Why Are Employees Resigning in 2021?

Countries all over the world faced a “resignation tsunami” in 2021, with employees leaving their companies in droves. While the pandemic certainly played a part, “turnover shocks” could also be attributed to return-to-office mandates, lack of quality benefits, or watching close colleagues resign.

Singapore is no exception. A Michael Page Talent Trends report similarly found that 56% of employed respondents are expecting to find a new job in 2021. A McKinsey report published in September about the region reported that four in 10 of employees say they will leave their current roles in the next three to six months, and about 36% of those who are quitting are prepared to leave even without any job alternatives in hand.

So why are people resigning?

Milieu Insight’s “Happiness at Work” study based on more than n=6,800 working professionals from across Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) may have some answers.

Surprisingly, relationships with colleagues emerged as a key driver of workplace happiness.

“It was fascinating to see that ‘relationships at work’ ranked so high as a driver of happiness, and that it ranked as high as their salary. As we approach two years of living with the effects of COVID-19, it would seem that employees are beginning to desire stronger connections with their colleagues, even if those connections have to be nurtured remotely. Business leaders shouldn’t overlook the importance of cultivating strong employee relationships, and succeeding with this requires more than a subscription to collaboration tools like Zoom or Teams,” said Stephen Tracy, COO of Milieu Insight.

Singapore showed the same trend with “relationships with colleagues” coming in first at 45%.

Work arrangements, such as having a flexible work schedule, also ranked high, with 35% of respondents selecting this in Southeast-Asia. In Singapore, it ranked 2nd at 43%. Notably, they also ranked first as the leading cause of unhappiness, highlighting how not all companies have succeeded in adapting their work arrangements to the current climate or that some employees are less open to work-from-home arrangements.

Experts also posit that employee expectations of bosses and companies have hiked, because of pent-up job switches that did not happen or cagey and dismissive corporate attitudes.  Employees who felt their managers fell short in addressing mental well-being, retrenchment and HR issues had a greater impetus to leave. This suggests room for improvement in the employee experience, such as greater transparency in leadership communication and sincerity in how leaders delivered their messages

Another change driver is pandemic-driven epiphanies of what truly matters to employees, leading to resignations. As work from home became the norm, employees began to look into balancing work, life and purpose – and chase jobs with a better fit for their passions and dreams.

Lastly, resignation trends in 2021 have shown that employees and jobseekers are taking advantage of the many grants and opportunities to upskill and reskill. With the wide accessibility of free online learning courses and government training subsidies, people have made themselves more marketable and suitable for a wider range of roles.

What can employers do to retain employees?

It is vital to remember that Singapore has always had a tight labour market with stiff competition, pandemic or no. Hence, employers should constantly be on the lookout for to not only attract the best talent but for ways to keep them in the organisation.

In fact, according to a recent Mercer 2020 Global Talent Trends Study, only 11% of human resources (HR) teams in Singapore provided an extremely good employee experience last year.

This indicates companies should actively reimagine their operations, from work-from-home policies, onboarding processes and how to help struggling employees remain engaged. The research above has amply proven that good employee relations, not salaries, ensure employee retention, so companies must turn their focus to this arena.

To do so, they need to listen to the employees themselves. The Achievers Workforce Institute report showed that six in 10 companies polled collected feedback from employees on improving their experience, yet only 34% of employees felt their employers took action. Such a large gap between feedback and improvements to employee experience must be addressed before workers start walking out the door.

Just as companies transform themselves in the current market, they must also transform their employee journeys to engage not just customers and shareholders but those that do the work themselves.


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