Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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The Great Resignation: The Silent Crisis No One is Talking About

Sally is a 38-year-old manager of a retail store in a busy strip mall in Portland, Oregon. Last week, in a panic, she called her regional manager, Darla.

“Danny gave me his two weeks’ notice today. Charlene quit last week. I do not have people to run the store. What do I do?”

Sally’s boss weighed Sally’s options:

  1. You run the store until you can find people to work
  2. Shut the store down until you can find people to work

Without directly saying this to Sally, Sally’s boss was thinking, “Sally is the wrong person to manage this busy store. She must be a bad manager if her people are leaving her. We all know that people do not quit jobs, they quit their bosses. I cannot trust Sally.” Darla’s confidence in Sally dropped, and Sally could tell.

Sally was at her wit’s end, and she was frustrated with Darla for not understanding that the problem was bigger than just her and her store.

Sally was thinking;
“Darla doesn’t understand that I bend over backwards for my people. They like me and they have worked for me this long because they feel a sense of loyalty. I cannot blame Danny and Charlene for leaving right now. It just does not seem worth it to work.”

“They hate wearing masks all day. They hate that part of their job is now cleaning and sanitizing the store. They hate that shoplifting is increasing and that the police cannot respond right away. They know that their taxes are going up, so their take-home pay is going to decrease. The workload of the job has increased, and the pay increased, but not as much as the hassle of coming to work. Darla does not understand that Danny and Charlene were my best workers. They were reliable. They each have over 4 decades of work experience. Customers love them. I depended on them.”

“But I can’t blame them. If I were in their position, I would quit, too.”

Danny and Charlene are part of The Great Resignation.

Baby boomers, who are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day have been crunching the numbers on their Roth IRAs, their Traditional IRAs, their 401(k)s, their SEPs, their savings, their investments, and their social security. They are doing the math on their budgets.

And the Baby Boomers are resigning in droves.

For Sally, it is a problem to replace her best front-line employees.

For large corporations, the resignation of 21 million experienced workers in the past 8 months is a crisis.

This attrition the next business crisis – the loss of the knowledge, education, work ethic, and talents of their most experienced people.

As Baby Boomers walk out the door, some Generation Xers are feeling relieved. “Finally! Maybe I can get promoted now!”

Other Generation Xers are considering their own resignation. “I don’t want to work for a new boss. Bill was great. I do not want Bill’s job. Whoever they bring in is going to be worse. Maybe I will follow Bill’s example and retire as well. “

Human Resource managers are panicking.

“We are advertising everywhere, and we still cannot recruit the right people.”

“We are offering great pay and benefits and we still cannot hire the right people.”

“We are incentivizing our current employees with free lunches and other perks, and we still cannot keep the right people.”

This, and thousands of other scenarios, is The Great Resignation.

Senior executives are worried.

“How are we going to fill the gaps? Where are the job-hunters? How do we get future leaders ready for increased responsibilities?”

Some senior leaders were not thinking about leaving or moving to another job until they were hit with a wave of empty positions.

“I don’t want to have to do Cindy and Mark’s job along with mine. Maybe it is time for me to retire, too.

Employment cycles move like waves in the ocean. External forces impact us close to home. Everything Sally is experiencing is happening on a larger scale throughout corporate America.

The businesses that are least prepared and most negatively impacted by this wave are those without a viable succession plan.

A solid succession plan:

  1. Identifies what is needed at every major position.
  2. Clarifies the skills required for each role.
  3. Plans for the departures of every member of the team, whether the losses are prompted by current workplace conditions, personal reasons, unemployment benefits, sickness, promotions, or retirements.
  4. Strategizes on where to find the right talent based on future positional requirements.
  5. Implements personal and professional development at all levels to motivate and retain the right people.

I recently discussed the leadership challenges facing organizations today as part of the program called, A.R.M.E.D.: How to Attract, Recruit/Retain, Mentor/Manage, Evolve, and Develop Current and Future Leaders for healthcare leaders. They have the well-known challenges of healthcare professionals who are feeling burned out, overworked, and unappreciated.

The consequences of The Great Resignation are just now being realized as organizations are opening back up to find that some of their best talent is staying home for good.

How is The Great Resignation affecting your organization?


  1. Roy Lydic

    I can’t begin to express my appreciation for Dr. Mary’s writings. This past year I became CFO of a middle market non-profit after 35 years in public accounting. I left the CPA business specifically because of constant talent shortages and the unwillingness of senior management to wake up and recognize that it is not 1985 any more! Mary’s writings have be very very helpful in my transition to this new role. The Great Resignation is very real and has caused plenty of anxiety for many, including me. But it also is a huge positive for people at my stage of life. I am 59 years old with substantial experience and wisdom, and am looking to work another 10 years or so. These creates opportunities for me that were unheard of twenty years ago. Just a thought.

    • Mary Kelly

      Thank you so much for this wonderful feedback, Roy! Yes, the Great Resignation is really happening, and you are right, it is causing lots of anxiety among many while others are finding opportunities.


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