Workplace Wellbeing

It's Time to Talk About the Hidden Resignation

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Great Resignation over the past few years. Now, it’s time to talk about the Hidden Resignation, and how People leaders can create an environment that energizes and engages employees.

Written by
photo authr
Kris Kopac
Clinically reviewed by
photo authr
Woman in glasses sitting on the floor working on her laptop

Jump to section

    Another late-night email. Another last-minute meeting. Another thing to stress about. Recent studies have shown that many employees who decide to stay at their jobs feel burned out and disengaged, a term now coined the Hidden Resignation. Disengaged employees have lower productivity, higher rates of absenteeism, and are less incentivized to create quality work. Employers would benefit from examining the root causes of this problem and finding innovative solutions to combat it. What exactly is causing the Hidden Resignation? And how can HR leaders create an environment that energizes and engages employees? 

    Before diving into the solutions, understanding the root of the issue is an important first step.

    What’s causing the Hidden Resignation? 

    A rapidly shifting work environment since the emergence of COVID-19 has drastically changed how people work and interact with their employers. While many people have enjoyed making the switch from the office to working from home, company leaders now must contend with a new set of challenges that set the foundation for the Hidden Resignation.

    New circumstances create a new set of challenges

    According to one study, employee engagement has declined for the first time in 10 years. What's more, only 34% of employees feel engaged and 16% are actively disengaged in their work. 

    This is for a variety of reasons, from a lack of work/life balance to no access to development opportunities and a loss of human connection. Juggling other responsibilities like childcare—especially at times when schools and daycares have been closed—contributes to an increasing sense of overwhelm for parents and caregivers. This may result in employees who feel overburdened and disengaged with work that bleeds into their other life responsibilities.

    Work overwhelm is increasing

    Employees' current workloads and stress levels are causing them to work even more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. One study showed that nearly half (46% of employees) need nights and weekends to think about their jobs because they're too overwhelmed during the workday. This has often been due to the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and home. The expectation to be “on all the time” regardless of location or circumstance may make an employee feel as if their work has no end, or that completing work is only rewarded with an even bigger workload.

    The Hidden Resignation comes at a great cost

    Even if your employees aren't leaving for other places of employment, the effects of the Hidden Resignation are still too impactful and important to ignore.

    Disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion a year. This is due to a lack of productivity and a lack of desire to take initiative or move things forward. While many HR leaders focus on retention, zeroing in on engaging employees you have retained is an important next step.

    Once you’ve taken a hard look at the root causes and impact of the Hidden Resignation, it's time to search for creative solutions.

    How employers can make a difference

    Facilitate social opportunities for those who want it

    Many employees like the flexibility that remote work has offered them. Between saving time on commutes, allowing for more flexible childcare, and spending time in a more physically comfortable environment, there are many reasons 59% of employees are more likely to choose an employer who offers remote work compared to one who doesn't. However, some extroverted employees miss the ability to connect with their coworkers in real life. Junior employees may also be missing opportunities to network and receive casual mentorship from peers in the office. Hosting optional gatherings is a great way to solve this while also accommodating introverts who feel exhausted by socializing, but may still enjoy the occasional get-together. 

    For those who are interested in connecting more off-line, offering free meals or coffee dates on the company (or optional office days or retreats) could help coworkers connect with each other on a more meaningful level.

    Embrace flexible and reasonable work schedules

    Switching to fully remote work has typically increased workdays by three additional hours. This leaves little room for work/life balance and causes increased stress on employees. HR leadership can encourage balance through leading by example. For example, encourage employees to take designated vacation time, or set your Slack and email notifications on Do Not Disturb after a certain hour. Employees who have extra hours in the day to take care of themselves physically and mentally, spend with their family, and enjoy leisure activities will be more engaged with the company—and have higher productivity.

    Conduct stay interviews at your company

    Most People teams onboard employees and conduct exit interviews, but rarely speak with employees to explore how they can keep them engaged and onboard. Conducting stay interviews helps HR leaders understand two elements of retention:

    1. What motivates the employee to feel engaged and happy with the company
    2. What exactly they need to stay if something is lacking

    Create a relaxed environment so employees understand their job is not at risk or being reevaluated in any way—explain that HR simply wants to understand how to help their employees feel valued. 

    Conducting these interviews every 12 to 24 months can help employers gauge how their employees are feeling and what steps they can take to retain their best and brightest.

    Consider the best way to distribute information

    We've all experienced the headache of nonstop notifications, like Slack conversations that keep you from completing your most basic work. In fact, 68% of employees report that too many distractions and notifications limit their productivity. Work with HR and People leaders to encourage strategic and limited communications. For example, some best practices may include:

    • Using discretion when CCing people on emails that don’t directly pertain to them
    • Refraining from using @everyone on Slack (or reply all on emails) unless necessary for widespread communication
    • Showing employees how to set up inbox filters to automatically categorize emails
    • Encouraging employees to check email or Slack at designated times during the day in order to preserve moments of deep focus

    Deciding on these initiatives as a team and leading by example can help significantly reduce your employees' stress—and stem one of the causes of the Hidden Resignation.

    Promote designated deep work times

    Most employees will benefit from "deep work" hours or days, where they are not expected to be in meetings or respond to messages immediately. This allows them to complete their tasks without distraction. Some teams decide on specific days, or on specific hours within the day for this to take place. Most importantly, if leadership respects these times and makes it a priority not to schedule meetings during designated deep work times, employees can feel relief from the constant barrage of messages they might otherwise receive.

    Offer a mental health benefit

    The mental health needs of your employees are both increasing and changing. A new Deloitte survey found that 68% of workers say their mental health is more important than advancing in their careers. An innovative EAP with both work-life services and mental health support can engage and retain your employees, helping them work through the issues they’re facing outside of work—which may also be contributing to disengagement. Spring Health is the first and only mental health solution for employees and their families, including children ages 6+, with validated clinical outcomes and proven financial ROI

    Employees feel better faster, which leads to increased productivity. As a result, employers experience significant savings.

    Helping your people and the bottom line

    By investing in employee engagement and encouraging the wellbeing and balance of your employees, HR leaders have the power to make a real difference for both individuals and the company's bottom line.

    The Hidden Resignation is a growing problem as new modes of work present new challenges. For People and HR leaders who rise to the occasion, it can be a great opportunity to strengthen their company and bring people together.

    Read this blog next to discover the true cost of a toxic culture—and how to fix it.

    About the Author
    photo authr
    Kris Kopac

    Kris is a writer and marketer based in Chicago. Kris specializes in subjects around HR, recruiting, and employee happiness.

    About the clinical reviewer
    photo authr

    Stay connected to the latest in mental health!

    Our newsletter delivers expert insights, personal stories, and practical strategies straight to your inbox. Join us to better support your team’s mental health.