just an email or message here or there to say well done would be nice,” she said.

Be flexible

One thing we’ve learnt over the past year is that everyone works differently. Forcing people to be in the office every day does not improve productivity. In fact, there is a plethora of research that shows working from home boosts productivity. Jane urges employers to be flexible when it comes to working from home policies. 

“The value of diversity to an organisation is undeniable now. That diversity includes diversity of experiences, and everyone’s best working environment varies. There needs to be flexibility and not just for those with families. We all work differently,” she points out.

Of course, it’s not all down to employers.

Even in companies where the conditions are great – generous salary, holidays and support – people are still choosing to move on. They’re pursuing roles they’re more passionate about. They’re demanding more flexibility to spend time with their loved ones. They’re even taking the leap and starting their own enterprise. This year we’ve seen the number of new businesses registered in Europe far surpass pre-pandemic levels. 

It might’ve taken a lockdown but we’re now open to a world of new opportunities. Long may it last.

* pseudonym used