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Is the 'Hidden Resignation' Hurting Your Company?

A man sitting in front of a computer at night.

​With more than 4.3 million people quitting their jobs in February 2022, the Great Resignation is leaving a lot of vacancies for U.S. employers to fill. Employees who stay in their jobs, however, may be part of another form of resignation—the "hidden resignation"—still working, but not as efficient or productive as they were in the past.

"The traumas of the last year have people re-evaluating what is important and how they want to spend their most valuable resource—their time," said Michelle Bush, Ph.D., head of consulting and certified executive coach for the Vaya Group, a global leadership consultancy headquartered in Warrenville, Ill. "People who were once content clocking in hours for secure jobs and a paycheck are searching for more significance in their work. When unable to find answers to the questions of 'why does my work matter?' and 'how does this work support my life goals?' it's not surprising that people begin to feel less motivated to go the extra mile in their current roles."

In the second half of 2021, employee engagement levels fell for the first time in a decade, with just 34 percent of workers reporting that they felt engaged, according to a Gallup survey. This can be due to employers that aren't addressing the new realities of work employees face today, said Peter Corless, executive vice president of enterprise development at OnShift, an HR software services provider based in Cleveland.

"It is sparking a hidden resignation of burned-out employees," he said. "Leaders need to grasp that the turnover problem is beyond pay and new opportunities, and companies can't presume that employees are thinking the same pre-pandemic thoughts about their work."

Recognize Hidden Resignation in Your Organization

Observant managers can identify and address risk factors, at times even before employees themselves recognize their waning engagement, Bush said. She suggested looking for these four signs:

  • More employees engaging in "side hustles." "This could be an indication that they are not finding enough fulfillment, meaning, opportunities for creativity, and autonomy in their current roles," Bush said.
  • Higher levels of absenteeism. Less-engaged employees are more likely to take time away from work unexpectedly.
  • Tardiness, missed deadlines and overall decreased productivity.
  • Isolation and lack of communication. "Disengaged employees will be less likely to reach out to colleagues, [or to] collaborate and communicate with their manager and peers," Bush said.

Burnout is common, but it doesn't have to be inevitable, said Anna Dearmon Kornick, head of community and certified time management coach at Clockwise, a time management scheduling platform based in San Francisco.

"Behind every burnt-out employee is an unmet need, or several," she said. "To prevent your team from burnout, it's vital to pay more attention to the why behind it."

How to Reduce Disengagement

Create a plan to prevent employees from disengaging, Dearmon Kornick suggested. "One way to help employees here is to ensure they have enough time to get through their workload," she said. "This can include checking in on their bandwidth before assigning a new task, making sure they have enough resources to successfully complete their assignments, and ensuring deadlines are reasonable to meet."

Providing employees with a voice is another way to help, making sure processes feel collaborative instead of top-down, Dearmon Kornick said. "Rather than telling workers what they need to accomplish in the next quarter, tell them what the company needs and ask them how they think they should contribute."

Perks like flexible work schedules are important for keeping employees engaged, especially since the pandemic has turned this work style into an expectation, Corless said. Managers "should consider working with current employees and future candidates to determine a schedule that works best for the employee, even if it's allowing them to work a reduced schedule or adjusting their schedule by an hour to accommodate other priorities that employee faces," he said. 

Review the wellness benefits you offer, such as financial literacy and mental health programs. "When you help employees relieve the stress and the worry, you have a more productive, engaged employee," said Ken Coleman, career expert for Ramsey Solutions, a financial services provider headquartered in Franklin, Tenn., and host of The Ken Coleman Show, a daily career podcast. "They will see a path to a better life because of your guidance in the resources that you gave them."

What Employees Want Most

To re-engage employees and combat the hidden resignation, it's vital to help them find purpose and meaning in their work, Coleman said.

"They want to see that the work they're doing matters to the world, even if they're stuck in a cube coding," he said. "It's a leader's responsibility to help them see how that code is having just as much impact as anybody else in the company."

Employees also want their unique contributions acknowledged, he noted. "People want to be recognized for being a good teammate and for their unique contributions," he said. "Leaders should recognize them privately and publicly in front of their peers at work."

Finally, managers can re-engage employees by being more engaged themselves. "Employees want more of a coach/mentor relationship with leaders," Coleman said. "When leaders understand that they are, or can be, the most influential person in their employee's life as [it] relates to helping that employee live a better life—that is a game changer.

"The future of leadership is understanding that people don't want a better job—they want a better life. And you play a huge part in that."

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.


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