In early 2020 the world as we knew it changed and it is doubtful that many of us foresaw the extent of those changes and how long they would last.

When the pandemic first hit the world, there were predictions of economic meltdown as we all raced to come to terms with the challenges COVID-19 brought. Yet, by the time the first and second waves had been repelled and everyone appeared to be living with Omicron, the predicted economic carnage in global markets had not happened.

Certainly, some sectors were harder hit than others, but the world averted another GFC mainly because of the pandemic cash grants made by governments, largely enabled by printing more money.

As new waves of the virus arose, with lockdown-weary society bracing itself once again, more money was printed to fund pandemic relief payments but something else rather curious started to happen.

People began to quit their jobs; millions of them the world over. This was counter-intuitive – why would those who were in secure employment suddenly hand in their notice in the face of such significant uncertainty?

Before early 2020, working from home was a concept followed by relatively few employers and even the early pioneers of the practice such as IBM had begun to reverse the trend, requiring their people to spend more time in the office where collegiality was considered to enhance productivity, skill development and workplace cultures.

COVID-19 changed that and, of necessity, employees became accustomed to working in their living spaces and meeting their clients and colleagues only in the virtual sense. This allowed them to save commuting time with a far greater degree of flexibility and with that came a better work-life balance.

Now, with a greater acceptance of the virus and widespread vaccinations, employers are requiring their staff to return to the workplace, but many are choosing to quit their jobs rather than going back to the pre-2020 working model. Some are even choosing to pursue different career paths.

People began to re-think where, how and even why they work.

What does this mean for employers? Particularly those in sectors that had skilled talent shortages even before the pandemic. The answer is that to retain good people, they will need to be prepared to meet employee expectations much more than in the past.

Flexibility will be the key to staff retention in the future.

The freedom to be able to work remotely is evidently becoming even more important to many than salary increases. While it may be the employer’s preference to have their staff in the office in a collegiate environment, those who fail to embrace the notion of remote working and flexible hours could be at risk of losing their talented workers.

Some submit that the flexible approach will likely lead to a better work-life balance and that will have the benefit of a healthier, happier workforce which could well see an uplift in productivity rather than less efficiency caused by a fragmented team.

Another important consideration for employers is that younger employees who have been unable to undertake working holidays due to travel restrictions will now start doing so. Employers who want to retain good staff will need to be prepared to grant sabbaticals or long leaves of absence and would be wise to facilitate their staff going off for an overseas adventure rather than discouraging it, in the hope that they will repay that loyalty by returning once their travels have been completed.

Where possible, employers could seek out opportunities for staff to be seconded overseas and to fill their vacancy by taking in secondees on a reciprocal basis.

It’s not all one-way traffic though; with that greater flexibility for staff comes a wider alternative for employers – with more opportunity to outsource globally and having work done at a cheaper rate elsewhere in the world.

In short, the global workforce has changed since the pandemic. Older workers who were forced to stay home due to lockdowns are choosing to not return to work, staff are re-evaluating their roles; seeking out better alternatives and many are questioning their habitual practice of living to work, choosing instead the option of working to live.

For most employers their workforce is their most valuable asset and to protect that asset they will need to be more innovative and flexible in how they maintain their relationships with their human capital resources.

They will need to win over their staff before they quit and be prepared to engage a lot more with their people than they may have been accustomed to doing in the past. Employers will be well advised to revisit their core values and practices to avoid becoming a victim of the Big Quit.

Gareth Hoole is a shareholder and director of Ecovis KGA Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand
Phone: +64 9 921 4637