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Great Resignation sets off 'vicious cycle': As more people quit, exhausted colleagues also head for the exit

·6 min read

All of the job quitting roiling the U.S. labor market is leading many workers to, well, quit their jobs.

The departure of so many colleagues is leaving employees who have stayed with their companies struggling to handle more work and wondering whether they’re earning enough to make it worthwhile. As a result, many of those more loyal staffers are bolting, too.

“It’s become a vicious cycle of sorts,” says Johnny Taylor, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Ruchi Rajput, of Algonquin, Ilinois, worked as a full-time time contractor in talent acquisition for a company’s human resources department. But after several co-workers left, she was asked to help with employee onboarding, budgeting and touting the company’s brand in the community.

Rajput says she was putting in an extra hour a day on average, and regularly took calls from supervisors after hours that sometimes lasted 20 to 30 minutes.

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Extra hours

“It was getting a little too much,” says Rajput, 36. “I was working extra hours and it was not even appreciated.”

Ruchi Rajput
Ruchi Rajput

She also had to take part in meetings that often prevented her from working on recruiting,

“It was completely packed,” she says.

A few weeks ago, she herself quit, and swiftly found a new job in talent acquisition. She starts next week.

In August, a record 4.3 million workers quit jobs for myriad COVID-19-related reasons. Some were lured by a near-record 10.4 million job openings, many offering higher pay, as employers scrambled to fill vacancies created by parents caring for remote-learning kids, workers fearful of catching the virus or early retirees.

Others are switching careers after the pandemic inspired them to pursue their passions. Still others are hunting for jobs that let them work from home permanently or provide a better work-life balance.

Recent surveys are shedding light on the effects of all this turnover on workers who have remained with their employers.

Burdened with more work

Fifty-five percent of U.S. workers say one or more colleagues have left in the past six months, according to an SHRM survey of 1,150 employed Americans in early July. Fifty-two percent of that group says that, as a result, they’ve been burdened with more work, and 30% say they’re struggling to get it done.

That’s making them reconsider their options, SHRM says. Fifty-three percent have wondered whether there are better job opportunities out there; 55% have questioned whether they’re earning enough; 28% are feeling more lonely are isolated, and 42% have thought about leaving their job more often than they did before their co-workers left.

Millennials and Gen Z workers have even more severe cases of wanderlust, with 64% wondering whether they’re paid enough, and about half thinking of leaving.

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A separate survey of about 1,000 employees last month by lender Clarify Capital found that 80% have had to work extra hours due to understaffing, putting in an average of seven additional hours a week. That has led more than half to consider quitting. Employees at small businesses, which have fewer staffers, have been hit even harder, with 63% contemplating leaving, the survey shows.

High burnout

Many are following through. Forty-two percent of workers polled by SHRM say they’re looking for new jobs for better work-life balance, among other possible factors. And a high burnout of staffers was cited by 31% of employees asked to name issues negatively affecting their workplaces, more than any other problem listed in the Clarify Capital survey.

“It’s adding a level of resentment among remaining employees,” Taylor of SHRM says of the turnover, “but they don’t know who to be mad at.”

Even before colleagues left, he says, “employees were already overworked,” with five handling the workload of six. “Now you have three people doing the work of six.”

And with many workers providing less than the standard two weeks notice when they leave, Taylor says, the impact on the remaining staff gets compounded.

In many cases, employees leave quickly because their new employers are short-handed and need their services right away. But that gives the jilted company little time to figure out how to reallocate the departing employee’s duties.

Neema Hospitality, which owns 12 hotels in the mid-Atlantic region, was losing an average of about an employee a month at each of its properties in the spring and summer, says company President Sandeep Thakrar. While front-desk clerks and housekeepers at least are paid for working overtime, managers aren’t, he says.

Recently, a manager at a West Virginia hotel quit to work in school administration after she was forced to fill in at the front desk or cleaning rooms on weekends when employees left and, in some cases, were replaced by less reliable new hires, Thakrar says.

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“My biggest fear is of people leaving,” he says. “Managers have to work more, they get burned out and they quit.”

In an effort to better retain employees, he has raised wages 10% and provided bonuses of $100 for each month employees stayed from May through September as long as they had perfect attendance.

Atlanta-based Digital Additive, an email marketing company with a staff of 46, has lost a software developer and two account executives since the summer, says CEO Roxanna Shershin. All went to work for companies’ in-house marketing divisions, Shershin says, leaving remaining employees toiling 10% to 15% more hours, she says

Worried about workloads

“I’m absolutely concerned” those workers may consider quitting as well, she says. “It is putting pressure” on them.

Shershin says she’ll start offering quarterly bonuses next year as long as the company meets its targets, and is reviewing the salaries of all employees to ensure they’re competitive with rival firms.

Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist with three clinics in Arizona, has lost several staffers, including an administrative employee who left to take care of her 3-year-old. Now, she worries about the workload for the two remaining office workers.

To ease their burden, Serin says she’s purchasing appointment scheduling software.

“People are stressed,” she says.

To prevent burnout, companies should minimize meetings, encourage time off and hire freelancers and contractors to lighten the workload for full-time staffers, says Michelle Reisdorf, a hiring expert for Robert Half staffing in Chicago.

Taylor says employers should let workers know how long a position is likely to go unfilled and provide bonuses for making referrals that lead to new hires.

“Make them part of the solution,” he says.

You can follow USA TODAY economy reporter Paul Davidson on Twitter @PDavidsonusat and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter here for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The Great Resignation: As more people quit, other staffers follow