‘Great Resignation' will force employers to be more flexible

A woman works on her computer.
Jackie Jiran, 48, has just made a major midlife career change that allows her to work from home. “I am able to, in a way, have it all,” she says.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The pandemic has left many revisiting how they want to live and work, including 48-year-old Jackie Jiran, who just made a major midlife career change.

Jiran said the pandemic and working from her home in suburban Carver, Minn., opened a path for her to quit her substitute teaching job to pursue a career in what she went to school for, civil engineering. 

Jiran is just days into her new job analyzing traffic patterns for a major St. Paul employer. She already misses kids she taught for several years. She has goodbye, good-luck notes from some of them adorning a wall in her home office. 

“I am able to, in a way, have it all,” Jiran said. “It allows me to use my education and do what I really love to do, but also have some home-work balance. And I'm brand new to this remote working, so we'll see how it goes. But I think I'm really feeling empowered by it."

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The Labor Department said nearly 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in September. That's almost 1 million more than the number for the month of September in 2019 before the pandemic. 

Minnesota doesn’t have numbers for 2019, but the state’s Economic Development Department says the rate of people quitting jobs here picked up significantly this September compared to last year. 

The rise in people leaving their jobs has turned Jeff Kortes from a headhunter to an employee retention consultant. 

“Seventy percent of my business is in the employee retention side, working with people to lower their employee turnover,” Kortes said, adding that employers need to abandon the “you’re lucky to work for me” mindset if they want to attract new people and keep the workers they have.

 “I think the one thing that most organizations don't get is the fact that they've got to care about people more than they ever have,” Kortes said. “They've got to show them respect. And they've got to give them appreciation and praise. It's not like it was. One of the biggest things they can do is take the blinders off and get creative." 

Employers need to be more flexible in particular about work schedules and locations, Kortes said.

And businesses that want to bring workers back into the office need to carefully communicate compelling reasons for doing so, he added. “Just because,” Kortes said, is not good enough for many people any more.

“I've sometimes referred to it as the great reset,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president for human capital at the nonpartisan, nonprofit business think tank, The Conference Board. “People are thinking very deeply about how they want their next stretch of working life to look. … I think it's a seismic permanent shift. I don't think for a moment we'll ever really go back to the way things were before the arrival of COVID-19.”

The Conference Board recently surveyed 1,200 workers across the United States. They found 1 in 4 who quit their job did so for the opportunity to physically work where they want to work. The survey also found men left their jobs for flexible work locations at twice the rate of women. There were generational differences as well. 

“For example, boomers are quitting for the option to work from anywhere almost twice as much as their younger colleagues, the Gen X generation, or the millennials,” Ray said.

Ray and others believe younger people who are early in their careers are more likely to want to work conventionally so they can learn as much as possible about their company, which puts them in a better position to  build their careers. 

“They're going to need to be mentored. They need to have sort of a sense of camaraderie,” Ray said. “They need to understand what the culture is of the organization they've just joined."

Back in Carver, upstairs at the Jiran house — in the nursery turned remote learning room turned home office — Jackie Jiran said she thinks working from home will allow her to be more productive.

“If I'm not commuting an hour and a half or more a day plus sitting in traffic, which is stressful in itself, I think that I can focus," Jiran said, adding that the lack of that commute will help her live a healthier life. “Time to walk and exercise. And I think people can smartly recoup that hour and a half and build back in some healthy habits."