What’s behind the Great Resignation? Blame burnout

There’s plenty of research indicating the validity of the Great Resignation–in which scores of employees are quitting or considering quitting. But why, exactly, are so many employees leaving their jobs? The answer may have to do with one of employers’ biggest problems.

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Burnout is the primary culprit behind the scores of people who have left jobs over the past six months, according to recent report from Limeade. According to the software firm’s survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers who started a new job in 2021, respondents say burnout (40%) is the main reason they left their job, followed by organizational changes at the company (34%), lack of flexibility and not feeling valued (20%), and insufficient benefits (19%).

Meanwhile, of the 28% of employees who left their jobs without another job lined up, respondents were nearly twice as likely to cite burnout as their reason for resigning.

“People reached their limits,” says Laura Hamill, Limeade chief science advisor. “The mass exodus workplaces have experienced over the past several months is unprecedented–burnout levels reached an all-time high. There was a societal breakdown when it came to the ecosystem of work, home and wellbeing.”

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping 19 million workers quit their jobs between March 2021 and July 2021.

Burnout is a massive issue that has plagued employees over the past year-and-a-half–one exacerbated by the pandemic and its myriad problems, including longer hours, little to no time off and blurred lines between work and home life as remote work became the norm. A June survey of 2,800 workers from global staffing firm Robert Half found that more than four in 10 employees (44%) say they are more burned out on the job today compared to a year ago.

For employees, burnout can result in lower productivity, health issues, substance abuse, and heightened anxiety and depression. For organizations, burnout can lead to lower commitment, higher absenteeism and, of course, more turnover.

Although burnout is the biggest culprit behind mass resignations according to Limeade, the survey also finds that 19% of employees left due to insufficient benefits and 16% left because their wellbeing was not supported by the company.

Many employers have recently made moves to combat employee burnout by encouraging employees to take their earned vacation time, with many others going further and adding extra mental health days, or even a week off. LinkedIn, Mailchimp, Momentive, Podium and more gave their employees a paid week off this year (on top of employees’ normal vacation time) to help them combat burnout and encourage them to unplug and recharge. Companies including SAP, Cisco, Google and Thomson Reuters also instituted companywide mental health days.

Related: Employers’ new weapon against burnout: collective time off for workers

The Limeade survey also reiterates the importance of remote work, flexibility, comprehensive benefits and wellbeing efforts. When searching for greener pastures, survey respondents cited the ability to work remotely, better compensation and more employee care as top criteria for new roles.

Employers would be wise to take a big picture approach to helping employees and embracing multiple benefits and strategies, rather than a single approach, experts say. They should also be sure to regularly communicate and survey employees to find out what support they need.

“We have to do better,” Hamill says of taking care of workers. “Ask them what they need. Do they need more flexibility? More autonomy? More trust? The Great Resignation is a great opportunity for employers to evolve, learn and do better. The companies that learn and grow from this feedback will succeed.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.