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The Hidden Resignation: An Employee Engagement Crisis Businesses Can't Ignore

Employers once held all the leverage over their employees. But now, thanks to the pandemic, the traditional workplace has lost its appeal. And for the first time in what seems like decades, it’s no longer an employer’s market when it comes to recruiting, hiring and retaining talent. The leverage now belongs to the employees. 

While millions of employees are quitting on principle and for pay increases, millions more are burning out and being spread thin at jobs they either love or are too afraid to leave. It’s the Hidden Resignation, and it’s already found its way into businesses everywhere. 

The impact of the pandemic on the American workplace has been huge. And one of the clearest takeaways from it all is that just having a job isn’t enough anymore for employees.  

In the modern workplace, employees typically choose to stay or leave their jobs based on a combination of reasons—compensation, values, stability and even commute time. 

But work as we know it is changing. It’s a brave new world for employees, and it’s the start of an employee engagement crisis for employers. So, what’s gone wrong? 

The Problem 

The Great Resignation has left companies short-staffed. And even though the number of remaining employees is still far more than the number of those who left, it’s the ones who jumped ship who have gotten all the attention. But has anyone asked how the left-behind folks are actually doing? 

They’re Spread Thin and Burned Out. 

It’s no wonder that the employees who’ve stayed with their businesses through one of the toughest times in recent history are now burning out. Seeing their peers leave for higher paying jobs while they’re left behind, stretching to hold their departments or businesses together, is demoralizing. 

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In recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 52% of these remaining employees said they’ve had to take on more work and responsibilities. Another 30% struggle to get their work done. And maybe the most haunting stat of all: 28% feel more lonely or isolated.1 

Overworked. Overwhelmed. Lonely. Burned out. 

Those aren’t words you want describing your employees. That’s an employee engagement crisis knocking on your company’s front door. Actually, it’s more than knocking—it’s smashing the glass to get in. The Hidden Resignation is here, and it’s not hiding anymore. 

So, Why Don’t They Just Quit? 

Let me put it this way: Fear + doubt = stuck employees. 

It’s really that simple. Many of the employees who’ve stuck around are afraid of making a change or doubt they could afford to do so. Why? Because it’s natural to hate change!  

And while that fact might feel like a relief to employers given all the employee turnover they’ve been through this year, it actually just means you’ve got a disengaged workforce full of fearful, burned-out people. That’s nothing to feel good about. 

The Real Problem: Employee Engagement 

Simply put: Higher engagement means better productivity, creativity and profitability. 

And without engagement, your business is out of gas. 

Look, you know just as well as I do that things might not always be as they seem with your employees. The issue isn’t always the issue. And that’s what’s going on here. 

For decades, things were great for employers. People applied. People got hired. Employers held all the leverage from hiring to firing, and that was that. 

But over time, employees started feeling underappreciated, frustrated, exhausted and underpaid. And let’s be real here, folks—American work culture is toxic in a lot of industries.

So, when the pandemic hit, employers were not prepared for how their employees would react. Many of them had fallen asleep at the wheel. And what do you get when you combine all those pent-up negative feelings employees were having with something as scary as a global pandemic? An employee retention crisis. And employee engagement suffered the collateral damage. 

What’s the Solution? 

Your remaining employees need to know you care. In fact, employee engagement only happens when employees know you care. If they don’t know (or if they know you don’t care), it’s unlikely they’ll want to pour into their work, let alone buy into your company’s mission. 

3 Things Employers Need to Communicate to Employees 

1. We see you and want to help. 

You know the folks who faithfully show up and do the behind-the-scenes work on good and bad days to make sure your business succeeds? They’re the soul of your business, and they need to know they’re seen and that you want to help them. But wanting to help employees and actually doing it are two very different things. The only way to communicate that you want to help is by actually helping them. This means you may need to jump in and get a little dirt under your fingernails, even if you have to put in some extra hours. Go the extra mile—it’ll mean the world to them. 

2. We hear you. 

Your employees need a voice. So that means you need to listen. You need to regularly ask them how they’re doing personally. Ask, “How can I help you win?” But if what they say goes in one ear and out the other, you can count on them jumping ship sooner rather than later. 

3. We recognize you. 

It’s not always about the money. If you create a world-class company culture, are generous and flexible with time off, treat employees like real people with real lives, and recognize them for their successes, that will go a long way. Recognition comes in a lot of forms and requires intentionality to make it count. Sometimes employees just want some old-fashioned, genuine appreciation in private conversation or in front of their peers. But a cash bonus from time to time is another great way to get the point across and say, “You’re doing an awesome job!” 

Bonus: Get employees in the right seats. 

What does that mean? It means not passing up talented internal candidates for external hires. It’s your job to pay attention to the talent, passion and mission that’s in your employees. And that means you need to come alongside employees to help them grow their careers at your company if you want them to be engaged and stick around. 

Why Is Care the Solution for the Hidden Resignation? 

Look at it this way: True employee engagement is not just about having butts in seats. It’s not just increasing participation rates. It’s when your employees are showing up and actively pushing toward the finish line each and every day. 

And for employees to get to that point, they need to know their employers have their backs and believe in their futures. They need to know you care. Care is the cornerstone of all great company cultures!

But why is care the solution? Because it’s clear that employees don’t think their employers care about them. And the proof is all over the Great Resignation.

You’ve got some employees leaving to be their own bosses—there’s an explosion in entrepreneurship all over the country. Many are leaving for higher pay. Some have finally had enough of the hostile work environments that were squeezing the life out of them.  

You’ve also got to count the ones whose hearts have left the company but forgot to take their butts with them. Their productivity is dead on arrival as soon as they get to work in the morning. 

Heed This Warning and Have Hope 

While this isn’t the main reason to make changes, leaders of employees and businesses do need to understand this: Every time someone leaves your company, there’s a chance they’ll come out and bad-mouth the place. Even though you can’t really prevent that from happening, it’s on you to create a company culture they won’t want to do that to. 

And that starts and ends with care. The Great Resignation has been an opportunity to hire (and keep) the right people. But even more than that, the Hidden Resignation is a second chance to care for the soul of your company—your employees.

One of the best ways to show employees you care is through your company benefits. Not only are the benefits you offer a reflection of your company culture and values, but they’re a great opportunity to make a real impact on the people driving your business forward. Financial wellness is one of the top benefits employees are asking for because it helps reduce employee stress, increase productivity, and helps employees thrive—not just survive.

Learn more about how a financial wellness benefit can help your people—and your business—win. Press on!

Ken Coleman

About the author

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman is America’s Career Coach and author of the national bestselling book From Paycheck to Purpose and the #1 national bestseller The Proximity Principle. He hosts The Ken Coleman Show, a nationally syndicated, caller-driven show that helps listeners discover what they were born to do. Ken makes regular appearances on Fox News, and he co-hosts The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk show in the nation with 18 million weekly listeners. Through his speaking, broadcasting and syndicated columns, Ken gives people expert career advice, providing strategic steps to grow professionally, land their dream job, and get promoted. Learn More.

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