The Great Resignation

Published on Sun, 30/01/2022 - 16:26

It’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation” – people quitting their jobs at historic rates in the wake of the pandemic. Airmic CEO Julia Graham considers the risk management implications.

The Great Resignation has many hallmarks of an emerging risk. With the lifting in January of many coronavirus restrictions in parts of the UK, many people will be returning to their workplaces, but work patterns will continue to evolve.

There are long-term consequences as well as immediate implications. Such changes are inclined to emphasise the more strategic elements of an organisation’s risk landscape, which rarely emerge in isolation. Organisations can be more sluggish in addressing emerging and strategic risks than immediate threats, especially in a rapidly changing business environment.

The risk professional has a key role to support their top management in assessing where The Great Resignation should fit as part of their risk management framework and whether existing processes, metrics and communications are sufficiently dynamic.

Some believe that the trend is being driven by an economic and psychological shift as employers struggle to tempt people to sectors that have previously treated their workers as dispensable. The truth is more complicated than this.

Among the top reasons for people opting out of conventional jobs have been lack of adequate childcare and health concerns about Covid, exacerbated by Omicron. Some sectors are seeing higher rates of people quitting than others – leisure and hospitality, retail and healthcare are among the most affected.

And while the framing of The Great Resignation places some emphasis on the idea that even knowledge workers are quitting from burnout or a sympathy with the budding anti-work movement, there are just as many reasons to suspect that many quit in search of better opportunities offered through self-employment, a different type of work or, simply, higher pay elsewhere.

Dig a little deeper and the factors of workplace flexibility and life-style changes are also quickly uncovered, –whether people want to live the dream and ‘escape to the country’ or build a home office where they live. Where, when and how work is delivered have a very different profile today.


A shortage of skilled and experienced people in key roles, including ones that are important for enterprise risk management, is a clear concern while organisations adjust to the new environment. In the UK, we may see additional dislocations as a result of the loss of some EU-citizens from the workforce.

The pandemic also continues to affect regions of the world at different rates and in different ways, depending on seasonality and the success of in-country responses, including vaccination programmes.

Longer term, links between The Great Resignation and other people risks should not be underestimated. For example, worker values and beliefs linked to climate change and desires to manage personal carbon footprint may affect retention and recruitment.

Significant challenges continue within the operating environment, and organisations must remain alert and focused on building resilience. The pandemic has caused a significant shift in working patterns, which is here to stay. How this is managed in the longer term will have an impact on an organisation’s ability to recruit and retain the ‘right’ talent.

“Overall, virtual and remote work is mostly here to stay.” Isabell Welpe, Technical University of Munich. Read What is ‘The Great’ Resignation?’ An expert explains’ from the World Economic Forum.