The Great Resignation – will the UK follow the patterns seen in the US?

Posted on 7 Sep 2022

The pandemic has, unsurprisingly, had many predictable impacts on the global job markets. But one trend many may not have seen coming is “The Great Resignation”, a term coined to describe the millions of U.S. workers who have left their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. But what really is “The Great Resignation”? Will we see a similar pattern of employment here in the UK? And, if so, what effect will it have on recruitment?

“The Great Resignation”

The United States has seen high volumes of workers leaving their jobs, particularly at the end of 2021. To put it into context, in figures published by The Guardian, 4.5 million workers left their employment in the end of November alone. This is on top of the several million workers who had left their jobs in the three months prior to November – 13 million in total.

Overall, US labour rates stand at 61.8%, considerably lower than their pre-pandemic levels. Although, as is often the case in social trends like this, there is not one conclusive reason for this figure, childcare, health concerns, and rising levels of self-employment have all be credited as likely causes. As The Guardian identifies, however, the worst affected industries are leisure and hospitality, retail, and healthcare, where wages are typically low and staff turnover high. There is an argument that these workers could no longer afford to keep their jobs they were in.

So, whilst the US appears to face a few more years of employment uncertainty, can we see similar patterns emerging in the UK job market, and will it have a “Great Resignation” of its own?

Will the UK follow the same path?

With full honesty, this is difficult to say, as we seem to encounter new, conflicting evidence concerning the current climate of the UK job market every month.

Like the US, the UK has seen a high level of vacancies in the hospitality, leisure, and tourism industries, with job vacancies in these sectors expected to be in the hundreds of thousands at the beginning of 2022. Nevertheless, UK employment figures appear healthy, with the current unemployment rate of 4.1% only marginally higher than pre-pandemic levels.

However, these figures can easily be deceiving. Whilst it’s true, and positive, that UK employment rates remain low, the workforce is now a lot smaller than it was. As identified by The Times, furthermore, these figures do not reflect the sharp drop in the number of self-employed people, which has fallen by 16% since the first lockdown. It could be argued that these individuals are looking for more secure employment offered by established businesses.

The Times also discuss how these unemployment rates do not include the more worrying figures regarding the UK Economic Activity, a figure which identifies the number of those who are not in or looking for work, which has risen by 400,000. The main demographic in this figure is the over 60s, particularly women, and there has also been a rise in the number of people out of work due to long-term sickness. The over-60s were one of the demographics who were hit hardest by redundancies at the beginning of the pandemic, the other being the under 25s. But whilst the outlook for employment for the under 25s remains optimistic, the pandemic’s effect on the UK job market looks to have hit the more experienced the most.

So is the UK currently in a Great Resignation? It’s hard to state a definite answer. As with the US figures, it looks to be sector specific. A poll conducted by Randstad and published by HR News identifies how 36% of sales staff and 46% of call centre staff plan to leave their employment at the beginning of 2022. This contrasts, however, with the 84% of construction workers who said that they would not leave the industry within the next 3-6 months.

In total, Randstad estimate that 24% of employees in the UK will move jobs within the next 3-6 months. However, there is no indication that these employees plan to leave employment indefinitely, so it could be argued that what we’re actually seeing in the UK is the Great Shift, as employees shift their priorities and pick jobs more suited to their lifestyles, shift the industries they want to work in, and shift their loyalties.

The effect on recruitment

Although a Great Shift, as opposed to a Great Resignation, is more beneficial to the UK job market, the high-levels of job displacement will still make it difficult for recruiters, as they are faced with the challenge of trying to retain their existing staff, whilst searching for new staff to replace those who have moved on.

Recruitment departments will need to diversify if they wish to continue attracting employees from an increasingly narrowing talent pool and spend more time and energy creating an environment that adapts to individual needs and values of the workforce. For recruitment, it looks to continue to be a challenging few months ahead.

What are your opinions on “The Great Resignation”? Do you believe we’re seeing a similar pattern here in the UK? We’d be interested to know your thoughts – get in touch to share them with us.