The so-called big resignation is becoming powerful, and it’s no longer just for tough jobs. Managers are increasingly leaving their jobs for greener pastures.
The data shows that managers are leaving their jobs at an elevated rate, and that even though resignation rates for workers are down overall from their peak, many people are still leaving their jobs. The breadth of the layoffs could worsen an already tight labor market as layoffs in one area accelerate departures in another, and this cycle could ensure that the Great Resignation — also known as the Great Reorganization or the Great Rethink — won’t stop anytime soon.
Data on management departures come from several sources. People analytics provider Visier found that resignation rates among managers rose from 3.8 percent in the first half of 2021 to 5 percent in the first half of 2022, a much bigger jump than for non-managers. Gusto, which provides payroll, benefits and human resources management software, found that the resignation rate among managers remained at the same peak level in June as last year, while the rate for non-managers declined. LinkedIn found that the rate of people leaving at the director level this year is growing much faster than at the entry level. The departure of bosses was also evident on jobs platform ZipRecruiter, which said that ads for management positions are growing at a faster rate than job ads overall, and currently make up 12 percent of job ads, up from 10 percent in June of last year.
To be clear, dropout rates remain high across all job types and levels. Data released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 2.8 percent of employees quit their jobs in May. That’s down slightly from last winter’s high of 3 percent, but still very high. In general, looking for another job has become somewhat of a national pastime. The number of people using top job search apps is at an all-time high, according to app marketing company Apptopia. Lower paid workers always make up the majority of the workforce and the majority of quitters. However, as the effects of the pandemic, as well as existing trends such as an aging workforce, continue, the the composition of resignations has changed to include more permanent, better-paid workers and, increasingly, those in management positions.
“The resignation rate is increasing and entering the ranks where it’s not pre-arranged,” Joseph Fuller, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School who leads the Managing the Future of Work initiative, told Recode. “These are higher-paid workers who have likely invested heavily in education, training or building a career with the company. They are managers and they leave pretty good circumstances – that should worry companies.”
Their departures greatly affect the people who work for them and the companies they work for, both of which rely on managers to stabilize things in times of uncertainty. If managers leave, the CEOs of their companies will have to do without them, at least for a while.
“It’s like the Army relying on junior NCOs,” Fuller said. “If all of a sudden the sergeants and generals give up, it doesn’t matter what the general’s grand vision is for winning the war, somebody has to be down there on the beaches.”
But on a larger scale, a large number of bosses quitting could lead to even more layoffs among rank-and-file workers as well as other managers, making the Great Resignation phenomenon last even longer.
Why is your boss leaving?
Bosses are people too, and they’re subject to many of the same obstacles that make everyone else quit, including burnout and rethinking the workplace in their lives. But their reasons for leaving are also unique to management, which is tasked with the increasingly difficult task of recruiting and retaining workers at a time when people are quitting left and right.
In a survey of managers, leading software maker Humu revealed that retention and recruitment were their two biggest challenges last year. People are constantly leaving their jobs for things like better pay, telecommuting, and self-employment, and it’s management’s responsibility to replace them, which isn’t exactly easy in this tight job market.
Managers are also trying to lead their workforce in the midst of unprecedented change – something that adds to their pressure, as they may not be equipped to handle it.
“A lot of managers get into management, not because they’re great people managers, but because they’re great technical contributors,” said Humu co-founder Jessie Wisdom. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the skills to manage emotions through difficult times and unprecedented levels of burnout and help your team balance things that they’ve never had to balance.”
She added: “People go through hard times and, as a manager, you have to help them through that. Part of your job is almost to become a therapist.”
A dispersed workforce also creates new challenges for managers. The vast majority of large corporations adopt a hybrid model, where employees work both from home and from the office. Managing people in different locations and trying to get people back to the office who don’t want to go is a big challenge for management.
Manager resignations are also the result of many opportunities – both professional and personal – elsewhere. A third of managers who quit in May did so for career advancement reasons, compared to just 19 percent in non-management positions, according to Gust data. The company also surveyed all types of workers on its platform and found that their No. 1 factor in accepting or rejecting a job offer was flexibility. Almost half said that being able to work from home part or all of the time would be the main or most important factor in deciding whether to accept a job offer in the future. People in management positions are probably more likely to have jobs where they can work from home, which means they’re more likely to actually get that flexibility – either in their current or future job.
It is important that management, especially executives, are better paid and thus financially more secure than their responsibilities, so they have more mobility to quit.
“The pressure and demands on the C-suite remain quite significant,” said Steve Hatfield, global future labor leader at Deloitte. “And the financial position they’re in is one that would give them an opportunity to think about doing something different.”
It can also be a case of monkey see, monkey do. As more people in management positions quit, the idea of quitting becomes more obvious as an option for other managers.
What this means for the future of work
The data suggests that management resignations are not just a flash in the pan, and are likely to continue for some time. Deloitte recently found that nearly 70 percent of C-suites are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being, compared to 57 for other employees. Research from Humu shows that the risk of attrition for managers is twice that of non-managers – something that was not the case years ago.
This could become a situation that feeds on itself.
When one manager quits, another is left to pick up the slack, which could further frustrate him and potentially lead him to quit. This could lead to the departure of their workers, who are left without adequate management that can hire for unfilled positions, which makes the job of the remaining manager difficult. In addition, the shortages could force companies to promote or hire people for those positions who are not qualified, further exacerbating the situation.
“There’s this difficulty we see in matching potential employees with roles that fit, and it’s managers who are primarily responsible for making those matches,” said Luke Pardue, economist at Gusto. “So when they leave and the knowledge they have about the business and these roles goes away with them, we’re likely to see this struggle to find good matches continue and the number of vacancies will increase.”
In other words, leaving the board could make the Great Resignation worse.
It is also not attractive to potential job candidates not to know who will be their boss. As Fuller, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, “Would a baseball player sign with a team where you don’t know who the manager is going to be?”
That uncertainty is not attractive to candidates with options. “For all I know, they’re going to hire the biggest jerk on two legs,” Fuller said.
Of course, for now it is unclear what the economic decline means for all of this. People, of course, do not necessarily make life decisions based on the coming recession, but tend to act as if the current situation is a predictor of the future.
What we do know is that managers are an important part of the running of a company and require a range of nuanced skills such as real-time judgment and people skills that are difficult to discern on paper. And their ability to do so can have major effects on the company and employees alike.
At this point, the Great Resignation has gained so much momentum that it has become a force unto itself. What’s not clear is how long it will take to slow down significantly.