What Fueled Manager Resignations During the Pandemic?

By Electa Willander September 8, 2021

​At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and through its continuation into 2021, an astounding number of people have voluntarily left the labor market—and that includes managers. In fact, the pandemic caused many managers to re-evaluate their jobs and leadership abilities. Some were able to handle the extra responsibility caused by the pandemic, but others were stressed, burned out and looking for something new.

he Influence the Pandemic Had on Managers

Interestingly, the pandemic turned previous job-resignation patterns on their head.

The Resignation Wave Report by Visier, a people-analytic software maker, found that from August 2019 to August 2020, all age groups experienced a rise in resignations except those in the 20-25 age group.

"Typically, resignation rates are really high for the younger generation and early-career professionals," said Ian Cook, vice president of people analytics at Visier who has been benchmarking resignation rates for over 12 years. "There's an element where people haven't found their groove, are trialing and testing jobs, are much more mobile in their livelihoods, so typically the highest resignations rates are [for those with] less than one or two years of tenure and under [the age of] 25.

"The pandemic changed that. The pandemic meant those people stayed put."

Instead, it's been older workers, who tend to hold managerial positions more often than younger ones, fueling the Great Resignation, he said.

Part of the reason, he said, could be that managers are often further into their careers. They have contacts and an established resume, both of which can translate to finding another job at higher pay in the same industry—or even an entirely new occupation. They probably have money saved or a spouse who's working, or both, which can give them the freedom to quit. And they have enough experience to recognize that it can be important to re-evaluate how a job affects their overall life.

The Visier report clarifies that not all industries have seen an increase in resignations; high-tech and health care are the two industries driving the resignation phenomenon.

Remote Work Changed the Job of Managing

Challenges arose when companies transitioned to a remote-work or hybrid setting during the pandemic. Managers had to pivot and find new ways to connect with their employees, guide them, and keep them motivated and productive.

"A lot of managers bear the brunt of the policy decisions that employers make around how to deal with" remote and hybrid work, Cook said. "They are on the front lines of all those conversations with their teams. They play this absolutely crucial [policy] translation role."

Then again, the increased willingness of companies to offer new applicants remote jobs has also turned the heads of managers themselves.

"The volume of remote-work opportunities skyrocketed over the last year and a half," according to Boston-based Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market analytics firm.

The number of remote job owpportunities advertised online jumped from 451,251 in August 2020 to 938,647 in August 2021, according to Emsi Burning Glass.

Cook said he believes that the pandemic opened plenty of remote-work opportunities for managers that better matched their skills and their desire for work/life balance.

The pandemic changed the task of managing in ways beyond just supervising employees working from home or in a hybrid setting. It also impacted how individuals considered and approached retirement.

"The pandemic ushered in so many changes at the same time—remote work, a renewed push for the four-day workweek, a chronic shortage of workers, the hyper-accelerated adoption of collaboration technology like Slack, Zoom and Teams—that many managers who were close to retirement age decided to quit and retire early," said Lester Mclaughlin, vice president of operations at Blue National HVAC, a one-stop HVAC-servicing company based in Wilmington, Del.

A record-breaking 3.2 million Baby Boomers retired during the pandemic, according to Emsi Burning Glass.

Electa Willander is a freelance writer based in Gettysburg, Pa.



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