Employees are leaving their jobs in record numbers. What should workplaces do?

A help wanted sign on a door.
A sign on the door of Stonehouse Coffee and Roastery in Nisswa, Minn., advertises job openings. Stonehouse and other Brainerd-area businesses had to reduce hours due to a shortage of workers this past summer — and to keep up with a busier-than-ever summer tourist season.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News file

The so-called “great resignation” isn’t slowing down. Since April 2020, about 20 million employees have quit their jobs, according to Marketplace. And according to a Microsoft survey from March, 41 percent of the global workforce said they intend to leave their job this year. 

The pandemic contributed to so many people leaving their jobs. But burnout is another factor. How can workers prevent their own burnout? And how can employers retain and recruit staff?

MPR News host Angela Davis speaks with MPR senior economics contributor Chris Farrell and journalist Jennifer Moss, who recently wrote a book about burnout. 

Guests: 

  • Jennifer Moss is a journalist and the author of “The Burnout Epidemic” and “Unlocking Happiness at Work.” 

  • Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor at MPR News. 

Here are four takeaways from the conversation.

Editor’s note: The quotes below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Burnout isn’t a personal problem. It’s a systemic problem.

“It’s an ecosystem problem to solve. It’s a we problem to solve. Because for forever we have just said, ‘Do more yoga.’ Or ‘here’s an app that helps you breathe. And here are some subsidized gym memberships, and there you go, you can solve burnout with self-care.’ And although we do still have to practice self-care and make sure that we are increasing our well-being every day as individuals, that is not going to solve for overwork or systemic discrimination or lack of fairness or being bullied at work and not having psychological safety. You can’t just take 15 minutes to listen to rain and then all of it goes away. And so this has been a big gap that we treat these problems with band-aid solutions instead of way further upstream with really dealing at the root cause.” — Jennifer Moss

The Great Resignation is happening across demographics and career fields.

“It’s pretty much across the board. A lot of it does seem to be tied into mid-career, that period of time when you have established your career but often you have family, you might have younger children. … But a recent survey by LinkedIn, the professional networking platform, they had almost half of working Americans that they surveyed said the pandemic has affected how they feel about their career. And 73 percent of these workers said they feel less fulfilled in their current jobs. And when they were breaking it down, for example, those who were thinking about changing their jobs, 34 percent of those were 55 years and older, so Baby Boomers.  I think this is across the board, and I think an awful lot of it has to do with the way that employers have treated their employees for a long time, not just during the pandemic. … It’s been a harsh environment. And I think workers are fed up.” — Chris Farrell

One solution? More data-based decision making.

“That sounds like a big scary thing to suggest to a team of 10, but really, it’s just listening. It’s more consistent and frequent communication. We can solve for workload inefficiencies, which is one of the big leading reasons why we’re working 30 percent harder each day to hit our goals right now during the pandemic.” — Jennifer Moss

Moss suggests that managers schedule a weekly meeting where they ask their teams these questions:

  • What were the highs and lows of this week?

  • What were the stressors this week? What was the impact of those stressors?

  • What can we do for each other as a team, and what can I do as a manager to make next week a little easier?

Employers should see the Great Resignation as an opportunity to create change.

“This has a lot of momentum. And this is not going to end any time soon. That LinkedIn survey that I mentioned earlier, it says that more than one-third of workers they surveyed are looking for a career change. … To employers, here’s the message: Stop complaining. This is an opportunity to rethink the way you operate your business, the way you manage your people, and to end up with a more productive workplace.” — Chris Farrell

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.