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The Great Resignationis making benefits more important than ever

By: Bill Zolis

A couple of months ago, I’d never even heard the term, “the Great Resignation,” but now it seems to be popping up everywhere – especially in our world, where employment benefits have always been a key part of recruiting and retention of employees. 

So what’s going on? It may be a little early to really understand what’s happening, but the name says it all: people are resigning – quitting, changing jobs, changing careers, going out on their own – in unprecedented numbers.  

– An all-time record 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs just in August. This followed record or near-record numbers in every month since March. 

– In Canada, the Business Development Bank reports that 55% of small and medium sized employers are struggling to fill hiring vacancies, and that 26% say they’re having a hard time holding onto their current staff.  

– A global survey from Microsoft reports that some 40% of employees are looking at making a change in job or career. 

Harvard Business Review looked at the numbers and reports that the majority of people in The Big Quit, as it is also being called, are in mid-career and aged 30 to 45. The technology and health care sectors are the hardest hit, but the phenomenon cuts across all boundaries. 

Reasons for the sudden surge in turnover – as we start to emerge from the Covid pandemic – are harder to pin down, but sources I’ve been able to find tend to focus on four. 

– Burnout. A great many employees, especially in the hardest-hit tech sector, found themselves under more and more pressure, and working longer and longer hours during the pandemic. Some are saying, “Enough,” and looking for other jobs or even other careers. 

– Don’t want to go back. Many employees, after working from home for a year-and-a-half or more, just don’t want to go back to a 9-to-5 working environment. 

– Loosening of social ties to the physical workplace. Many people who stayed in their jobs because they liked the social interaction of the workplace saw that aspect of their working lives slowly disappear during the long months of work-from-home. 

– New opportunities. It’s sort of the opposite of burnout – many people have come into their own during the pandemic, working remotely, becoming more and more effective in doing so, and realizing how portable their skills really are. Throw in a hot market for skilled workers and many people will be motivated to make a change. 

Now, while “The Great Resignation” is a very catchy term, others are calling it “the next great disruption,” which I think is closer to the heart of the matter, but I’d still give it a completely different name. 

I’d call it The Big Move. 

That’s because almost everyone who resigns is going somewhere else. Sure, some change careers and some go for contract or gig work, but for the large majority, it means moving to another – better — job in the same field. 

This brings us back to recruiting and retention. What constitutes the “better” jobs that people are moving towards? 

Robert Half Canada has just released its 2022 Salary Guide, and it makes interesting reading. The major things employees are looking for in a new job? Salary, of course. Then flexible work schedules, followed by remote work options, and “programs that support employee well-being.” (Which we refer to as “benefits.”) 

RBC Insurance has just published the results of an Ipsos Reid poll they commissioned on the subject of what they call our current “record high labour shortages” and “increasingly competitive job market.” 

– More than two-thirds of Canadians (68%) would rather take a job with a good benefits plan and lower pay than a job with higher pay and no benefits. 

– Nearly half of younger employees reported that they felt their benefits plans had not met their wellness needs. 

– Close to half of all long-term disability claims for younger employees were mental-health related.  

RBC suggests that, in order to stay in touch with what younger employees are looking for in their benefits programs – what they see as desirable – we should be making sure that we have good coverage of “wellness” supports. 

– Healthy lifestyle products, such as fitness trackers, running shoes or other active-lifestyle products. 

– Support for outside activities that help establish a more balanced lifestyle, such as cooking or art classes, guitar lessons and so on. 

– Fitness memberships and team sports that combine exercise with social activities. 

We’ve talked about these type of “wellness” benefits before, and it can sometimes be hard to put them in their proper perspective. How do you compare, say, a fitness tracker expensed through a wellness spending account with, say, long-term disability that pays the mortgage and supports an employee’s family in a time of crisis? 

Well, you’ve got to have that long-term disability. And life, and medical, dental, prescription, sure, but we also have to listen to what the young and mid-career professionals – the ones who are driving the great resignation – are telling us.  

Look at it this way. Imagine you had just made your best offer to an in-demand professional you were trying to recruit. When that person gets home, are they going to say to their significant other, “Hey Honey, that job is great! They’ve got LTD and dental and life coverage!” Or are the going to say, “Hey Honey, that job is great! I can get a fitness tracker and running shoes and they’ll pay for my gym membership!” 

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Meet the Member: Benefits Alliance recently did a short interview/profile of me…  

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I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmorebenefits.com. 

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