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Deconstructing the Great Resignation

SHRM research reveals which employees are leaving and why

A man in a blue shirt sitting at a table.

​LAS VEGAS — New data shows that the imminent mass exodus of workers termed the Great Resignation, or the turnover tsunami, is underway.

Over 40 percent of U.S. workers are actively searching for a new job right now, or plan to soon, according to a new survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). That's twice the rate in 2019, said Alex Alonso, SHRM-SCP, chief knowledge officer for SHRM, who presented the research Sept. 11 at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021.

Almost half of U.S. executives (49 percent) said that in the past six months, their organization has seen higher or much higher turnover than usual.

The reasons for this are varied and many depend on the individual employee, but some trends can be found, Alonso said. While some workers could rise to the occasion when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, others struggled.

Many people managers couldn't handle the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Alonso said, noting that 56 percent of people considering finding new jobs are doing so because of their managers.

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Turnover and Retention

Who's Thinking of Leaving?

Younger workers, including Millennials and members of Generation Z, are more likely than members of Generation X and Baby Boomers to say they are actively searching for a new job right now, according to the research. Additionally, Black and Hispanic workers are more likely than white workers to say they're actively looking for new employment opportunities.

"This means our inclusion efforts are not as effective as we thought," Alonso said.

Workers in professional and business services, technology, and administrative roles are most likely to say they're actively searching for a new job, compared to workers in other industries.

Surveyed HR professionals said recent voluntary turnover has been highest in operations, customer service and logistics.

The most common reasons employees give for jumping ship include:

  • Better compensation (cited by 53 percent of respondents). More pay enables people to do the things they love outside of work, Alonso said.
  • Better work/life balance (42 percent). This option specifically excluded remote work, which is only available to 47 percent of the workforce, Alonso noted.
  • Better benefits (36 percent).
  • Career advancement opportunities (33 percent).
  • Desire to make a career change (33 percent). This is "COVID clarity," Alonso noted, explaining that some people became more aware of what they really want out of a job and in their lives as a result of the pandemic.

Younger workers are more likely to say they are searching for a new job for better benefits and because they want a career change, while older workers are more likely to say they are searching for better compensation.

Among workers looking for a new job, the majority (68 percent) agree that they decided to make a change during the COVID-19 pandemic and 64 percent said their expectations for what they want in a job have changed since the pandemic. On the other hand, the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has kept many job hoppers in place. About 62 percent said job security outweighs their desire to leave, and 45 percent agreed that they've stayed at their current job longer than they wanted to because of the public health crisis.

Recent Gallup research found that it's the self-identified disengaged workers who are planning on quitting. Gallup found that among those who are actively disengaged in their job, 75 percent are actively looking for new work. The organization, which measures employee engagement, said workers are burned out and feeling isolated after more than 18 months of working remotely. Other studies show that many workers would be willing to take pay cuts to avoid returning to daily onsite work.

The Domino Effect

Over half of U.S. workers (55 percent) said they've had team members voluntarily leave their organization within the past six months. Forty-two percent of respondents said they've thought about leaving their job more often since these colleagues departed.

About 28 percent have felt more lonely or isolated while at work and feel less loyalty toward their employer.

How Are Employers Responding?

Organizations are using a variety of strategies to respond to increased turnover, including offering new or additional remote- work or flexibility options, employee referral bonuses, merit increases, and additional spot bonuses.

SHRM researchers recommended that employers be innovative with retention strategies and prioritize and expand benefits that are likely to impact retention. That could include developing career paths and providing stretch assignments to help advance employees' careers within the organization.


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