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The Great Resignation or the Great Disconnect?

November 6, 2021

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

While the “Great Resignation” implies a mass exodus of workers across demographics, a “Great Disconnect” signifies that only particular groups of workers – those who feel their employers are not meeting their needs – are considering leaving their job.  According to Mercer’s 2021 Inside Employee Minds survey, attraction and retention challenges are likely to continue in certain segments of the workforce where there is a disconnect between what employees want and what employers are offering.

Only 28% of respondents reported they were considering leaving their current employer, which is consistent with historical patterns – typically about 3 in 10 workers are considering leaving at any given point. However, certain groups are experiencing work much differently than others; frontline, low-wage, minority, and lower-level employees are more likely to leave, at rates significantly higher than historical norms.

“In many organizations, frontline and lower-level employees have been underinvested in and not considered a priority. Wages have historically stagnated behind inflation as employers competed to hire these workers at the lowest possible cost. But the pandemic has shown that this same group of workers not only kept business afloat, but were critical in keeping our nation running,” said Melissa Swift, Mercer U.S. Transformation Leader. “Employers now need to think differently about frontline and lower-level workers and deliver a compelling value proposition that addresses their needs.”

Employees’ Top Three Concerns

A component of this survey was to understand what employees’ top concerns are, both inside and outside of work.

  1. Health – The findings show that, among all demographics, concerns over the Delta variant have pushed physical health to the top of the list.
  2. Workload – Employees say burnout is a key reason for them to consider leaving their employer, behind pay and benefits.
  3. Mental Health – Mental health is the third top concern amongst all demographics, but it is most pronounced amongst younger workers, women, low wage workers, and Black and African American employees.

Low Wage VS. High Wage Workers

While most employers say they already pay above the minimum wage, that doesn’t mean they pay a living wage. New research shows that full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford rent anywhere in the U.S.

According to the survey, low wage workers – employees making less than $60k annually – are more worried about covering monthly expenses, physical and mental health, and financial wellness (retirement and debt).

Higher wage workers are most worried about their health, work/life balance, and personal fulfillment and purpose.

Women VS. Men

In the survey, women were much more likely to be low wage workers than men (61% vs. 39%). These findings demonstrate the divide in the workforce and how employees on the lower-end of the wage spectrum have very different experiences at work and require different support to meet their individual needs.

Ethnicity Groups

The survey also found significant differences in the concerns of workers across ethnicity groups – for Black and African American workers in particular. Black workers rated personal safety above all other concerns, well ahead of other minority groups. Concerns over physical safety are in response to both systemic and emboldened racism stemming from events such as the capitol insurgency and racial violence, as well as psychological safety at work as Black workers are more likely to experience micro aggressions or retaliation at work.

What Can Employers Do?

Prioritize hourly, front-line and low-wage workforces. Employers need to focus on how they can enhance the economic stability of their workforce and make frontline/hourly jobs more attractive – perks and other benefits won’t matter if these employees can’t address basic needs. Pay is one priority employers should consider, as well as other benefits that enhance the take home pay of this workforce, such as affordable healthcare and resources to enhance their financial wellness such as retirement savings programs and budgeting tools.

Offer Mental Health and Wellbeing Benefits. Burnout is a major issue and employees are struggling with mental health. Mercer’s 2021 Health on Demand research found while 59% of U.S. employees say they feel some level of stress, one-quarter report being highly or extremely stressed. Offering a diverse set of wellbeing and mental health benefits will help manage a number of people risks, including employee exhaustion, rising health costs, and employee turnover.

Make sure your company is a place where Black employees feel safe, accepted, and able to be their authentic selves. Organizations must move beyond attracting diverse talent, to ensuring their systems and structures within the organization enable them to thrive. Examining your data to understand where the experience is falling short is a great place to start. Another powerful action employers can take is to train and equip managers to be strong allies to these employees. Managers who can confidently identify and stand up against workplace inequities and micro-aggressions are in the best position to increase levels of inclusion and safety.

Offer flexibility. With work/life balance ranking second as an employee top concern across all demographics, flexibility is a top priority and a necessity for most employees, and employers who fail to embrace this new reality are likely to face continued challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

“Given the challenges that employees have faced on the front lines of this pandemic over the summer, and through the social unrest that we saw last year – employees are saying, in many cases due to what they are paid in low wage jobs, it’s just not worth it. And they are looking for more from their employer,” added Swift.

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