What the Great Resignation means for the recruitment industry

In the final quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate rose to 5.1%, amounting to over 1.7 million people. Fast forward to the first week of August 2021 and the figures have been flipped – 1.7 million marking the number of active job ads in the UK.

WaveTrackR data has shown jobs rising for the second consecutive month, reaching highs not seen since before the pandemic, and average applications per job have been decreasing since the start of 2021. We’ve rotated back to a candidate’s market and employees know it. With increased opportunities and a working landscape that has irrevocably changed since the pandemic began, employees have become less accepting of aspects of their jobs that they simply put up with before, sparking what many are calling The Great Resignation. This may be disruptive for businesses but offers opportunities for recruiters, who can attract the increased talent on the market at a time when quality candidates are in short supply.  

How have we come to this when mere months ago recruiters were under siege from an influx of applications from desperate candidates? With the UK’s quick and efficient vaccination rollout and the reopening of the economy, business confidence is high. The Institute of Chartered Accounts’ Business Confidence Monitor showed Q3 2021 reaching a record high of +47, also showing an upwards trajectory each quarter from a near-record low of  -19 in Q4 2020.

Bar graph with jobs and applications from January to July 20210
Jobs and Applications per month | WaveTrackR July 2021 Report

That confidence is translating into growth plans, leading to a sharp increase in jobs. The WaveTrackR July Report revealed that jobs were 254% over the 2020 monthly average – not just a pandemic or a 2021 record but a figure that is higher than the pre-pandemic months at the start of 2020. At the same time, the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Market overview for August reported that unemployment shrunk to 4.7% in Q2 2021. It’s a simple calculation: more jobs + fewer candidates = labour shortages.

The WaveTrackR July Report revealed that jobs were 254% over the 2020 monthly average.

Meanwhile, many employees are seeking a change and, with the increased opportunities and decreased competition for jobs, are jumping ship to pursue that. The reasons for a desire for change are numerous and personal to each individual but there are a few that are currently common.

Some are disgruntled with an enforced return to the office, others have had pay freezes combined with increased workloads. Some were considering a move pre-pandemic and are returning to the idea now that the market is more favourable. For some, there has been a shift in priorities driven by the pandemic, whether that’s a better work-life balance, or perhaps a desire to do something more meaningful. Others simply weren’t treated well during the pandemic and are now responding with their feet.

What people are looking for in a job has changed, pretty much across the board, in all industries and across all levels. Remuneration is of course still important but company and workplace culture and values, the way staff are supported (or not), the compassion seen from leadership level down, has become the priority. How a company treated its staff during the pandemic will also be remembered.

Companies need to invest in their people to increase retention and to attract the best candidates. The pandemic has changed the way employer branding functions. Successful employer branding now needs to centre on how a company treats and supports its staff and what its values are – and, importantly, what it does to act on those values. Employee wellbeing programmes, demonstrable diversity and inclusion initiatives, simply putting their people first – this is what candidates are now looking for in employers. Recruiters can lead the way on this by marketing clients’ organisations to promote people-first practices. And recruiters themselves must demonstrate their dedication to tackle issues such as diversity within recruitment head-on.

How can recruiters attract those newly on the market looking for a change?

Offer flexible working

Flexible, remote, hybrid, work from anywhere – these are the terms candidates are looking for when searching for a job in 2021.

In fact, they were searching for them pre-pandemic too – way back in early 2020 we published WaveTrackR’s Recruitment Trends: Industry Insights 2020 report with data that showed that flexible working terms were amongst the most searched for keywords by candidates.

The pandemic vastly accelerated the trend and now many candidates see it as a standard requirement for jobs where it is possible. It’s also a huge reason for employees to resign in the first place – if a company doesn’t offer some form of flexible working, they will go to a competitor that does. 

Prioritise wellbeing 

Initiatives such as mental health programmes, making wellbeing apps available to staff, access to therapy and healthcare packages are all highly sought after in a post-pandemic workplace. A caring culture is incredibly attractive and such initiatives are demonstrable examples of this. 

Include salary on the job ad

Even if many candidates have indicated that a good benefits package takes priority (with some even admitting they’d take a pay cut for a good one), salary transparency is crucial. It helps build candidate trust right from the beginning, shows that you have nothing to hide and has been shown in several reports to lead to increased applications – JobSite sees a 25-35% drop in candidates when salaries aren’t published with the job ad.

Data from JobSite shows a 25-35% drop in candidates when salaries aren’t published with the job ad.

It’s important to note here that although some organisations are offering joining bonuses or increased salaries, surveys have shown that many aren’t. Furthermore, media coverage on a 7.4% growth in annual pay didn’t always highlight the fact that, with furlough and reduced salaries over the pandemic, in real terms, this only takes us back to pre-pandemic levels.  

Career progression

This is another way that employers can demonstrate their commitment to investing in their people. Offer candidates and employees growth and development opportunities – training, upskilling, promotions – or they will find them elsewhere.  

An influx of resignations isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means more talent in the market looking for roles and companies that are better suited to their skills and values. That’s a win for everybody.

What it should be is a wake-up call to employers to ensure they are investing in their people and treating them well. There are now opportunities for businesses and recruiters that can leverage this desire for change with an attractive offering that appeals to the 2021 candidate.

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