The Great Resignation and its effects aren't going away anytime soon.
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Work norms have changed a lot over the past couple of years. Working from home (or just about anywhere) has become commonplace. Zoom calls have replaced crowded conference rooms, large training sessions, and in-person events. On top of all that, employees across industries have been resigning in record-high numbers, leaving several companies struggling to fill open positions and many wondering: What's next?

We can't predict exactly what work or life will be like when the pandemic has resolved—and as the recent Omicron surge showed us, the light at the end of the tunnel can be rather deceptive. However, we can take note of recent trends and consider how they might evolve in the future. We asked HR expert Amy Zimmerman, chief people officer at Relay Payments, to share her insights about workplace and employee trends for 2022.

The aftermath of the Great Resignation

By now, you've likely heard about The Great Resignation and the 4.5 million Americans who voluntarily left their jobs in November of 2021. Whether or not another big quitting wave comes in 2022, the effects of these record-high resignations aren't going away anytime soon. As Anthony Klotz, the psychologist and Texas A&M University professor who coined the phrase "The Great Resignation," told CNBC, "This is a moment of empowerment for workers, one that will continue well into the new year."

Last month, Bharat Ramamurti, the National Economic Council deputy director, edited the phrase to "The Great Upgrade," noting how workers aren't just quitting—they're moving on to better, higher-paying jobs.

Zimmerman believes the wave of resignations was largely rooted in "people feeling disconnected from their managers, disconnected from their companies and their work, and underappreciated." So, she says, when recruiters come calling, workers were more inclined to respond than they might have been prior to the pandemic. "Now you're at home, you're feeling disconnected, and you're like, 'Sure, I'll take a recruiter call, let me see what they have to say,'" she says. "And then you hear you're going to get a 30 percent raise. It's a no-brainer that folks are moving to new companies."

While The Great Resignation is leaving some workplaces short-staffed and struggling to find workers, there's also a positive consequence: It's pushing companies to offer better benefits and higher salaries.

More demands for flexibility

As workers become more empowered to make demands for better work conditions, flexibility to work from anywhere is at the top of the list. In fact, in a Real Simple poll of 436 people conducted late last year, a third of respondents said they would quit their jobs if required to return to work full time. Several studies have also shown that half of American workers rank flexibility as more important than higher pay. While the push for more remote work and work-from-home flexibility has been happening for a while, it's become even more clear to workers that flexible work options are out there if they don't already have them.

"I don't think [flexibility] is necessarily a new 2022 trend, but I do think it has continued," Zimmerman says. "And for companies that are taking that flexibility away, I think they're making a huge mistake because I think they're going to wind up losing some good people in doing so."

No more work "families"

The constant challenges to workplace norms over the past two years have also brought a lot of conversation around the topic of healthy and toxic work cultures. Moving forward, more and more people are realizing that the commonly promoted idea of coworkers as "family" is one that we should leave behind.

"First of all, you don't typically fire family members if they aren't producing, and number two, there's a lot of dysfunction in many ways," Zimmerman says. "And so, I just think that that nomenclature is really important to avoid."

This idea of work families can increasingly blur the line between professional and personal lives, making it even harder for workers to establish a healthy work-life balance. This framing can also create toxic expectations of loyalty, in which employees are expected to pour everything into their jobs, just as they might do anything for family. With the trend of increased workers' enlightenment, more and more people are seeking out jobs that are just that—jobs, which they can clock out or log off from and separate from their personal lives.

Abandoning the idea of work families, however, doesn't mean breaking off all human connections between workers. In fact, Zimmerman says that building relationships and connections with employees is just as, or even more, important now—because people don't want to be treated like cogs in the machine either.

"I think rewards and recognition have never been more important," she says. "People want to feel valued. They want to be seen. They're not physically seen in so many ways right now, so seeing them and their contributions has never been more important."

Employee coaching

One way to make employees feel seen, Zimmerman says, is to invest in their individual success and growth. At her own company, Zimmerman recently hired an employee coach, whose role is to help employees with their skill development and performance at work. "With athletes, you hire a coach and good athletes become great athletes when they're invested in, and so we adopted that kind of concept or principle," she says. Larger companies like Google and Facebook have been using coaches for a while now, and the relationships can help to keep employees feeling connected to their jobs and a sense of purpose with their work, and in turn, helping with retention.

While employee coaching is a slower growing trend, Zimmerman believes the investment in this extra layer of engaging with employees has great potential to payoff if more companies follow suit.

Four-day workweeks

The four-day workweek is in no way a new idea, but it's taken this wide-scale reevaluation of the workplace to make it finally feel (somewhat) within reach. At the beginning of the year, the major Japanese company Panasonic offered employees the option of four-day workweeks—which was a major move, considering that only about 8 percent of Japanese companies offered more than two days off a week in 2020. In the same week, Bolt, a San Francisco-based tech company also announced a four-day workweek. Several other companies, like The Financial Diet, Kickstarter, Healthwise, and more have already implemented and seen success from adopting the three-day weekend formula. So, while we're likely a ways away from four-day workweeks becoming the norm, keep an eye out for more companies following the trend this year as we reimagine what the work week looks like.